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Interview: Saving Sierra Leone’s amputees, their children

  • Elise Schanke

The state of the amputees and other severely wounded victims of the war in Sierra Leone is an open book for anyone who cares. Many have died after years of neglect by the authorities. Those who are alive continue to struggle even for a daily square meal. Their children languish because the parents cannot afford some of the most basic things for them. Well after years of service to the country’s amputees by way of building them shelter throughout the country, the Norwegian Friends of Sierra Leone have established an orphanage for the children of amputees. Elise Schanke, commonly known as Mama Elisa is the Country Director of the organisation and has been speaking to Politico. Elise Schanke: We have just opened an orphanage and it’s for the kids for the amputees and severely wounded people in this country. Politico: Why have you seen the need to establish an orphanage for children of amputees? Elise Schanke: Nobody is there to take care of them. You know that this country is very poor and in many cases they don’t have even family members.  The amputees and the severely war wounded for example living in our housing areas have seen their relatives being shot dead. So they are really in great need. The poor children have nobody to look after them. That’s why. Politico: Where do you get funding from to take care of this orphanage? Elise Schanke: Well first of all we have donors from the United States. The Norwegian government funded our housing project but we are phasing out of that now. So I would not ask for money [from them] yet. I will try somebody else so we manage to have funding for one year [from some American donors]. Politico: There are a lot of amputees - hundreds some even say thousands. How do you intend to look after their children? Do you think it is a long term or a short term project? And what forms will your care for their children take? Elise Schanke: Well I think it is a short term project in one way because as you can see the amputees are getting older. And I know most of the kids. So I don’t think they will be getting many kids in the future. Therefore there will not be the need for a much longer intervention in this area. I can say for 20 years. Politico: And are you going to be taking care of these children until they reach university or will your intervention last for only the basic education level? Elise Schanke:  No, we think up to university level for those ones who would really like to continue. That is my dream at least. Politico: This is just the latest in several projects you have been undertaking for the amputees of Sierra Leone – the biggest one which everybody knows about is the housing project which has seen you and your organisation build houses for amputees all across the country. Tell us more about this housing project? Elise Schanke: It’s 888 houses altogether, spread all over the country Politico: How did you determine the distribution of these houses? Elise Schanke: We had established criteria.  First of all, of course, they must be war victims. This project was not for civilians. It was for war victims. Then we have double amputees – they were the top priority. And then we have… Politico: By double amputees you mean those who lost both arms or both limbs? Elise Schanke:  Yes indeed. And then we had children and women next. We interviewed them to find out their peculiar needs – for example if they have only one foot or only one hand.  We took many severely wounded war victims into the project and, maybe you won’t believe this, but in many cases they are worse off than amputees. Politico: Why did you think about this? Why did you decide to build shelters for these amputees? What was the motivation or passion for it? Elise Schanke: I had worked as a nurse and I had worked in many parts of the world including in Africa. But I never met any people in such great need, and, to me so neglected as the war victims in this country. So I think that’s why I’m still here after all these years. Politico: When you say after all these years when did you meet these people and how did it happen? Elise Schanke:  I met them way back in the amputee camp in 1999. I had gone there as any other visitor. And from that moment I was…what should I say…I have always been thinking about them since that time because I wanted to help the amputees. Politico: So you have had a love affair with them since. Elise Schanke: [Laughs] Yes. I fell in love with the amputees ever since. Politico: And finally what do you think about the condition under which these amputees live? Elise Schanke:  Not good. Many of them, you can’t believe, have urinal because. When you stand on one foot and walk on one leg for long, it’s too heavy for your body. It is hard. Really hard for them. They need help. (C) Politico 10/10/13