Sierra Leone: A survivor’s heartbreaking story

Aminata Kalokoh and Marie Jakole talking to a CARE staff member

I lost 21 family members in the flash flood.

Aminata Kolokoh was one of the first survivors of the mudslides and flooding in Freetown, Sierra Leone, who showed up to collect relief supplies from CARE.

At first glance, Aminata stood out: she seemed to be the day’s youngest beneficiary. When we asked her if she was there to represent an older family member or possibly her parents, she told us: “I lost my family.”

As she stood in line to collect her relief items, Aminata tried to display strength. But after a short while, her emotions overtook her. Like a lost child looking for her mother, she wept. As she struggled to hide her pain, she covered her face with her two bare hands and muttered again: “I lost my family.”

A tight hug – that was all we could offer during her moment of intense grief, hoping that a hug would somehow help to ease her pain. At the back of our minds lingers a question – how many Aminata Kolokohs are out there?

We meet again

As CARE expanded its relief distribution in the following days, Aminata showed up again. Surprised, I asked: “How did you know that we are here?” She said that she saw CARE’s Emergency Response Team and her first thought was to come over to thank CARE for the relief goods she received.

Aminata, who was limping from injuries sustained in the flooding, told me she did not expect August 14 to be such a tragic day for her life. She lived with 21 family members, including five brothers and two sisters, in a two-bedroom house downstream along the river bank. “Everyone slept that cold night”, she said:

... and I was, without warning, swept away into darkness by the raging water. It happened too quickly.

She remembered being hit by sticks and hard objects; she remembered clinging onto a “big stick” until daylight, when a soldier from the rescue team pulled her out of the raging water. She had been out in the water for four hours, soaked and shivering, until her rescue at around six o’clock in the morning.

Asked where she lives now, Aminata points downhill and says: “I live with my friend somewhere there”. She then called over and introduced her friend, Marie Jakole.

Marie said she saw Aminata loitering in the area and learned of her tragic story. Marie decided to take Aminata home to live with her family.

As humanitarians, as people, we must work together. Our collective efforts can change lives. We can ensure the recovery and protection of people like Aminata Kolokoh – people coping with pains that go beyond the physical; people who will have psycho-social counselling, medical, education, shelter and livelihood recovery needs, among others.

Story by Jemm Canoy

A van at a CARE aid distribution in Sierra Leone

How CARE is helping

CARE Sierra Leone was one of the first humanitarian aid organisations responding within hours after the disaster, distributing relief goods such as hygiene supplies, household items, blankets and food. Our response was part of a coordinated distribution effort: CARE teams identified and verified beneficiaries, and liaised with the Office of National Security and the Ministry of Social Welfare and with other aid organisations who were active in the area, to coordinate efforts and avoid duplication.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.