SLASA: Amputee Football Association brings together survivors of Sierra Leone’s civil war
On a busy weekend in Freetown, Sierra Leone, dozens of people gather to watch an afternoon football match, like countless others you’ll find anywhere else in the world. But there is a striking difference: these players are all amputees.
They are members of the Single Leg Amputee Sports Association (SLASA), an organization co-founded by Rev. Mambud Samai in 2001 after he returned home towards the end of Sierra Leone’s deadly civil war, which lasted from 1991 to 2002 and killed at least 50,000 people across the country. Thousands more were left with missing limbs in a brutal campaign aimed at terrifying the civilian population.
After coming across a refugee camp filled with hundreds of amputees, Samai felt compelled to help. “At that time, there were no activities like trauma recovery for them. So amputees believed that once they lost their limbs and legs, they had no more life. future, they had no opportunity, so I volunteered to give them confidence,” he said.
While in the refugee camp, he met an American missionary who introduced him to a form of adaptive football. After showing amputees how to play, the response was overwhelming and SLASA was formed, « to give hope to amputees, to give confidence to amputees and to enable them to become ambassadors of peace », Samai said.
According to the World Amputee Football Federation, players cannot use prosthetics and instead move around the pitch with crutches. Each team has seven players on the field at a time, with outfield players having only one leg and goalkeepers having only one arm.
Several SLASA players have since participated in international programs including the Amputee Football World Championships, the Amputee Africa Cup of Nations and the Open European Amputee Football Championship.
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« Most of them are now very proud to be able to represent their country in international competitions, » Samai said. « They bring something back to society. »
Samai says the sport is not just a good form of exercise, but it unites players and serves as “therapy” for war victims to deal with their common trauma. “We try to give them hope and then give them credibility that they are useful, they are important to society,” he said.
Ali Badara Kamara is a goalkeeper in the SLASA league. He says he is grateful for the opportunities that have changed his life. “My mother was afraid that I would play football because she considers me an amputee. She thought that if I fell down I would have another problem,” he says. “But SLASA (took) me in Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania. »
Kamara is one of more than 80 million people with disabilities living on the continent. According to the United Nations, this figure includes people with mental health problems, birth defects and other physical disabilities. With assistive devices often unavailable or unaffordable, many struggle to find employment and find themselves begging on the streets.
With soccer games only lasting 90 minutes, Samai’s latest mission is to find a way to help amputees beyond the pitch.
« My passion (is) to make sure that every life, whatever your disability or whatever your background, can be happy and can smile at the end of the day, » Samai said.
To achieve this, SLASA works closely with the Sierra Leone National Rehabilitation Center and partners with international organizations such as SwissLimbs to provide prosthetics to amputees and train local technicians.
In 2018, Samai traveled to Japan to study leadership in sustainable agriculture and community development. Upon his return, he began offering courses in sustainable agriculture through SLASA.
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SLASA also assesses member education and provides learning resources to those in need. Its goal is to get more amputees off the streets and provide them with a safe way to earn a living for themselves and their families.
To date, Samai says SLASA has directly helped 350 amputees and hopes to increase that number. The ultimate goal is to build a regulation field and a full-fledged rehabilitation center.
« We want Sierra Leone to compete with other countries in terms of development, » Samai said. « We believe that people with disabilities should not be left behind. »
Watch the full episode of African Voices with Mambud Samai here.