UN fetes Turkey-bound single leg amputee football team

Sheku Bakarr Kamara & Abdul Kuyateh (text); Michael Mondeh (photos)

Members of the Single Leg Amputees Sports Club (SLASC), who would depart the shores of Sierra Leone the following day to participate in this year’s Single LegAmputee Football World Cup tournament in Turkey, were on 8 November the guests of honour to the Executive Representative of the Secretary-General and United Nations ResidentCoordinator, Mr. Victor Angelo; and the UN family in the country. The light-hearted solidarity send-off took place at the forecourt of the United NationsIntegrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL) headquarters in Freetown.

The Executive Representative of the Secretary-General (ERSG), Victor Angelo, shared a few steps with “Artists for Peace” in their ‘No Violence’ song and dance performance.

The unprecedented occasion aimed at encouraging the disabled athletes, was characterized by colorful activitiesincluding a skit by the members of the team, depicting man’s ability to overcome setbacks in life to achieve the highest of goals. The team captain, Bayoh Conteh, talked about how it all started.

“At the Aberdeen Amputee Camp in 2001, we were visited by a female American double limb amputee Dee Marcho, who was extremely appalled by ourmisery and hopelessness. As a double limb amputee herself, she shared herexperience in overcoming her disability to become a key civil society activist and counselor.

She set us up into a football team and since then through her inspiration,we have never looked back.”

The coach, Moses Mambu, paid glowing tribute to the team’s achievements under his leadership noting that the team, in partnership with Action for Children-UK, visited Britain and participated in exhibition matches against their counterparts in that country.

The ERSG and UNDP Resident Representative, Victor Angelo,with members of the Single Leg Amputee Sports Club at a planning meeting over tea, when they called on him at his UNDP Office in Freetown.

He revealed that the team alsoparticipated in the Amputee World Cupin Brazil in 2005; and a UEFAorganized football tournament inRussia, where they finished 5th. In 2006, they were also guests of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, who specifically wanted them to serve as role models for Liberia’s youths who took part in the war.

“We were testimony to able-bodied youths of Liberia … if amputees can become useful citizens in life why not they,” Mambu said. Jabati Mambu, president of the team, lauded UNDP and FIFA, who made it possible for them to travel to the championships.

“FIFA provided 50,000 US dollars for us to realize our dreams, but even before FIFA came on board at the last minute, UNDP had provided us with 21,000 dollars out of which sum, 9,000 dollars was meant for the purchase of tickets for that trip to Turkey, and 12,000 dollars for a Community Awareness Raising Project for the Disabled through Football, when we return”.

Memunatu Koroma, one of only two female members of the group, also an amputee and a member of the contingent, said that sharing her life with the team as a domestic assistant had completely changed her outlook on life.

Members of Freetong Players, drama and song group in ana-capella performance on the forecourt of the UNIOSILheadquarters during the send off solidarity show for theTurkey bound Single Leg Amputee Sports Club.

She said she hoped to save whatever she would realize as per diem for the trip to pay for her final high school examination.

In his farewell message to the highly motivated disabled soccer players, Mr. Victor Angelo lauded the spirit of the young folks saying, “these are true ambassadors of Sierra Leone; they have not allowed their handicap to obstruct them in their pursuit of success.

When they started, it was all self reliance; they didn’t come cap in hand begging as is the vogue of most young people, but mobilized themselves and through their hard work and resilience, were able to attract the attention of their admirers. They are excellent examples to young people everywhere.”

In his valedictory speech, the new Minister of Information and Communications,Ibrahim Ben Kargbo, said his recentlyelected government would work for the promotion of peace through sports, noting that he had no doubt that theywould return victorious.

“You leave the shores of Sierra Leone as worthy ambassadors of your people; I have no doubt that as usual you’ll return with your heads held high.”

The occasion was climaxed by the presentation of certificates to the Artists for Peace and Freetong Playersin recognition of their unenviable role in propagating the message of peace for violence-free elections.