Healing the Painful Legacy of Civil War in Sierra Leone

Publication Date: 
May 04, 2017

If not for the grace of God -- and the intervention of our Salesian missionaries -- young Suntia may not be alive today. At the Don Bosco Girls Shelter in Freetown, Sierra Leone, her future was reborn.

Growing up, Suntia endured the painful legacy of Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war -- a war in which more than 200,000 of the country’s most vulnerable women and girls became victims of abuse and violence. Though the war eventually ended, Suntia’s nightmare continued.

“It was an unimaginable experience for me,” Suntia explains. Assaulted day after day by someone who was supposed to protect her -- her own father -- she felt little hope. Her family was no help; in fact, they forced her to sell trinkets and beg for money in order to pay her own way. When she returned home, exhausted and late at night, they viewed the abuse as a justified punishment for not earning enough.

“I became disgusted, sad and helpless,” she recalls. “But somehow, I found the courage to do something about it.” Suntia sought help from the local police, who referred her to Don Bosco Fambul for shelter and protection.

The Girls Shelter at Don Bosco Fambul first opened its doors in 2012, in direct response to the atrocities of the civil war and its aftermath. There, Salesian missionaries, professional social workers and other staff offer safe housing, crisis intervention and follow-up care for girls and young women who have survived physical and sexual assault. Once they feel ready, residents may also attend school or participate in vocational training programs that will prepare them to live as independent adults.

Living comfortably at the Girls Shelter -- with new clothes, daily meals, counseling and time to heal -- Suntia realized that her life could follow a more hopeful path. “Don Bosco Fambul changed my life!” she exclaims. “It helped me heal and just be a kid. Above all, it gave me the chance to study and realize my potential.”

Suntia spent more than a year at the shelter. After an attempted reunification with her mother failed, she went on to attend the Salesian-run St. Joseph Secondary School. There, she received a scholarship which paid for her school expenses, books, uniforms, meals and transportation.

Last year, Suntia graduated with excellent grades, and is now studying social work at the University of Sierra Leone. "My desire is to come back to Don Bosco Fambul for a second time, as a role model and social worker for other girls who have experienced violence. I can think of no better way to honor what I have been given."

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