returning home, sierra leone
In 1991, a small band of rebels called the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) invaded the diamond-rich eastern and southern portions of Sierra Leone in an attempt to overthrow the then current Momoh government. As part of their tactics, the RUF terrorized the country, burning down villages, raping women, and kidnapping children and conscripting them into their rebel forces. In what ultimately became a visual metaphor for the conflict, the RUF also amputated the hands and limbs of thousands of civilians. Ultimately, the brutal decade-long civil war was estimated to result in 50,000 deaths and the displacement of nearly half a million people from their homes.
Much of the population fled the horrific violence in their home country by crossing the border to Guinea. Many lived in UNHCR-sponsored refugee camps and attempted to recreate a semblance of the lives they had lived in their home villages. As the war came to a close, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and other NGO's began assisting refugees to repatriate to new countries or return home. As the war came to a close in 2003, Fulbright Scholar and anthropologist Lacey Gale and I traveled to West Africa and spent time in refugee camps in Guinea and in Sierra Leone to listen to and document the stories of returning refugees as they faced the difficult decisions and challenges of returning to their devastated country.