Isatu is still living with the terrible scars of Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war. But with help from our partner, Graceland, she is learning to live again.
"When the war broke out I went with my two boys and my husband to another village. We met rebels along the way. As soon as they saw my husband, they said they would kill him. They killed him, my sons and all the men in front of my eyes. Then they took the 18 women left standing. The rebels raped us repeatedly. On the first day eight men raped me. I still live with the memory and the pain.
"Life was tough with the rebels. They would kill people in front of you everyday. I used to cry, but if they saw you crying they would kill you. We were held captive for three years until I was able to escape. I went to another village and told my story to the chief, who helped me get to a hospital.
"There I discovered I was pregnant because of the rape. I decided to stay in Freetown to bring up my child as a single mother. I couldn’t go back to my community because of the stigma of how my child was conceived. I used to have nightmares and wouldn’t sleep for days. I was all alone and felt like I had no future. I just wanted to die.
"When I came home from hospital a cousin told me about Graceland
. Then I met a counsellor from Graceland called Bondu. She used to pay regular visits to my house. She would talk to me but she would never ask me about those moments in my life. Then one day, I had the confidence to tell her my story. She sent me to the Rainbow Centre for survivors of rape, and a medical centre. She also sent me to adult education classes and I learned weaving and soap making. I felt cared for and loved.
When I met Graceland I had no interest in life, I could not do anything for myself. But Graceland never gave up on me. They were there for me every day.
I started going with Bondu to counsel other women. I wasn’t shy, I felt bold and confident. Now I counsel patients who are HIV positive. I tell them my story. I tell them to have hope and give them lot and lots of courage.
Bondu is like a great friend. She helps me, she keeps me going. Without meeting her, I would have been dead. Now I have learned to open up and confide in people and make friends for the first time in many years. I can sleep at night and I don’t think of the past every time I look at my boy."
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