Bintu, Sierra Leone 2002


Bintu was only 9 when rebels overran her village during the Sierra Leone civil War. There was no warning and no chance to flee. Bintu was abducted by a rebel leader.

Bintu was only 9 when rebels overran her village during the Sierra Leone Civil War. There was no warning and no chance to flee. Bintu was abducted and suffered injuries to her body and her soul.

While she was the rebel leader’s only ‘woman’, she was protected from abuse by others. Bintu says she grew to love him in the following years as she travelled with the clean-up crew he commanded. He drugged Bintu’s food and then, she said, having sex didn’t hurt so much.

They lived in the jungle and the leader’s subordinates buried the opposing rebels killed by the murder unit they followed. But when he died in a raid, Bintu was passed on to his successor. She was repeatedly violated and developed an obstetric fistula – a tear between the bladders and the birth canal. From then Bintu leaked urine and faeces constantly.

Then one amazing day during a routine attack on a village, Bintu’s sister saw her and called out. Together they escaped into the jungle and walked for weeks, begging food from the villages they passed by. They heard their mother had survived, and the girls made the long journey that finally lead to their mother’s arms.

Bintu’s mother took her to a clinic in the capital Freetown, but her injuries were too severe for them to attempt surgery. But they had good news – the Mercy Ship was coming and surgeons on-board had the instruments and expertise to perform an obstetric fistula repair for her.

Three years after her capture, at 12 years old, tiny Bintu was lovingly received into the hospital ship community. During her stay she relearned to be a little girl, she danced and giggled and healed – mind, body and spirit – and love and acceptance was poured out upon her by medical staff and crew alike.

Bintu cried the day she left the Anastasis in 2002. She was a different girl to the one who had arrived a month earlier. She was on the way to becoming whole. 

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