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Pray for Play for Three-year -old Borbor, the Mudslide Survivor 

September 27, 2017 By Osman Benk Sankoh

borbor boys

First, it was on Sunday, August 13, one day to the unprecedented mudslide (now, I think it was an earthquake), when he fell off a bridge with water underneath. It was around his house at Malama-Kaningo, a once bustling community between a valley and stream that divides Juba and Lumley in the west-end of Freetown. Miraculously, three-year-old Alfred Sesay, who everybody calls Borbor, survived with a bare scratch that is hardly noticeable on the head. His  single parent mum, Lucy Bayoh, who sells porridge every morning to take care of Borbor, herself, and three other siblings, felt that miraculous escape from tragedy was a sign – a message of something that was  about to reveal itself.

If Sunday was a sign, then barely 24 hours after Borbor’s fall from the bridge, the mudslide on Mount Sugar Loaf happened. The mountain opened. Some say water oozed out, houses and humans, trees and plants, the living and non-living got buried underneath. Within an instant, Mount Sugar Loaf closed itself again. Where it could not, the water and everything that stood between it ran down Kaningo where three-year-old Borbor was still in bed, while his mum was in the kitchen cooking porridge to be sold that day. As the water gushed down, it left a trail of destruction touching houses and humans as well.

Borbor’s mum thought it was just another rain. She had seen flashes of the devastation but did not realise that it was caustic. Even if she had, she had to juggle her mind between continuing preparing the porridge which would in turn put food to Borbor’s mouth and her three other kids, or stay put and the rest of the family would sleep that night on hungry stomachs. She was stubborn to move out and even when she did, it was to take Borbor to a neighbor’s house for safety. That was what saved Borbor’s life. He survived while about 109 other kids died, and an unaccountable number of them still missing.

Two days exactly to the day when the mudslide occurred, I drove down to Kaningo, defying the rocky and very difficult mountainous terrain, and through a valley to see for myself the devastation and the living conditions of those affected by the disaster. This was where I found Borbor playing, building a pyramid and destroying it, at a tent set up by the Family Homes Movement for children affected by the flooding. The tent receives about 70 kids every day. They are fed with juice, sweets, and biscuits. Story books are also read to them. It was paradise for the three-year-old who would escape from his mum every morning to go to the tent to play. Borbor and his mum and 291 family heads were displaced at the Malama-Kaningo Community Primary School. Their houses were swept away. They lost all their property and now, displaced at an overcrowded school compound, cold when it rains, very hot when the sun was up and disease prone. In addition, schools have re-opened and the headmistress wants her school back for pupils to return to their classes.

If at age three Borbor had any psychological torment or traumatised as a result of the mudslide, like all the other kids that survived the devastation, he was showing no sign of it. He was doing what any other normal kids would do, no matter what – playing.

When Borbor was not building castles or pyramids inside the tent, he would play football and ride a bicycle. Lucy Bayoh, his mum, says she supports Manchester United but “I don’t know about him.” Borbor’s favourite dish is macaroni and his mum had planned on sending him to school this year. With the mudslide; with the pots and the other paraphernalia that she used to ply her trade gone; with no money to start selling eventually; with no clothes and still traumatised, Borbor’s hopes of starting nursery is hanging in the balance and so are hundreds of others kids who survived.

As I was leaving, I extended my hand to Borbor. He shook it warmly with a bright smile and ran off to play again. Play was his own worry. My worry – how do we help Borbor and the many other Borbors  survive this crisis and to be able to go to school?

I can’t help but shed tears for Borbor – actually tears for Salone’s future.

Disclaimer: Osman Benk Sankoh, a former editor of Concord Times, now works with the United Nations. Sentiments expressed in this piece are his and do not reflect those of his organization.