ExclusiveAmputations during the civil war and polio outbreaks have left thousands of people in Sierra Leone in need of crutches.
This year, to mark International Peace Day on September 21st, an innovative project will be distributing 10,000 pairs of crutches in a single day from various locations across the West African country. The event is being called Operation Rise.
Founder Lisa Schultz, who runs an online creative community called TheWhole9.com, was so moved by photos of Sierra Leone’s amputee soccer team she founded The Peace Project, which started as an international art competition about peace. When Lisa arrived in Sierra Leone to create “The Peace Wall,” she noticed many people in need of crutches.
“I was heartbroken to see so many men, women and children that were either crawling around on the ground or almost unable to move because they didn’t have crutches or because what they were using was so makeshift or broken down,” Schultz says.
She decided that something should be done and Operation Rise was born.
“I realized the incredible energetic shift and social and psychological impact getting 10,000 people on their feet on one day would have on the morale of the country. And I knew that to engage people worldwide in caring about a problem caused by a war that ended 10 years ago, we had to do something big that would engage their imagination,” Schultz adds.
She and her team went on to raise roughly $250,000 for Operation Rise from crowd funding, fundraising events, private donors, corporate donors and family foundations.
Sierra Leone’s civil war ended a decade ago and since then the country has been fairly peaceful. It remains, however, very near the bottom of the United Nations’ human development index. Providing decent, accessible and affordable healthcare is one of many challenges for the government. Reliable statistics are difficult to come by, but there are many thousands of people in Sierra Leone crippled by either war wounds or polio.
After meeting the country’s director of UNICEF on a plane, Schultz realized she needed further help from the organization to clear crutches and other mobility aids through customs and Sierra Leone’s Community Association for Psychosocial Services, a group that works with victims of the civil war.
“I know that being able to take care of oneself and one’s family is the first step to sustainable peace and that personal mobility is the first step in that,” she says.
To ensure the project is sustainable Lisa is putting in place repair facilities throughout Sierra Leone to provide a low cost way to manufacture crutch tips prolonging the lives of the crutches and the freedom and accessibility they provide for their owners.
Images: Lisa Schultz images by Stephen D. Lawrence, amputee soccer images by Pep Bonet/NOOR