When the Revolutionary United Front, or RUF, entered Sierra Leone in 1991, they made nightmares come true for countless men, women and children.
It was the intent of their leader, Foday Saybana Sankoh, to replace the existing government and take control of the lucrative diamond fields. His army used amputation as their signature method to terrorize the people into submission. This war come to be known as the Black Market Diamond Conflict. By 2002, the death toll was estimated at 50,000, mutilations 20,000, countless rape victims, and a million more people reported to have fled the country altogether.
In fall of 1998, Salifu Sesay was two years old when he was injured by a rebel raid. Many in his family’s village died that night. Salifu himself survived four machete blows to the head, one of which cracked open his skull.
In March of 2001, Lonny Houk, founder of Feed My Lambs International, brought Salifu to the United States. Surgery to repair Salifu’s head was successful. Sal was adopted and began attending Morse Elementary school in the Blue Valley district.
There aren’t too many medical cases of individuals coming back after a machete blow to the head. Salifu’s life was about defying the odds from the start. He recovered from not one, but four strikes to his skull, one of which penetrated bone and cracked it wide open. This blow filled his two-year-old brain with scar tissue, but it couldn’t touch the spirit of perseverance which would go on to characterize Salifu’s life.
Sal was determined to do well in school. He was evaluated and assigned an IEP, Individual Education Plan, in second grade. Testing showed Salifu’s weakest areas were in the visual and physical process of reading, and writing. His short term memory had suffered damage as a result of his injury. Progress was sluggish, yet Salifu never gave up. That year was the first year many in which he would receive the school’s award for Perseverance.
Every summer, when most children had a break, Sal continued to attend class. By fifth grade, Sal was reading at almost a second grade level. Salifu’s mother was told Salifu would never progress further.
Salifu refused to be limited by the odds. He never asked for favors, never made excuses for himself or saw himself as a victim. He simply smiled, put his head down, and worked worked diligently, striving always to improve his reading skills.
Finally, during Sal’s sophomore year at Blue Valley Southwest high school, he was released from the IEP. He went on to graduate from high school and attend Johnson County Community College, quite an accomplishment for someone who was never supposed to read above a second grade level. Where many of us see obstacles, Salifu saw opportunity. This ‘can do’ spirit helped him achieve success academically, on the football field, at work and in his relationships.