|Memunatu Mansaray imitates the Statue of Liberty, America’s symbol of freedom, during a charity boat tour. She came to the United States with a group of Sierra Leonean war amputees to receive prosthetic limbs in 2000. They had endured rebel brutality, but their vitality and spirit remained intact. Carol Guzy / Freelance
Four-year-old Memunatu Mansaray, known as Memuna, was among eight Sierra Leonean children brought to the United States in 2000 to receive prostheses for amputations suffered in the West African nation’s civil war. New York doctor Matthew Mirones made this humanitarian act possible when he started a program to fit the children with new limbs.
The scene leading to most amputations is hard to fathom. Imagine that a child is forced to watch the savage murder of her parents. Then that child is ordered to lay her limb on the roots of a cotton tree. The rest is done with a crude machete. Some mercifully faint with the first cut. Others bleed to death. Those who survive are haunted forever by such memories.
Memuna lost her limb after being shot in the arm by rebels during an attack. She and her companions were to be fitted for limbs, helped with rehabilitation and then sent them back to Africa. But their doctors soon realized that there would be no one back home to repair complex prosthetics, and their caregivers feared that the children’s relative fame would turn them into rebel targets a second time. Their spirits profoundly touched their caregivers. All eight were ultimately granted political asylum and have been adopted by American families.
Memuna, now Memunatu Mansaray McShane, lives in Washington, D.C. with her adopted family. She loves soccer and plays easily with her siblings Michael and Molly. The family fits like a glove. She has discovered drawing, ice- skating, sledding and acting in school plays. Now she wears high heels and fancy dresses – a typical American teenager. One day she hopes to become an artist, a doctor, a veterinarian or a dolphin trainer, although her aspirations change frequently.
She is a radiant example of the good that can be accomplished by the small acts of a few compassionate people who are determined to make a difference. In these dark and troubled times, it is a story of hope.