This week, two of the polio victims that are part of the Hope Ministries group and the Opportunity Training Center (OTC) for the disabled that we spoke with on August 23, 2018 and wrote about in our blog post that week titled Kritters of Kenema, were baptized into our church. Keifala Kamara and Ibrahim Kamara (not related) were both baptized by Emmanuel Sartie, the Elders Quorum President in the Nyandeyama Branch. It was a glorious and spiritual event. In honor of these two wonderful men, I interviewed the director of OTC, Eku Scotland, himself a polio victim. This is a short and interesting version of his life story.
Birth and Polio
Eku Scotland was born on November 21, 1957 in Freetown, Sierra Leone. It was obvious from a very young age that Eku was intelligent and a quick learner. Eku was the first-born son of Omoh Williams and Modu Scotland and his mother’s second child. He had an older half-sister named Ebun Frazier. His dad was a carpenter by trade, but by the time Eku was born he had become a seaman, working the ships that ran along the coast transporting goods. He would be gone for 6 months at a time and then back home for 3 months before leaving again. When Eku was born. his father was at sea. Eventually there would be seven other children born to Modu and Omoh Scotland.
When Eku was 8 months old, he woke up one day with a fever which worsened throughout the day. When his mother took him to the hospital, they gave him an injection into his right hip which, according to his mom, caused him to cry for over an hour. By the time Eku and his mom arrived home, he was unable to stand on his right leg as she held him on her lap. The polio vaccine was new in 1957 and it is difficult to know what the treatment was in Sierra Leone in 1958. Today, Eku believes that the treatment he received may have made his condition worse.
While Eku could stand up as a 8-month old, shortly after the bout with the fever he could
no longer stand on his right leg. The fever had been caused by the poliomyelitis virus, which when it multiplies in the nervous system, destroys nerve cells that activate skeletal muscles. His entire right leg had been impacted. Sometime in the next few years, Eku’s family relocated from Freetown to Kenema and his father took work in the forestry industry to provide for his family. When he was about 6 years old, he began physical therapy at a Catholic Mission Hospital called Serabu in the city of Bo. There he learned to walk to some degree with the help of crutches. In 1961, the prime minister of Sierra Leone named Milton Margai supported the building of a church home for the disabled (polio victims) built in Bo called the Leonard Cheshire Home. The philosophy of the Leonard Cheshire Home was (and still is) to encourage and move disabled individuals toward independent living and with the freedom to live life their way. It was here in the Cheshire home that many who had been afflicted with polio were able to come and live without the day to day stigma attached to the disease that was prevalent in public. And at age 6, after completing the physical therapy at Serabu, it was there that Eku would spend the next 5 years.
Cheshire Home and Learning to Read
In the Cheshire Home, Eku lived away from his family. During that time, Peace Corp volunteers would come to the home and teach the children how to read. This was Eku’s favorite part about the home. He loved to read and credits his success in life to men and women who came to that home and taught him how to read. Over time the management of the Cheshire Home changed and with the change in management came a change to the level of care. His mother loved him dearly and when she saw what was happening in the home, they went and retrieved Eku and brought him to Kenema to be with the rest of the family. Eku was 11 years old at the time. Once back at home his parents could again see just how brilliant Eku was. They knew he could do well in school even though he had not had any formal schooling up to this point. So, they prepared him and soon Eku was using his crutches to find his way to school. His test scores indicated that he would be in “class 6” even though he had never attended the first 5 classes. But his elementary education came to an abrupt end about 2 months after it started. Eku was on his way to school and fell while crossing a road when his crutch hit a rock. Eku went down just as a vehicle was approaching. Fortunately for Eku the driver was able to slam on the brakes and avoid hitting him. When Eku’s mom found out, it was too much for her to take and she pulled Eku out of school, afraid that next time he might not be so lucky.
Curiosity at Home
Now that he was at home all day, his brilliant mind kept busy thinking about how things worked. When he was about 15 years old, his father purchased a gramophone and Eku would look at it and listen to it and wonder how it worked. Sometimes his curiosity would consume him, as was the case with the family clock. He was so curious about how things worked that one night after his parents went to sleep, he decided to take the clock apart to see how it worked. He was intrigued by the back and forth motion of the balanced wheel spring. Unfortunately, when he put it back together, he had done something wrong and the clock stopped working. When he awoke the next morning, his father was confused why the clock wasn’t keeping time and told his wife she needed to take it in for repairs. Eku kept quiet about his role in the clock’s demise. When the clock returned a few days later once again keeping time, Eku had to know what he had done wrong, so again, after everyone was in bed he got up and took it apart a second time. This time he discovered his error and when he put it all back together it worked!
With his successful clockwork behind him, Eku began to be fascinated with wrist watches. His mother had a Buler watch and when it gave her trouble she allowed Eku to take it apart and see how it worked. Each time he opened it up he would go a little deeper into its mechanics. Before long, Eku asked his mom to buy him some tools and
soon he was repairing watches for friends and neighbors. The first watch he remembers repairing was a Mortimer watch. When he was 17, his father retired from the forestry business and not long afterwards passed away. Eku became the sole provider for the family through his watch repair business.
About this time Eku’s mother bought him a radio. He loved that radio and carried it with him wherever he went. By this time, Eku was no longer using the crutches and with the lack of walking on his good leg, it began to atrophy. This relegated Eku to crawling as his primary means of moving about the home. One day, as Eku was crawling, he accidentally dropped the radio and the fall caused the tuning string to break. He opened the radio and repaired the string only to find that he could not get all of the stations that he used to get. So he continued to open it up until he eventually figured out how to retie the string so that he did not lose any of his stations.
Education in Freetown
A friend of the family saw Eku’s brilliance with watches and radios and told his parents that he should study electronics. This friend contacted a friend in Freetown who owned M&M Electronics. This was both an electronics school and an electronics repair shop and reseller. On this friend’s recommendation, M&M electronics accepted Eku into their school where he quickly became proficient in all kinds of electronic repairs. He received a certificate from the school which he treasurers as it is the only educational certificate that he ever received. After 3 years, Eku finished the school and wanted to return to Kenema. The owner of M&M Electronics was so impressed with Eku that he asked him to start a branch of the store in Kenema. After 4 years as head of the M&M store in Kenema, he decided he could do much better on his own so he left M&M and opened his own repair shop, which he ran exclusively for 10 years.
Opportunity Training Center
One day Eku was listening to the radio where a leader from the Ministry of Social Welfare put out an invitation for those who were disabled and had skills to begin helping other disabled people to learn those same skills. Eku immediately went and talked to the Social Ministry people and brought with him the idea for an Opportunity Training Center where the very thing that the Social Ministry Department was seeking could flourish. And thus, OTC was born in 1993. Interestingly enough, 1993 was also the same year that the civil war started in Sierra Leone. For OTC, the civil war brought more disabled into the center, as families began to leave Kenema for safer towns and villages, leaving behind their disabled children who brought stigma to the families. They would find it easier to relocate and be accepted in a new community without those children. The Ministry of Social Welfare had provided Eku a large building with enough room to sleep 20-25 of these “left-behind” children on mattresses on the floor in their main hall. There were another 20 or so disabled that did not sleep at the center but came there each day as registered members to learn new skills and to apply them in ways that provided some funding for the center.
Becoming a Teacher
In 1996, a priest from the Catholic mission named Father Johannes George came to Eku and asked him if he could repair an expensive digital radio he had purchased. The radio was special because when it turned on, Father George’s name would scroll across the bottom in digital letters. But now it was no longer working. Eku was not familiar with the type of radio, but with his love of electronics he was eager to try his hand at fixing it. Fortunately, he was successful and the priest was so grateful, that he asked Eku if he could repair computers. Eku responded that he thought he could. The priest owned a computer school and whenever he had a problem with one of his computers he would have to fly them to Freetown to be fixed which consumed both time and money. At the time, he had 5 computers that were not working. Eku asked to take just two of them home to see if he could fix them. Once again, Eku was successful in repairing something on which he had never previously worked. Father George was now even more impressed with Eku and not only paid him to fix their computers, but also asked him to come to the school and teach electronics. Eku accepted the teaching position and for the next 22 years taught electronics in the morning and early afternoon and returned to OTC in the late afternoons and evenings to make sure things were running smoothly.
Fatherhood and Marriage
Eku is the father of 9 children. He had 5 children with the first woman he was with. Her name was Sally Fewry. They loved each other, but the woman’s mother did not like Eku because he was disabled and eventually convinced his daughter that rather than marry Eku, she should leave him. And so, she took the children and left. Seven years later she returned and wanted Eku to take her back, but by then he had fallen in love with another woman named Memuna Turay and they had a daughter together. But once again, a family member, this time the woman’s brother turned her away from Eku, forbidding her to marry him because of his disability. She too eventually left, taking the daughter and marrying another man. The third woman in Eku’s life was a similar story. When her parents fled Swegbema due to unrest associated with the civil war, Eku provided them a room in his home here in Kenema. But while Eku was at work and at OTC, the mother was poisoning the relationship between her daughter and Eku. Again, it was because he was disabled that the mother convinced the daughter they all must
leave. It was at this point that Eku made an important realization. All three of the women he had loved and wanted to marry, would not marry him because of his disability. So he decided the next time he fell in love, it would be with someone who also had a disability. Martha was that person. Albeit 30 years younger than him, Martha and Eku fell in love and had three beautiful children. 7 years ago, for the first time in his life, Eku was legally married to a woman that he loved and that loved him back with no one in the family telling her to leave him, neither then nor now!
National Commission for Person’s with Disability
In 2012 Eku was elected as 1 of 4 commissioners of the National Commission for Persons with Disability – Eastern Region. His area covered the people in Kono, Kailahun and Kenema. Eku was well respected and was diligent in his duties. In fact, his diligence was recognized with a car and a driver, the only commissioner in the Eastern District to have such an unusual perk. With this responsibility, and the authority given him under the 2011 Disability Act, Eku could approve free medical care and free tertiary (i.e., post high school) education to those who were disabled in the region, if they met the requirements. Normally, commissioners only serve for one term, but in Eku’s case they asked him to serve a second one. And even though that term ended earlier this year, he has agreed to continue to serve until they can find a suitable replacement. With this responsibility, he would travel northeast to Kailahun and then further north to Kono district. He held this responsibility during the Ebola crises and did much to look out for the disabled during this turbulent and difficult time. Unfortunately, there were 5 disabled who contracted the disease and died. 2 were in Kenema, 1 in Kailahun and 2 in Kono.
After being commissioner for 5 years, the car that he had been granted was taken back by the commission and given to another. This made it difficult for Eku to fulfill his responsibilities as commissioner, so he purchased a used vehicle with an automatic transmission and then using his own ingenuity modified it so that he could drive. This allowed him to keep serving the people he has come to love and nurture for so long. He still has the vehicle, but the battery is dead and needs to be replaced and he currently cannot afford to fix it.
When Eku moved to Freetown to attend the M&M Electronics he had no mobility other than his knees. To get to work he would take a taxi and to come home at night he would do the same. At lunchtime, when his colleagues would go out to lunch, he would crawl over to the veranda and if someone came by selling food, and he had money, he would purchase something. Otherwise he would go without. When he moved back to Kenema to run the new M&M Store, there were no motorbike taxi’s, but he paid a motorbike repair man Le 5000 a month to take him back and forth to work. After a few months, Eku bought a bicycle and fixed up a board on the back that he could sit on and his brothers and friends would take him back and forth to work each day. He did this for 4-5 years. When Eku was about 30 years old, he came to know about a Herr Schneider from Germany who was working in Makeni (a city north of Freetown) and was attached to the Catholic Mission. His primary role with the mission was to provide wheelchairs for the disabled. On one of his trips to Kenema, Eku found out he was coming and was able to qualify for a hand operated wheelchair. This was the first real mobility that Eku had experienced in his entire life. He could move around without the aid of others to take him. He was thrilled! Within a few years, the wheelchair began to deteriorate. Parts
were very difficult to come by and it was just a matter of time before it was no longer usable. Eku had tasted mobility and did not want to lose it, so he contacted government officials and learned that the Chinese were bringing “tricycle” wheelchairs into Sierra Leone for the disabled. Eku indicated that these tricycles were well built and parts were readily accessible. He was fortunate to be the beneficiary of one of these tricycles and he used it up until 2010!
September 21, 2010 was World Peace Day, and an American woman named Lisa Schultz who was behind the establishment of the day and the founder of the Peace Project came to OTC in Kenema to celebrate that first official
World Peace Day and to donate crutches and a few wheelchairs that Eku would be responsible to distribute in the area. She also provided money for Eku to organize a one day event where the crutches and wheelchairs would be distributed. This required him to contact the necessary government stakeholders, publicize the event, and provide food and transportation for those who would attend. She was so impressed with Eku that when she was leaving she asked what she could do for him. He longed for better mobility. He was now in his 50’s and the hand powered tricycle was getting harder and harder for him. He wondered if he might somehow receive a powered wheelchair that would increase his ability to serve others. Within a year, Lisa arranged for Eku to receive a battery powered wheelchair. Unfortunately, it got hung up in customs as the officials there did not want to release it thinking perhaps they might have it for one of their own family members. Eku contacted Lisa about him going to Freetown to retrieve the scooter, but she indicated he should stay in Kenema and she would contact a journalist she knew in Freetown and have him go and check on it. The journalist’s name was Kamara and it did not take long for him to unwind the scheme to keep the scooter in Freetown. The threat of some bad press seemed to be effective in this case. He has been so grateful for this increased mobility as he uses it every day. He can often be seen on market street riding his scooter running errands or going to, or returning from a meeting.
There is one more important part of this story. During the civil war, the United Nations contingent were building schools and churches. Eku went to them and asked them if they might do something for the disabled here in Kenema. They were willing, but he would have to have land for them to build upon. So, undaunted he went to the minister
of lands and was able to get some land deeded for a new OTC. It is on this land that OTC stands today. It was the Pakistani contingent that built the first building for them. Later, the British contingent of IMATT (International Military Training and Advisory Team) agreed to build their second building. This building today is used for metalworking and the production of hammers, machetes and other tools that they sell. Later, OTC provided training for Childfund, International, training both able and disabled children for 2 years. From that money, which they saved, they were able to build the current building where Eku spends his days as director of the center and which also houses an electronic repair shop and a sewing and embroidery room. When their money ran out right before completing it, again Eku found a way to finish it by contacting the Minister of Education as well as the Kenema City Council who together agreed to provide the necessary remainder of funds.
Today you will find Eku happily sitting in his chair behind a table filled with electronic parts. When he is not replacing a diode, resister or capacitor, he is fully engaged in the work of OTC. He currently consults for Handicapped International where he continues to lobby for inclusion of the disabled in the schools with facilities, benches, desks and doorways built to accommodate those whose needs are different. Eku is an inspiration, both to those who are disabled as well as those who are not. Members of OTC do not beg on the streets for their food. They learn skills and find ways to sell the goods they have produced or they find a way to provide services for those who need them. Eku is concerned about the temporal welfare of the people who come to him, but he is also concerned about their spiritual welfare, realizing that it the “whole person” that must be healthy to have a productive and happy life. Despite all of the hardship and disappointment in his life, he remains upbeat, enthusiastic and is fun to be around and talk with. Thank you, Eku for all you do for the disabled people of Kenema and Sierra Leone!
Monday night we had Family Home Evening at the Burma Branch. We had 23 people come which meant we barely had enough cupcakes! It was an excellent discussion, once again on the Book of Mormon and the value of reading it every single day. There are many young single adults in the branch who are attending school and trying to make a better life for themselves. We always love being with them.
On Tuesday we focused on two things. The first entailed visits to the carpenter and welding shops that are building 200 desks for local schools funded by LDS Charities. Most of what we saw was work that was well done. But we did run into one shop where
the desktops were definitely not smooth enough to use as a writing surface. I understood later that we created a bit of a stir to have two “white-faced” representatives of the church saying that the work was not good enough. We have not been back to the shop to see their progress, but they certainly understood that they had to be better before we would accept the desks. Half of them are to be delivered this week, so we will know more later about how they are looking.
This week we also continued to work on the solar setup next door. We pulled the panels off the roof and had a rack built where they can more directly point towards the sun
throughout the day. Unfortunately the rack was not big enough to hold the panels so we had to take it back to the welding shop for alterations. Not too happy about that as every weld weakens the longevity, but hey, we are in Africa! So far it appears that we are generating more power and we are getting closer to the ideal installation.
LDS Charities is also working on another project here in Kenema. It involves bringing electricity to the East Kenema Police Station, providing lighting and outlets throughout the building, digging a fresh water well and providing some tables and benches. Before beginning the project, President and Sister Cobinah invited LaDawn and me to go with them to the Kenema Chief of Police and explain what the project entailed and that the
project has been funded and can now start. Commander Alpha was most gracious and grateful for the help of the Church in doing this work. After meeting with Commander Alpha, we walked over to another building and met with the Regional Police commander. All were very complimentary of the project and grateful for the church’s role in making it happen. The Church has probably done more good to build its reputation through this one project with the police than just about anything else that could be done. The Police Chief assured us that he wanted to make sure we were safe while we are here and that if we ever have any trouble to let him know. That is a very nice thing to know!
On Saturday the open house for the new District Center was held. The day started early at 7 am with a 4.6 mile trek from Ahmadiyya Junction to the district center in Gambu. The trek started about 7:30 am and most people made it to the district center between 9:30 and 10:00 pm. It was a nice event. The District Presidency then held a meeting for
about 90 minutes where they answered any questions that the invited guests had. President Cobinah did a nice job answering some tough questions. The city mayor and the Kenema District Council Chairman both took a few moments and addressed the congregation. Some of it was in Krio so we didn’t understand all of it, but they had glowing things to say about the church. Afterwards the dignitaries were given a tour of the facility and then had a brief more intimate meeting with the District leadership. LaDawn and I were invited into that meeting where we were introduced and I snapped a few pictures. Afterwards each of the branches put on a cultural skit. Much of it was in Mende and we did not understand much of what was said. Our favorite skit was from Dauda Town where they performed native dances.
On Sunday we returned to Tongo where the mission president and district president had both agreed to authorize the blessing and passing of the sacrament. We decided to drive up and take them some sacrament cups for them to use and to be a part of this historic occasion. There were 43 people present at the meeting, including LaDawn, me and
Thomas Kallon who had gone up with us a couple of weeks ago. The other 40 were all from Tongo and only 6 of them were members of the church. We met in the community center where a nice breeze blew through the open air pavilion. John Charles, a man who longs to be baptized, spoke on the sacrament and gave a wonderful and doctrinally sound talk. He had been asked on Friday to speak in the meeting, before approval had been granted to bless and pass the sacrament, just one more tender mercy to be able to have that particular talk on the same Sunday that the sacrament was first administered. This week President Clawson will seek “home group” status from the Area President and hopefully before long a branch will be formed there. Figuring out how to get missionaries back and forth and provide baptismal services will be the next challenge. But what a wonderful challenge to have! We were also to take Ishmael a like new wheelchair, courtesy of Eku Scotland the OTC. They just happened to have one available for us to take to him. Ishmael was thrilled!
It’s been a busy week here in Kenema as we join our efforts with those of the local leaders to build the kingdom. It has been an incredibly rewarding week!