Some of the tiniest victims of the rebel warfare in Sierra Leone arrived yesterday at Dulles International Airport, wide-eyed and hushed as they entered the international arrivals lounge.
They didn't have to say anything. Their missing limbs are testament to the brutality of the civil war that seems mindless in its ferocity but that has gripped their country for years.
There was Memunatu Mansaray, 4, her right arm gone below the elbow since Jan. 6, 1999, when the rebels invaded Freetown.
And Mohamed Conteh, 4, his left leg amputated below the knee and right leg bone shattered by bomb fragments during fighting in February 1998.
Also, Damba Koroma, 8, her left arm cut off below the elbow on Jan. 6, 1999; Bintu Amara, 9, her left leg cut off above the knee on Jan. 6, 1999; Fatu Koroma, 10, her right arm amputated above the wrist in February 1998; and Mariama Conteh, 15, her left arm amputated above the wrist Jan. 6, 1999.
They were accompanied by two men, Muctarr Jalloh, 27, whose right arm was amputated above the wrist, along with his right ear, on April 19, 1998, and Tommy Foday, 47. Both of Foday's arms were cut off below the elbows on Jan. 6, 1999, by rebels during the invasion of Freetown.
"I feel very good to be here," said the soft-spoken Jalloh, who was president of the amputee camp in the capital's Murray Town section and the only survivor who speaks English. Jalloh said 193 amputees remain in that camp, one of several in Freetown.
Yesterday's visitors are lucky, said Mathew Hanson, who left Sierra Leone nine years ago.
"Most people lose their lives," said Hanson, who, along with his wife, Betty, will host 9-year-old Bintu in their Alexandria home while she is in the area. "They should be thankful to God because they survived. . . . For us to host one of them, I feel privileged."
The group, accompanied by a nurse and a social worker from the camp, was brought to the United States for orthopedic surgery and prosthetic fitting through the efforts of the District-based Friends of Sierra Leone; ARIMED, a prosthetics company in New York; and the Rotary Clubs of Staten Island and Brooklyn. Part of the group's international travel was funded by money raised by the students of St. James and John School in Baltimore.
The eight amputee victims were chosen for the trip based on the severity of their disabilities and the necessity for surgery to accommodate prosthetic devices. They leave for New York City on Tuesday to undergo their initial medical screening. Before then, they will be honored Sunday at a 10 a.m. prayer service at John Adams Elementary School in Alexandria.
The children and the adults also will go before the House Subcommittee on Africa at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
They are expected to be in the United States about two months, said Daphne Sawyerr-Dunn, a member of the Friends of Sierra Leone who went to the airport to greet the group.
"As sad as it is to actually watch these people who have lost limbs, we're hoping other benefactors will come forward to help the less fortunate," Sawyerr-Dunn said.
The amputees will be guests at a fundraising dinner Oct. 7, sponsored by the Friends of Sierra Leone, at the Ramada Inn in New Carrollton. The money raised will be used to help send doctors to Sierra Leone, said Milly Terry, an organizer.
The group's members will stay in Northern Virginia. They were greeted at Dulles by countrymen bearing red and yellow "Welcome" helium balloons, long-stemmed red and pink roses and large nylon bags for them to use as suitcases. Sierra Leone's ambassador to the United States, John Ernest Leigh, also was there.
"Welcome to America," he said as he knelt before little Memunatu as she grasped a yellow stuffed duck with her left arm.
Isata Jalloh, a maintenance worker at Dulles, turned to see the commotion around the entourage and recognized some fellow Sierra Leoneans. She walked over, saw the children and rushed to them sobbing. She hugged them as she clutched a bottle of cleanser in her gloved hands.
Jalloh left Sierra Leone three years ago, just before the height of the maimings and mutilation.
"This makes me so sad," she said.