That April morning, I was at home, preparing food for the family at the police quarters where we stayed in Bandset. My husband is a policeman and he and all the other men had gone for work. My son was also out with friends
I suddenly heard my sister-in-law, who stayed in a neighbouring house, telling her daughter to quickly get out of the house because of the smoke. There was indeed smoke coming out of one of the apartments near mine.
I cannot describe how fast that fire was spreading. In front of my eyes, it spread to my sister-in-law’s apartment and in just a few moments it reached my block. I escaped with only the clothes I was wearing. I stood outside, opposite my house on Hennessy Street, shedding tears as I watched my house turn to ashes.
I give glory to the Almighty because my life was saved. The youths in our community were very swift to come to our aid. They used water from the station tanks in our area to put out the fire before the fire force arrived, and they helped prevent the fire from spreading to other apartments nearby.
But imagine: everything you’ve worked for destroyed in a single day. It wasn’t only about money and belongings, but the documents. We lost our national identity cards, birth certificates, academic certifications, marriage certificate, passports… it costs money and long processes and procedures to get these documents.
The Inspector-General of the Sierra Leone Police and other officers visited us afterwards and gave us Le 1,442,000 ($140) each as a form of compensation. We also received rice, oil, and other food supplies from the National Security Office and NGOs. The Inspector-General and his team identified the Kingtom police canteen, where marriages and birthday parties used to be held, as a place to temporarily accommodate the fire victims. They partitioned it into single rooms.
We are very thankful for the timely intervention of the police hierarchy, but it is not enough. We are still living in the canteen and though it is better than sleeping in the open, it is not conducive for dwelling. I used to have a self-contained house with bathrooms and other facilities, but now it is a single makeshift room.
The major challenge is lack of privacy. I had to make the painful decision of sending my son to live with my sister because we just have a single room with no chairs, tables, or even access to enough water. I couldn’t have my son staying in such conditions. Since then, I’ve noticed a drastic drop in my son’s school performance. My sister does not have the time to monitor him, but I do not have a choice. We are currently in the rainy season and my neighbours and I are suffering from cold.
I believe the police have done what they could, so we are calling on the government and international organisations to help us and quickly construct our houses to save us from this plight. My husband and his friends were out on that particular day serving the government and the people of this country. Now that adversity has befallen us, we need their timely support to motivate us.
Photograph: Morlai Ibrahim Kamara