When Mariatu Kamara was 12, rebel soldiers in Sierra Leone — themselves just children — raped and tortured her for more than 10 hours.
Then they cut off her hands.
“They handed me over to boys with big machetes and guns. I couldn’t fight them,” Kamara, 22, told 300 Citadel High students on Friday.
She was kidnapped along with her cousin, Adama, from their village in April 1999. Having her hands cut off wasn’t unusual; UNICEF says thousands of children suffered the same fate. Why their hands? The rebels didn’t want them to vote — a task people use their hands for.
“At times I felt like killing myself because of the heartbreak. I couldn’t imagine living without my hands.”
Kamara survived a decade-long war in her country, and emigrated to Toronto seven years ago.
She learned English there while going to high school, and is now studying social work at George Brown College.
She speaks across the country to spread the word about the work UNICEF does to help children in situations like hers. She also recently released a book, The Bite of the Mango, about her story.
Student Alixandra Drew, 18, said she was in awe of Kamara.
“I’m blown away. I don’t know how somebody could have that much courage,” said Drew.
“I think as someone living in North America, we take advantage of a lot of the resources we have and we don’t realize the hardships that are going on around us.”
Robert Kelbrat, 16, said Kamara showed a lot of courage.
“I was shocked how much courage she had. She didn’t have any tears, and her story was amazing. How she actually came over and spent her time with us to tell us her story, I think it’s incredible that she could do that,” said Kelbrat. “I kind of almost teared up a bit — it was just so sad.”