________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 28 . . . . March 23, 2012


Kamakwie: Finding Peace, Love and Injustice in Sierra Leone.

Kathleen Martin.
Red Deer Press/Fitzhenry & Whiteside.
176 pp., trade pbk., $19.95.
ISBN 978-0-88995-472-4

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Suzanne Pierson.

**** /4



I am crying now. I cannot stop. I cannot erase what he saw, heard, smelled, felt. All of these children around me. What they saw, smelled, felt. I cannot give them back what they lost.

“Yes, it is painful to remember,” she says. Her voice is calm. “But when you share the problems, you ease them. You will help ease them. You may tell this story, but you should not tell our names. The story is enough.”

Buy this book. Read it yourself and share it with your children and your students and the world will be changed. It is impossible to be unmoved by this tragic but inspiring story of individuals who have seen the worst and still have hope.

      Recovering from years of civil war, Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world. Although overwhelmed by the poverty, author Kathleen Martin gathered stories and pictures of the people who now live side by side with their former enemies. Together, they are now committed to making a better life for all of their children. Martin’s stories and photos introduce us to real people currently looking up at the same moon as you and me, and the stories and photos make the suffering and the resilience of those people real, one face at a time.

internal art      Martin, a journalist and author of several previous nonfiction books for children, accompanied a volunteer medical team from Fredericton, NB, to Sierra Leone. Martin’s role was to write a book about child poverty in Sierra Leone.

      Filled with stunningly revealing photos of the children and those who care for them, Kamakwie takes you on a roller coaster ride of emotions. We know from the prologue that Marie, one of the children that Martin came to know and care about, is dead. Her death from malnutrition and superstition was preventable, but Martin, and all the others who cared, were helpless to save her.

      By the time Marie was brought to the hospital, she was already doomed. A sorcerer had determined that the mother’s family members were witches and that Marie was bewitched. Traditional remedies did not cure her, and so she was eventually brought to the hospital, but it was too late to undo the damage. Through Martin’s poignant sharing of her reaction to this child, we are given the opportunity to care also.

      And yet, Kamakwie is not a tragedy. It is a story of resilience and joy. Whether they were able to flee the war or were forced to stay and endure, everyone has a story, but, remarkably, the photos provide evidence of people who are allowing themselves to smile again. People have hope for a better future for their children, but that future doesn’t include passing on hatred and bitterness for the wounds of the past.

She tightens her grip on my hands. She looks me straight in the eyes. She no longer whispers. Her voice is clear and firm.

“How can I want hatred in my heart? In the hearts of my children? So this can happen again? After what we have been through, how can I want their hearts filled with anything but the love of God? We need peace!”

      Martin’s final words are an eloquent call to us all.

I learned in Kamakwie that it is not anger that will fix injustice.

It is love. Boundless.

Highly Recommended.

Suzanne Pierson is a retired teacher-librarian, currently instructing librarianship courses at Queen’s University in Kingston, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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