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Sierra Leone: Opinion - Over HANCI-MAPS Adoption, Who is Deceiving Who?


May 4, 2011 / allafrica.com

Abu S. Tarawalie

Freetown — The media in Sierra Leone is constitutionally charged with the responsibility of reporting the government to the people and the people to the government in a fair and just manner. It is also an ethical principle for journalists to know that credibility is a journalist's most important asset and accuracy is the best way to protect it. These legal and ethical principles have lost grip in our daily practice as members of the fourth estate whose responsibility is to complement the other arms of government to achieve national development.

The lack of journalistic ethics in this country has been clearly displayed on the alleged involvement of Help a Needy Child in Sierra Leone (HANCI-SL) in facilitating the adoption process of 29 Sierra Leonean children to the United State of America through Maine Adoption Placement Services (MAPS).

The commencement of the Justice Adeliza Showers Commission of Inquiry which is set up by government to investigate as to whether biological parents consented to the adoption of their children by HANCI/MAPS or not has spurred so many articles, some to indict HANCI, others to exonerate the organization while others specifically aim to aid the commission with the fact. I've decided to write on this issue because some papers have been practicing arm-chair journalism on the issue that is capable of disturbing the peace of the state and above all to work with the latter.

However, it could be recalled that The Punch Newspaper published an article caption: "Kim Kargbo Accused by Parents of Deception...HANCI's PR at Work to Deceive the Public?" An extract of the said publication reads: "...when the father and daughter saw each other they hugged and cried. I was overjoyed to see my daughter after a long time. She resembled the girl in the picture that was sent to me from her adoptive parents in America through Kim. After this accident Kim Kargbo, who is the Director of the NGO Women of Hope International in Makeni, asked Sheik Alimamy to go home and come back the next day".

"When I called Kim Kargbo the morning of the next day on her mobile phone, she told me that she was in Freetown. When I called her in the evening, she told me that she was at Lungi. I straightaway concluded that I had been deceived". Sheik went on: "Our meeting did not last for more than fifteen minutes. This woman deceived me".

This story was published as a result of an investigative article published by Concord Times Newspaper No388 of April 7, 2011 captioned: "As Commission of Inquiry Rejects Parents... Adopted Child Jets In"; an extract of the publication reads thus: "In another development, Adama Kamara now Adama Laura Celeste Kamara - currently living in Louis Ville, Kentucky in the United State of America - was one of the twenty-nine children said to have been adopted by HANCI-SL. Concord Times learnt that the girl, who was informed that her father, Sheik Alimamy Kamara - who had denied her by telling HANCI-SL that her father was bitten by snake for her to be adopted - was visibly angry about the development when she recently visited the country".

It could be recalled that Sheik Alimamy Kamara was one of the parents and ring leaders that was clamouring for the government to set up the commission but deliberately refused to inform the commission about the coming of her child. However, the Concord Times publication prompted him to publish the said article with the aid of the medium's editor.

However, Kim Kargbo who believes that she has not been treated fairly with reference to the article published in the Punch Newspaper as an alleged source, mailed to publish her own side with specific reference to Adama's visit in Sierra Leone. Adama is one of the children adopted by HANCI/MAPS. This is part one of her side on the alleged issue. This is an unedited version of Mrs. Kim Kargbo:

"As to the children who were adopted from Sierra Leone through HANCI, I have connections with some of them, merely because their parents contacted me privately. My first contact with these children occurred in 2006 when an adoptive parent in the US found me on the internet and wrote me on the off-chance that I might be able to help her children (she adopted twins) know more about the country they came from. I have corresponded with this family for 5 years and in 2007 was able to connect the children with their biological parents by letter and picture. This was a huge blessing to their children - to find out that they had living parents and siblings and to be able to make a connection with them. When the children are grown, they plan to visit their biological family, but are not in a position to do so yet. I did contact HANCI to verify that these children were the biological children of the parents who were identified, and they confirmed that they were. Other relatives also confirmed that their twins were some of the children given to the HANCI orphanage during the war and adopted out to the United States. Through my contacts with that family in the US, other families who adopted children in that same group began to contact me.

"Adama's adoptive mother contacted me in 2009, saying that she would like to help her daughter understand more about where she came from and who she was and asking if I could help. I helped to connect her to some Sierra Leonean groups here in the Diaspora in the US and gave her more information about Sierra Leone. On one of my visits to Sierra Leone through Women of Hope, I met Adama's father and found out that he lived in Makeni. He was given my contact information by Dr. Roland Kargbo, who knew that I was in contact with some of the adoptive families - though he was completely uninvolved in those contacts, but he had heard about it. So, Sheik Alimamy Kamara contacted me and asked me if I had information about his daughter. I spent some time working to confirm that he was indeed the father of the girl I was in contact with and also taking time to be sure the daughter and her family wanted to have contact with him. They were shocked to find out that Adama had living relatives in Sierra Leone. They have documents that state that her parents were both dead. I traveled back and forth between Sierra Leone and the US and would carry letters and pictures back and forth between Mr. Kamara and his daughter. He also came to my house many, many times in Makeni to receive phone calls from his daughter while I was there. I would serve as an interpreter, as Adama does not speak any Krio and Mr. Kamara does not speak any English. He and Adama also communicated by phone when I was not in Sierra Leone, although they had difficulty communicating due to the language barrier.

"Adama and her mother verified Mr. Kamara's relationship to Adama by means of a DNA test, which I hand-carried for them and was performed by a lab in the United States. It did verify that Mr. Kamara is absolutely Adama's biological father. Adama very much wanted to come to Sierra Leone to meet her family (her mother had since died in childbirth). We began to discuss the possibilities of her visiting. A visit was planned for June of 2010, but it was canceled by Adama's adoptive mother in the US at the last minute because an article was released which quoted one of the HANCI parents in Sierra Leone as saying that they were demanding that their children be returned. Adama's mother was afraid that something would happen to her daughter, as the case seemed fairly volatile, so she decided not to come at that time. I do not live near Adama in the United States, so had never met her or her mother in person until this past November (2010). We had only communicated by phone and email, but we had developed a relationship of honesty and trust. When I was going to be in Sierra Leone for 3 months this year, Adama and her mom began to reconsider the possibility of a visit to meet her family. I asked many people about the wisdom of such a visit and we decided that it would be a positive thing for both Adama and her dad, as well as the other HANCI children and parents, if she came.

"We made the arrangements, but because the situation surrounding the HANCI case is so sensitive, we realized that news of her arrival could spark a huge influx of reporters, journalists and other HANCI parents coming to question her. She is still a child, and we did not want to put her in a situation such as that. Also, because one visit had already been cancelled, we did not want to disappoint her father. So, we did not tell anyone about her arrival until she was there. Adama arrived on March 11th and left to go back to the States on March 21st. It was customary that I would bring letters or pictures for Mr. Kamara when I would come to SL, so when she arrived, I called him and told him that they had sent something for him. He said he would come and get it. When he arrived at the house, I had him sit down in the parlour and then I brought Adama out to him and said, 'Pa, this is what they have sent for you.' It was a joy-filled and tear-filled reunion. Because Adama was accompanied to SL by a trusted friend who was coming on a work team from the US, there were other people in the house at the time of their reunion. Adama and her father sat together for some time, crying and laughing. Mr. Kamara then told me that it was very important that no one should know about Adama's visit to Sierra Leone, as he was also concerned that people would swarm the house to see her if they knew. He even advised against her going to visit the family at his house, as people would recognize her face, since she looks exactly like her mother and her younger sister. So, we agreed that we would not say anything to anyone about her visit and all of their visits together could take place at our house in Makeni off Teko Road.

"He arranged for some of the other close family members to come back to the house that evening to meet her - her step-mother, step-brother and sister and 2 full sisters. They came and spent some time visiting with her and crying. The next day, it was arranged that all of her sisters (born to the same mother) would come and visit with her, as she desperately wanted to meet all of her living biological family. Two of the sisters live in Kono, so her father sent for them to come immediately, not even telling them why they were coming to Makeni until they arrived there.

"Over the course of the week that she was there, she had several visits with her father, sisters and other family members and spent many, many hours with them. Near the end of her visit, Kelfa Kargbo, the current director of HANCI, stopped by the house. It was completely coincidental. I had no intention of telling anyone from HANCI about the visit, until she was gone. He stopped by only because he had not greeted me since my arrival in Sierra Leone 2 months earlier and he happened to be in Makeni that night. I knew that if he saw her, he would know who she was, so I told him that she was in the house. He visited with her as well and she asked him many questions about what had happened to her and the other children during the time of the rebel invasion of Makeni in 1998. Kelfa did not have a lot of details, as he was not working with HANCI at that time. She told Kelfa that the visit had been very healing for her and she wanted to help other families connect with their children as well and asked him what she could do. He mentioned that it might be helpful if she were able to meet with the Minister of Social Welfare, just to verify that she had actually been in Sierra Leone and had come safely back to visit her family and then returned safely back to her family in the US. He thought this might help to stop some of the rumors that the children had been sold into slavery and prove that they had been adopted into loving families who were caring for them well. Adama agreed that she'd like to do that, if it might help other families find peace. We did not want to do it, however, unless both her adoptive mother in the US and her biological father in SL agreed to that meeting. In the end, both of them agreed. At first Mr. Kamara was reluctant. He told me he did not want people to know that his daughter had come from the US, because people would assume that she was sending money for him and he would be constantly bothered by people for financial assistance. Since she is just a child and still in school, she is not in a position to send financial assistance to her family. And the families who adopted the children in the US are not wealthy families; they are just average families who wanted to help a needy child. When they adopted these children, they were not anticipating any financial responsibility to the child's biological family. In fact, most of them had been told that their children were orphans and had no living relatives in SL.

"A meeting was arranged between Adama and the Minister of Social Welfare on the day that she left to go home to the States. It was a brief meeting, wherein the Minister asked her questions to verify that she was in a good home and was happy and healthy and well cared for. She assured him that she was very happy where she was, and was also glad that she'd had the opportunity to meet her biological family and have some long-asked questions answered. After they visited for a few moments, he left. I then got Adama to Lungi and she flew home.

This is the actual story of what took place between Adama and her father. There are a number of people in Makeni who can verify this information as factual and who witnessed Mr. Kamara's meetings with his daughter. It has also been proven that Sheik Alimamy Kamara is her biological father by independent DNA testing, so he can not imply that the child he met with may not have been his daughter. He himself made the statement upon seeing her that he felt as if he had just witnessed his dead wife coming back from the grave, so great was Adama's resemblance to her mother."

John Hersey, an award-winning journalist that covered the aftermath of the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima, says: "Ethical journalism does not put words in people's mouths or pretend to have been somewhere they have not". Fabrication and plagiarism are violations of basic journalistic standards the world over. I do this piece for the reading public to make their own judgement and tell The Punch and Concord Times, Kim Kargbo and Sheik Alimamy Kamara who is saying the truth.

2011 May 4