Kathleen Martin (author-photographer),
Kamakwie: Finding Peace, Love, and Injustice in Sierra Leone
Red Deer Press, 2011.
Kamakwie, Canadian writer Kathleen Martin’s moving memoir in photo essay format, reports on a three-week trip to Sierra Leone that opened her eyes and heart to the suffering of the people there during and since their devastating 1991-2002 civil war. Martin accompanied a four-person volunteer medical team; the project was commissioned by the Canadian International Development Agency and World Hope Canada. Kamakwie is the name of one of the villages the team served.
Martin’s present-tense account takes us chronologically through her experience. A young mother herself, she empathizes deeply with mothers whose children have died of starvation or other horrors of war. A man who lost his arm tells her that anger won’t bring back his limb; she is shocked to learn that the woman who betrayed him still lives in the same village. Martin struggles with how to respond to a deserving kid’s request for school fees, later to find the amount is only $5. She organizes English writing workshops for kids to tell their stories and to write to Canadian children, then quotes liberally from their reports and politely desperate pleas for help. She watches a child dying of starvation, learns about the superstitions that have kept her father from seeking treatment, writes frankly of her own incredulousness when she realizes how little she or even the medical team can actually do to help… and yet, they all do offer both concrete help and precious hope for the future. Martin’s candid photographs add immensely to her powerful stories about these beautiful, remarkably forgiving people.
Early on in her 200-page book, readers may find Martin’s naive reactions a bit exasperating. She veers close to stressing her own responses more than the accounts of individual survivors that bring alive their terrible history. But the double purpose of her book gradually becomes clear: Martin wants her young readers to understand both the desperate circumstances of the Sierra Leone people and also the process by which she has honestly faced painful truths about human behavior and consequently aspires to be of greater help. Her touching and revealing openness offers privileged western young people the opportunity to learn how compassion grows by experiencing it for themselves. Back matter includes an author interview and a link to the book’s website.