Our Story
Our Story
A Love of a Game
One of the poorest countries in the world, Sierra Leone experienced 11 years of civil war (1991-2002). More than 50,000 people died. Many others lost limbs through amputation. Following the civil war, the Ebola epidemic (2014 – 2015) killed over 8,000 people and devastated the country’s major source of livelihood; agriculture and education infrastructures were left in limbo.
In 2001, Mambud Samai was living in a refugee camp in Guinea and became conscious of those who had lost a limb from a machete used as a weapon of terror or from a stray bullet. He also learnt about the game of amputee football that was emerging - particularly in the US. He contacted Dee Malchow, herself an amputee living in Seattle who had developed amputee football and who is now in her 80s, who sent over the information he needed to introduce the game into Sierra Leone. He decided to set up a small organisation that would bring amputees together and provide a sense of community and fellowship through playing football together. The dream became a reality in the form of the Sierra Leone Amputee Sports Association (SLASA) and for a number of years the focus was entirely on playing football, gradually extending beyond the capital through establishing leagues in the other four provinces in which both men and women could play.
In 2010, the then UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon donated to SLASA a three-acre plot of land in the outskirts of Freetown for possible use as a training ground. But it lay idle as there were no funds available to make use of the land. In 2018, Mambud had the opportunity to spend 9 months on a rural leadership course at the Asian Rural Institute in Japan which included intensive training not only in rural leadership and community development but also sustainable development. Here “the participants undergo a deeply transformative learning experience that helps them find solutions to their communities’ most pressing challenges. The Motto That we may live together. During many classroom lectures, discussions, and observation trips, they get to see different models of farming and gain deeper insight of how food is related to broader social and economic issues. In all of this, ARI’s concept of Foodlife enlightens participants’ understanding of Sustainable Agriculture. Every day, they practice integrated farming, making and using organic fertilizer, managing pests with local materials, and using appropriate technologies to protect the ecological system of the living soil for future generations and have ownership over their Foodlife”.
Mambud returned full of enthusiasm but with nowhere to practice the agricultural knowledge that he had learned….until early in 2020 when an opportunity arose to make an application to the LUSH FOUNDATION. This resulted in a grant of £25,000, which transformed the three-acre site from waste land into a fenced and functioning farm with a training centre that has overnight accommodation, solar power, a well and trickle irrigation. Details of the early progress made on the farm since then were presented to the 2021 Oxford Real Farming Conference and can be found here in which Mambud is accompanied by one of the trainers, a local farmer and a local volunteer schoolteacher. In 2023 Mambud was recognised by CNN as a changemaker and made a film about him and his work which you will find at the top of this page (and a shortened version here). In the last two years funds have been received from the Groundswell Regenerative Farming Festival, from the Be the Earth Foundation and from members of the pastoral farming community – in particular though Pasture for Life – which have funded three one-week training courses for 45 amputees. The immediate priority continues to be to lay on more of these one-week courses so that all the members of the SLASA community can be trained in sustainable farming and be provided with the resources to start their own farms.
Organisational structure
Farming on Crutches is part of SLASA, which is licensed as a charity with the National Sports Authority (Ministry of Sports) and National Revenue Authority, which attracts a number of concessions including duty-free importation of equipment. SLASA’s Board is elected from and by the membership. There is no formal structure in the UK, with support being provided by volunteers.
Outside help
In the UK the main link has been John Meadley, who has spent more than five decades engaged with rural communities in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. He first went to Sierra Leone in the late 1970s to assist in areas relating to the purchasing peanuts (and later other products such as rice and ginger) directly from farmers as well as in the xpansion of cocoa and coffee production in the Eastern Region. He returned to Sierra Leone in 2001 to lead a British mission to assess how the UK could support the regeneration of rural life as the civil war was coming to an end and to become involved in the implementation of the resulting programme. It was during this time that he became acutely aware of the large number of amputees resulting from the brutality of the warring factions. In 2012 he took his son Tom, then 16, to Sierra Leone to introduce him to the country and its people and it was whilst there that they came across the amputee footballers playing on Lumley Beach and that was the beginning of the relationship. Two years later, SLASA got through to the knock-out rounds of the World Amputee Football Cup and asked Tom to write their theme song – which he did and which you can find here. Sadly, they were unable to continue in the competition due to Ebola.
Contact continued during the coming years until 2018 when Mambud was invited to participate in the course at ARI in Japan. On his return the idea of developing the three-acre site as a training farm emerged - which the LUSH funds translated into a reality. John has continued to mobilise funds in the UK and to communicate regularly with Mambud as the project has evolved. He is also the co-founder and Hon President of the Pasture for Life movement, which encourages farmers to raise their ruminant animals wholly on pasture, and so brings with him the experience and friendship of this pioneering group of farmers.
Pete Belk went to Sierra Leone in 2013-14 as a volunteer for a year to work with The Collective Sierra Leone. That experience, and an affection for Sierra Leone, has remained with him. A chance meeting with John introduced him to Farming on Crutches and led to his close involvement in building the UK support network. Pete grew up working on farms in mid-Wales. He has since spent 15 years working in a variety of sustainability focused roles encompassing campaigning, leadership development, responsible business strategy and more recently focusing on nature recovery with Natural England and Gloucestershire County Council. His brother-in-law, Chris Jones , helped to design the Farming on Crutches logo.