December 21, 2014
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Sierra Leone civil war survivor screens documentary at public library Sat.
Kim Kalunian
FAR FROM HOME: Topher Hamblet (left), the founder and president of The Foundation for West Africa, stands with Hassan Koroma, a radio station manager from Sierra Leone. Koroma will speak about his experiences in the post-war Sierra Leone on Saturday at the Warwick Public Library.

Hassan Koroma comes from a war-ravaged country with no electricity and limited communication. A native of Sierra Leone, Koroma survived the brutal civil war that, from 1991 to 2002, took the lives of more than 50,000 people, including his own mother. The war was borne out of civil unrest, and an invasion by the United Revolutionary Front, a rebel army trained by Muammar Gaddafi, set in motion a deadly, decadelong battle.

After the war ended, Koroma became involved with the Independent Radio Network, a public radio group that broadcasts throughout the country. With no other means of communication, like television or computers, the natives use handheld radios to receive their news and information.

Koroma said the radio network promotes education and informed decision-making, and helps contribute to peace in the nation.

“Radio is a way of peace building,” said Koroma.

The network is comprised of 25 different stations – including the one that Koroma manages – that broadcast in 15 different languages to the nation’s 6 million citizens.

On Saturday, Koroma will visit the Warwick Library to speak after the screening of “Leh Wi Tok” (Let Us Talk), a documentary film about the power of radio in Sierra Leone.

The Foundation for West Africa, which was established by Topher Hamblett of Barrington, is sponsoring the event. The Foundation also raises money to supply the Independent Radio Network in Sierra Leone with equipment. However, all of the stations are independently owned.

The civil war in Sierra Leone was coined the “blood diamond war,” since former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, became involved and took control of the diamond mining area.

“It was a war that came out of frustration and became about greed,” said Hamblett.

In addition to those killed, an estimated 10,000 people were mutilated in acts of terror, and children as young as 9 years old were kidnapped, drugged and trained to rape and kill as child soldiers. Some of those children now work for the Independent Radio Network and are helping to foster peace.

“It’s heavy, all the time,” said Koroma of living during the war. “You are always moving to try to save your own life and your family.”

Hamblett was a Peace Corps member stationed in Sierra Leone in the 1980s, and returned to visit the country after the war ended. He saw the beginnings of the radio network and was inspired to help. He founded his non-profit, the Foundation for West Africa, soon after.

The film, “Leh Wi Tok,” was made over the course of two years by Rhode Island filmmakers John Lavall and Mary Copp. The film features the radio pioneers who sought to make changes and create a peaceful nation. The screening of the 40-minute film begins at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday and is free and open to the public.


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