Invited by World Hope Canada to accompany a team of doctors and nurses visiting Kamakwie, a village in the West African country of Sierra Leone, Halifax author Kathleen Martin discovered stories of love, hope, and horrific violence. The result is Kamakwie, an engrossing, if difficult, portrait of a country trying to find a better future for its children.
The purpose of Martin’s story seems to be twofold: on one hand, she wants to showcase a people striving for progress and finding joy wherever possible; on the other, she wants to remind the world that we knew what was going on during Sierra Leone’s civil war (1991–2002) and did nothing to stop it.
The book’s short chapters revolve around people Martin met in the village. Their stories alternate between joy (a soccer game, a child playing a drum) and despair (the wartime atrocities). Tales of sadness are always followed by portraits of people trying to recover and forgive those who caused their pain, a tactic that saves the book from becoming too distressing.
Martin’s focus on the children of Kamakwie will no doubt appeal to her intended audience, who will hopefully stop and reflect on what kids around the world must endure on a daily basis. She discusses difficult subjects, such as child soldiers, blood diamonds, and inadequate access to education and medical care, and succinctly explains the effects of malnutrition.
Martin encourages readers (and, presumably, their parents) to do whatever they can to help people in need. The lesson that will hopefully linger long after reading is that, in Martin’s words, “it is not anger that will fix injustice. It is love. Boundless.”