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Age 27 at the time of the project
Mariama was born in Makeni into a very poor family. She moved to Freetown when she was fourteen years old. She was living on the streets for two years, selling her body to men to earn a living. She fell in love and became pregnant when she was 17. She later discovered that her boyfriend – who also has a speech and hearing impairment – was being unfaithful and she left him. Her son, Daniel, is now 9 years old and lives with her family in Makeni. Daniel does not have a speech and hearing impairment, but he learned to speak sign language so that he can communicate with his mother.
Sawaneh's Photos

Picture 1

This baby belongs to a sixteen-year old friend of Mariama, who also has a speech and hearing impairment. Teenage pregnancy is common in Sierra Leone, including among young women with disabilities. It is often the case that girls with disabilities, who have been cast out by their families, form close attachments with boys at a young age and fall pregnant early, since they have been shown little love by others. Despite the assumption that people with disabilities are not sexual beings, many of them turn in the opposite direction, having lots of children in the hope that their offspring will take care of them, or that they can earn more money begging. This suggests a more complex and nuanced picture where girls with disabilities are not simply always vulnerable victims, but instead make life decisions demonstrating a certain amount of agency.

Picture 2

People with speech and hearing impairments often feel like the government ignores them and does not pay attention to their needs. The most common category of disabilities in Sierra Leone is physical impairments, resulting from war-related amputations or from childhood polio, and there is a general feeling that disability policies, advocacy strategies and overseas funding prioritises this group over people with speech and hearing impairments. Disability advocacy in Sierra Leone is fairly fragmented and disunited, with the different categories of disability groups each mainly looking after their own interests. Some groups, particularly the amputees, have been provided with state-funded housing, however the speech and hearing impaired have struggled to receive any form of government subvention. They usually need to find their own housing, either by inhabiting dilapidated buildings or constructing their own properties, like the house taken in this photograph, which belongs to Mariama’s friend, Ramatu. The conditions are extremely poor with limited space and the house is prone to coldness and flooding from the rains, meaning that people often get cold and sick.

Picture 3

This photo depicts a girl who lives in the community where Mariama lives. She does not have enough money for food, and as a result, she is very thin.