Posted: 27 Sep 2011 02:10 AM PDT In 2010 I came across a photo competition hosted by a gallery in Los Angeles called the Whole 9 Gallery where 50 artists from around the world would be selected and featured in an exhibition that would be touring through Los Angeles, San Fransisco, and New York. The top 50 selected pieces would then be sold at each event where the proceeds from the artwork sales would go towards the Peace Project and victims of the civil war in Sierra Leone, Africa. I thought the idea and concept was great and I submitted an image titled “Happy Feet” that I took in Rwanda and it turned out I placed 2nd in the competition where “Happy Feet” Sold in all three exhibitions. Since then, I have been in contact with a woman by the name of Lisa Shultz who is the director/owner of the Whole 9 gallery and peace project where we have been working on a couple small projects since. In late 2010 Lisa e-mailed me and mentioned a project called “Operation Rise” where she had planned to hand out 10,000 pairs of crutches to amputee victims in Sierra Leone. We spoke briefly and Lisa mentioned she needed a photographer to document the event which would take place on International World Peace Day on September 21,2011. I quickly and eagerly made her aware that I was completely on board and stoked to participate to make this event happen. After finalizing details, contract, initiative’s, schedules, itineraries, along with 36 hours of flying, Myself and a film maker by the name of Sergi Augusti arrived in Freetown, Sierra Leone on September 17th, 2011. After Sergi and I made it through customs we had to secure our boat tickets where a high speed boat would take us from the airports island to the mainland via by speed boat. Once we made it down to the dock, onto the boat, fastened our life jackets, we then quickly sped off through a rough 20 minute journey to the mainland where Freetown waited for us. Once we arrived, Sergi and I were welcomed by the most animated person I have ever met in my life and his name was Weezy. Weezy is a local Sierra Leonean who has worked with Sergi assisting him with numerous documentary films in the country since 2003. After introductions, a unexpected bear hug from Weezy, the three of us jumped into a taxi and headed to our guesthouse where we would be staying for the week.
The next morning I finally had the opportunity to meet Lisa in person for the first time over breakfast as we have only ever spoken over the phone, e-mails, or Skype. We talked about plans, media, scheduling, and all the little stuff that needed to be finalized before the BIG DAY. On the September 20th the first truckload of crutches arrived in all 8 distribution sites that were located through out the country of Sierra Leone. The next day everyone was ready to make this day a success. At 10 am Operation Rise kicked off with a famous local DJ by the name of DJ BASE followed by local media and journalists covering all the action. Amputee patients started to arrive and the line up began to grow. We even had the amputee soccer team help out with the distribution of the crutches making sure everyone received their crutches. The festivities consisted of a local music, a performance from a deaf band, and non-stop dancing and singing. When 1:00pm came around Sergi, Lynn (Freelance journalist), and myself hopped into almost falling apart bus and headed to our second distribution site in a town called Grafton which was located about 1 hour from Freetown. When we arrived Sergi, Lynn, and I headed for the medical clinic to see all the action where the crutches were being distributed.
While the distribution in Grafton was taking place, there was also a celebration in the works only about 1 km away. Once Sergi, Lynn, and I were satisfied with all the photo’s, interviews, and footage we had at the clinic, we quickly jumped in a car and headed toward the big celebration down the road. As we entered the massive hall there was about 150 people in attendance where plays, speeches, and even a flash mob took place to celebrate Operation Rise and World Peace Day. Once all the formalities were finished everyone headed back outside to witness a football match where every single player suffered from polio. To see someone who does not let a disability affect their attitude, their way of life, and even themselves is truly amazing and something most of us will never understand, but to see a group of individuals come together and form this football team…it’s truly PHENOMENAL. I was honored to come to Sierra Leone and working on something so special. Thank-you to Lisa, Michelle, Sergi, Weezy, The football team and EVERYONE for the great experience and amazing hospitality. I will never forget the people of Sierra Leone as they are some of the most kind, chilled out, animated individuals I have ever encountered.
Sergi Agusti has been doing work in Sierra Leone for almost 10 years and if there is something EVERYONE needs to see, it is his films. PLEASE go to http://www.sergiagusti.com/index22.php?leg=ingles and watch all the films ESPECIALLY “ONE GOAL”. This documentary shows the spirit and energy of an amputee football team who were victims of rebel attacks during the civil war that shook the country in 1991-2002.
Thank-you again for following and have an EPIC DAY!!
The first truck arrives in Abberdine.
Hauling the crutches for tomorrows big day.
Every little bit of help, helps!!
Sergi having fun with the local kids.
Prepping crutches for the new patients.
Celebration begins. (Weezy is second from the left)
The polio football team playing.