Memuna McShane in war and peace


A girl who lost an arm during the civil war in Sierra Leone in the 1990s is thriving at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, Maryland. ESPN and The Washington Post sports section both recently featured articles on Memuna McShane, a soccer player. And while I’ve never seen her play soccer, she and my son Chris were in a couple of dance recitals together, and I can confirm that she’s an amazing child.

Here is Chelsea James of The Washington Post describing the beginning of her story:

Memuna Mansaray McShane has many stories: some she remembers, some she doesn’t, some she’ll tell you, some others will tell for her. There are the stories people tell about her, and the story she’s trying to write herself.

Memuna, a 17-year-old soccer player at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, doesn’t remember her story the way history remembers it: As the government-chosen symbol for peace talks in the horrific civil war in Sierra Leone in the late 1990s. The toddler whose right arm was lost to rebel fire, who ended up in the arms of the country’s president, was held up at peace talks around the continent as a symbol of the war’s senseless brutality, was recognized in the streets and was the face on posters sold in Freetown, the capital city.

She also doesn’t remember the version of her story her three brothers do: as a 2-year-old crying in the arms of her grandmother as rebels entered the mosque where they took cover from the violence outside. A rebel’s bullet shattering her arm as it passed through and killed her grandmother, leading her mother to rush across the room to save her. Her mother getting shot as she did so, suffering bullet wounds that would kill her one month later. Her eldest brother Alhaji, then 11 years old, now a college student in Freetown, running back into the mosque to retrieve Memuna, left for dead, and carry her miles across the city to the hospital.

And here is Steve Marantz of ESPN, quoting St. Andrew’s soccer coach and history teacher Glenn Whitman, on how Memuna eventually stopped worrying about people seeing her “little arm.”

“My first worry was, ‘She’s gonna pass out. So let’s keep her hydrated.’ My second worry was, ‘How are we ever gonna get past that discomfort, and her ability to open up to the girls?'”

It happened. As a freshman she spoke about her “little arm” to her advisory class, a tentative first step. Throughout her first two years at St. Andrew’s, Memuna grew to trust her classmates, and especially her teammates. At the start of school in September, Memuna, now a junior, shed her long sleeves.

“I just want to stop wearing heavy sweaters — I just want to stop hiding it,” Memuna told “E:60.” “These are my friends at school and I’ve been with them for three years, so I’m really comfortable with them.”

Said Whitman: “She wears sleeveless shirts in front of the team. And to me, that is one of the most amazing growth mindsets and growth moments for not only Memuna, but for the rest of the team to have been part of.”

Memuna pushed her transformation a step further — she agreed to tell her story at school chapel before the student body and faculty.

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John B. Chilton
John B. Chilton

There's also this Kristof op-ed from 2012,

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