By Eric Dumo and Philip Olawunmi Ojo, with agency reports
In his world of innocence, in an age that is supposed to be an age of gold turned an age of steel, an age that advertises the complete breakdown of human wisdom, he, possibly, may not be able to phantom the enormity of the cruel event of that sunny day, lat week. But when eventually he grows up, and he is told the story of how a French aerial raid in his homeland snuffed the life of his 30-year-old mother but threw him clear off her back, then, he would know that his middle name ought to be ‘Miracle’.
Indeed, one-year-old Saida Jallo is lucky to be alive. He could have been dead by now. French forces had been in hot pursuit of Islamist fighters in the town of Konna in Central Mali. His mother, Aminata, had hurried out of their home to take him and his older siblings to a safer place when a missile exploded nearby. The bomb blew her into smithereens but miraculously spared him. He was fast strapped to the back of his mother at the time, but he was flung to safety by the impact of the explosion without a scratch on his body! It was one miracle that would confound even the most incurable fatalist.
According to The Independent of London, which broke the exclusive story of the miracle boy of Konna, the late Aminata was among dozens that have had their lives cut down in the tiny Malian community where French forces launched a massive military assault against Islamist fighters that have held much of the country hostage in recent months. About 15 more were reported injured, some of them severely, among them Saida’s seven-year-old sister-Isata.
The Jallos are not the only ones counting their loses in this tiny Malian town, where “collateral damage” accompanying the material destruction has been shocking, The Independent continues in its expose. The Maiga family was badly wounded, too. Four members of the household were under a mango tree in their compound, preparing food, when a fighter helicopter sprang from nowhere. Frightened and without clues, they scampered through the house’s narrow door on their way to safety, but the shrapnels from the French troops were faster, slicing the lives of a 42-year-old mother, also called Aminata, and her three children Zeinab, 6, Alean, 10, and Ali, 11.
Amadou Jallo, 57, now adds looking after Saida and his siblings to his job as a driver. He wondered: “They have so much knowledge and they have such modern equipment -I do not know why this happened. The Islamists were not near my home when the bombs were dropped. I know they made a genuine mistake, but I would like to know whom they were aiming at.
“But I thank Allah that my son is alive. My wife was carrying him at the time she was killed. It is amazing, a miracle, that he was not hurt. My daughter (Isata) has been injured, but Insha Allah, she will be alright.”
Maiga’s nephew, Suleiman, told how the 40-year-old was killed trying to provide cover for her children. “We saw the two helicopters and they were so low that everyone became afraid. Some of the people ran into the house; I ran and crawled up next to a wall.
“The noise when the firing began was terrible. When it was over I went into the house and saw what had happened; they all looked dead. My aunt’s body was on top – I think she was trying to save the little ones, but the metal had gone through them all and the wounds were very bad. I tried their pulse, but that was no good.
“Then, I heard crying; it was her youngest son. He was in a corner. He must have got separated from the others when they were rushing in – he was very lucky.”
Other miraculous survivals
In the days that followed the Konna attacks, European Press Agency photographer, Nic Bothma, captured scores of children whose survival, like Saida, is a miracle. Before the rebels fled the town, they vandalized churches, destroyed religious symbols, ransacked shops and took down the Malian flag. For more than a week, the children and everyone else lived in fear.
While some children have sustained varying degree of injuries following the French onslaught, many have been lucky to stay unscratched, describing their survival as exciting.
The war in Syria has brought its own tales of pains and anguish, too. From Alepo to Damascus, the casualty figure swells by the day. Unarmed civilians have only little chances of survival. Three-year-old Rahaf, and four-year-old Kamar, are fortunate to still be among the living today.
The girls were asleep at home with their family in Homs, Syria, when government forces shelled their house. Rahaf’s face and hands were badly burned as the building caught fire, while Kamar’s legs and hands and most of her face were disfigured. They are now being cared for in Jordan by Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without borders), where they play quietly with children like 13-year-old Kheta, who has to wear a special mask after most of her face was burnt in a car explosion at Fallujah, Iraq.
Like thousands of others, Rahaf and Kamar fled widespread violence in Syria, where many children have been tormented or sexually molested and schools have become battlegrounds or unsafe refugee camps.
Violette Mutegwamaso is among few victims of the Rwandan genocide who has lived to tell their stories. More than a quarter million people were summarily executed during those bloody days. It is one of humanity’s darkest periods.
In 1994, armed militias started fomenting a civil war in Rwanda. Soon, the country disintegrated into chaos as Hutu and Tutsi clashed on the streets and in homes across the country. As the chaos closed in, Violette was alone with her children. Her husband was working three hours away in Kigali where he could earn a better living than in their small village of Gahini. She instantly knew they were in grave danger.
Carrying her two children in her arms, she fled to a nearby church where she thought she and her family would be safe. Instead of finding sanctuary, she and her family walked into a nightmare. “There was shooting going on, and people were falling on others and dying everywhere,” she revealed.
The church was under attack by a machete-wielding militia. To survive, Violette was forced to lie down in the aisle and smear blood on herself and her children. Pretending to be dead, they hid among the corpses. Afraid to move, to cry, to even breathe, they lay there for an entire week until the Rwandan army came to liberate the area. She estimated that there were 700 people in that church – only 20 survived.
In the chaos and violence, Violette’s husband was brutally murdered. She was left to raise their five-year-old son, Eric, and four-year-old girl, Angelique. As so many other women in Rwanda did, she took in an orphan who lost his family during the war.
With little support, she tried to rebuild her life. She farmed other people’s land and barely earned enough to feed herself and children. She didn’t have enough money left over to pay for school or buy essentials like medicine and clothing for her family at the time. But today, with the help of women’s group and other agencies working to help survivors get over those nightmares, Violette has her life back.
Marie Jose, also from the same region, has her own experience as well. Though she considers Kigali her home, she was born in Butare, Rwanda, in 1959. Her mother died the day after she was born. Nuns took her into their care for a few years and then her grandmother took her in. When she reached her third year of primary school, Marie moved to Kigali to join her uncle. She finished primary school in Kigali but could not continue into secondary school. Her uncle asked her to care for his children in exchange for her own provisions. She married a man who lived in the compound with her uncle.
They had ten children; only four of them survive today. Her husband and two of her children were killed in the 1994 genocide, and the other children fell sick from various illnesses. She now lives with four kids and two orphans she adopted after the war.
Tsutomu Yamaguchi is one of the luckiest men in the world. He is among a few people to have survived not one but both of the American atomic bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. He suffered severe burns to his upper body and temporary blindness.
For years, the dignified, unassuming Yamaguchi has made light of his terrifying ordeal on those August mornings six decades ago, when atom bombs were released on the unprepared, predominantly civilian populations of those two cities in southern Japan. Rather than campaign for recognition, or complain about his lot, even though he spent 16 years wrapped in bandages to help him recover from severe burns, the former draughtsman and engineer rarely talked about what happened to him.
An estimated 140,000 people were killed on the first morning in Hiroshima, and a further 70,000 died in Nagasaki. Nor should the world forget the tragedy that it brought into the life of every person who survived the deadly blasts. Hundreds of thousands more people died in the years after the explosions from illnesses, particularly cancer, brought on by their exposure to radiation.
Yamaguchi’s only son Katsutoshi, just a baby at the time of the blast, and his daughter, Naoko, conceived after the blast, were ill for much of their lives as a result of the exposure to radiation, and his son died of cancer in 2005 aged 59. His wife died last year, at 88, from kidney and liver cancer, a sickness Yamaguchi faced for much of his adult life.
Cpl. Todd Nicely screamed twice at the top of his lungs as a bomb went out on him while serving in the Afghanistan war a few years back. He was hurt so badly, his right leg blown away, his left one barely hanging on, but then he thought of two things – his wife and men. He didn’t think of dying. He wanted to concentrate on getting home, and before that, he didn’t want his squad’s last image to be its leader wailing in pain.
“I just [told myself] keep breathing, keep breathing. If you do that you’ll make it back to your wife,” he said recently by phone. “I knew I was injured. It was whether I could bring myself to remain calm and not freak out and cause my vitals to go crazy.”
What Nicely, who had stepped on the pressure plate of a roadside bomb, didn’t realize at the time was that he had lost more than his legs. His arms also would need to be amputated. In another war, another time, Nicely would have died on the battlefield. He is only the second quadruple amputee to survive battlefield injury wounds. He is a living testimony today.
Solomon Radasky was born in Warsaw, Poland on May 17th, 1910. He had six brothers and six sisters. All of his family was killed before him. One day, he was walking down the street and he was shot in his right ankle. He was then sent to Treblinka. Usually, they could only take 10,000 people to the place but he was in a group of 20,000. He was soon sent to Majdanek.
After nine weeks at Majdanek, Solomon left and went to Auschwitz. Once they arrived at Auschwitz, each person was given a number that was tattooed onto their arm. Solomon’s number was 128232. Together with others, he was greatly tortured but eventually tasted freedom after American forces captured the place. They arrested the Germans on May 1st, 1945 and he was let free.
The story of Fred Wertheim is quite similar. Born in Germany in 1925, he lived in a small town with only 2,000 people living in it. There were very few Jewish families in the town, only ten to be exact.
At the time he, Fred, was 8, Hitler came into power. So, he and his family decided to go to America. But because of immigration quotas it was very hard to leave. Fred’s family had no papers prepared by a United States citizen, so that made it even harder. They were then given a number, 48,878, which represented how many people got to leave Germany before them.
On July 2, 1938 he became thirteen. Four weeks later came Kristallnacht. His synagogue was destroyed. Six days later, it was ordered that Jewish children be expelled from school. Also, at the same time, Jewish males were being conscripted for labour camps. Fred was small for his size, so he was overlooked. Before long, all Jewish families were being deported to death camps. Luckily, his family was spared. Their immigration number came up and they left for America.
After being in America for only two years, Fred joined the U.S. Army. He was eighteen then. He had front-line units. It was dangerous and had high casualties. He took part in the invasion of Europe. He went to France and, then, to Germany. He was captured there.
“They had us lined up and I heard them talking among themselves. They said they were going to kill us. Yet, for some reason they changed their mind. They spared my life twice,” he said.
Across other parts of the world, there are dozens of war survivors who have been lucky enough to relay their experiences. Apart from Syria and Mali where heavy gunfire is destroying lives and properties at the moment, there several other societies where sounds of bombs and artilleries have chased away relative peace. In many of these places, the casualty figures have been hard to imagine, leaving the few escapees on ground to thank their luck.