With No Hands, Man Teaches Others to Farm

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Bambay Sawaneh was a teenage farmer's son in Sierra Leone, Africa, when rebels attacked and left him for dead.

A decade later, he's put aside revenge. And in spite of a serious handicap, Sawaneh is equipping himself to help others in need.

Sierra Leone's bloody civil war nearly ended his life.

"I was 15 years of age when they did this to me," Sawaneh recalled. "Really I cannot explain. It's painful."

When rebels cut off Sawaneh's hands, Catholic nuns rushed him to a hospital and nursed him to health.

"They heard about this operation, which is hook and bock. And they divided bone. They separated two bones there so I can be able to grab something," he explained about his surgeries.

Today, Sawaneh leads an almost normal life. He's married, with a young daughter. But coming from a family of farmers, he's unhappy with traditional farming methods.

"We are wasting our time, wasting money, wasting the energy," he said. "We were working like [an] elephant and [eating] like [an] ant."

But Mercy Ships taught Sawaneh better.

The group is best known for its free medical help for needy people. Since the "Africa Mercy" arrived in Sierra Leone last February, its medical staff has provided more than 2,000 surgeries and 23,000 dental treatments.

But Mercy Ships also provided needed training through programs like its "Food for Life" ministry.

The program gives people like Sawaneh and his neighbors ways to improve their health and meet basic needs long after the ship has sailed out for its next mission.

"The purpose of our Food for Life program is really to develop the people we are serving in West Africa," explained Mercy Ships Agriculture Program Administrator Ken Winebark.

"We are teaching them different techniques for raising food, that are going to meet the nutritional needs of the people," he said.

The first challenge trainers face is how to replace harmful farming practices.

"In the whole of Sierra Leone, we burn the land to plant," Sawaneh explained. "When you burn the land, you destroy all those insects... all those organic matters. You destroy them, which God has put on the ground for you."

During the four-month course, students applied their training in practice fields.

"You can see we planted peanuts for the corn. The peanuts is [a] nitrogen-fixing plant. We plant the peanuts so they can give nitrogen to the corn," Sawaneh said.

When they completed their course, students turned the graduation into an Africa-style celebration.

Now, Sawaneh has his sights fixed on helping other people in need.

"He is going to be working with those in the 'City of Rest,' which is a drug and alcohol rehab situation, and teaching them how to provide for themselves," Winebark said.

And Sawaneh has more than farming to share with others.

"I never knew who was the first farmer. But through the training, I came to know that God was the first farmer," he said. "And everything that God does, is excellence."

--Originally aired September 2, 2011.

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CBN News
Stan Jeter

Stan Jeter

CBN News Senior Producer

CBN News Senior Producer Stan Jeter specializes in Christian news and Latin American coverage.  He has lived and worked for many years in South and Central America, most recently developing the Spanish Christian news program, Mundo Cristiano.  Follow Stan on Twitter @StanJeterNews and "like" him at Facebook.com/StanJeterCBN.