Tired of being marginalized and not wanting to panhandle for food or money, Mohammed Jalloh and a group of other wartime amputees founded the Salone Flying Stars, a soccer club they hoped would encourage camaraderie and empower them to live life with a positive outlook. The Flying Stars, which is composed of both unintentional and intentional amputees, works to help its members feel more confident about their lives and has also begun to shift the perception of disabled people in Sierra Leone.
“We use football as an instrument which can move our mind from frustration and from begging from the streets,” Jalloh says. “Also, it has changed how people feel and think about us. That’s why we formed this [club]. When we train you see people stand and watch us just because some people have never seen a one-legged person play football,” he continues, “It’s really not easy, but people are admiring us. When we go into any community everybody runs and comes to watch us.”
So far, the Flying Stars have formed four teams around Sierra Leone and started a league called Single Leg Amputee Football League (SLASC) to provide more opportunities to amputees, but it has limited resources to make it happen. Funding has come from various local and international groups; publicity also came in the form of a 2011 documentary by Matt Jenkins and Cynthia Frahm on the group and helped formed the Disability Sports Association (DSA), but Jalloh said the clubs continues to struggle for basic equipment such as soccer cleats, gloves, and crutches.
It’s not just about football for Jalloh and the Flying Stars. When he’s not playing with the club, he and others are advocating for more rights for disabled people and encouraging younger amputees to focus on their education. During the past ten years, 5 teams and 120 players have participated in SLASC. For many amputees, however, the program has not expanded to, and expectations have not been met. Many of the original players are looking for a change.
Many in Sierra Leone could find hope in watching the most marginalized segment of the population rise above the hardships and difficulties with a “together we can” attitude. “Together” the athletes can find camaraderie and strength. Formation of girls teams are also being encouraged.
Matt Jenkins and Cynthia Frahm fundraised for the Disability Sports Association (DSA). Their “Shoot for the Stars” fundraiser and the “Salone Flying Stars Party” in Michigan raised $3645 to provide soccer uniforms and equipment for the Salone Flying Stars and other teams enrolled in DSA.
The Salone Flying Stars are 25 amputee athletes based in Freetown, Sierra Leone, whose passion for soccer transcends their disabilities. This is the first registered team of the newly formed Disability Sports Association (DSA). Other disabled teams (polio, deaf, amputees) will be forming soon.