Christmas appeal: Out in the bush with a bullet in her brain

Tenneh walked 150 miles through Sierra Leone to flee the civil war. Now, at last, her life is improving

Nine-year-old Tenneh Cole, the war orphan from Sierra Leone whom the world's media once called "a walking miracle", is getting her life back together. After surviving a bullet in the brain and being brought to Britain for a life-saving operation, she came to symbolise the horror and the hope of her embattled West African homeland. Now, three years on, she enjoys the love and affection of the first real family she has known since a desperate and savage conflict almost took her life.

Tenneh - the name means "God will provide" - remains a celebrated figure in a land where the threat of death or mutilation has never been far away during its long years of civil war.

Her life was thrown into turmoil when anti-government rebels attacked her village in 1996, slaughtering her parents and sending her on a desperate flight, alone, into the bush. She was just five years old.

There she was picked up by another fleeing young couple who assumed her bleeding head wound had been caused by a thrown rock or stick and was not very serious.

After walking 150 miles through rebel-occupied territory, the trio finally arrived in the capital, Freetown, and spent a year battling for survival against the twin terrors of disease and starvation.

It was then that Tenneh's incredible story emerged. Complaining of headaches and suffering deafness and speech impairment, she was taken for a skull X-ray in the city hospital where the unexpected shape of a bullet from a Kalashnikov emerged on the film.

Charity workers took up her case with Caroline Cook, co-founder of Hope and Homes for Children which was already working to establish a home for children like Tenneh in Makeni, north of the capital.

Caroline knew that I had previously been able to arrange medical treatment in the UK for Bosnian children and called me at the Eastern Daily Press in Norwich, where I work, to ask if I could help. Soon afterwards we were travelling to Freetown with Mark, Caroline's husband and the charity's co-founder, on a journey that was to bring Tenneh to Norfolk for surgery.

It was there that doctors removed the bullet which, apparently, had been tumbling back to earth when it punched into the top of her skull, tore through the right frontal lobe of her brain and came to rest behind her right eye. Under the spotlight of the world's press, Tenneh appeared a bewildered and frightened figure, a tiny girl who had difficulty understanding the culture and the attention that had suddenly sur- rounded her. But my family came to know her as a self-willed fighter who had borne the tribulations of her short life only by dogged determination.

When I took her back to Sierra Leone, she was soon to find herself in the spacious new home created by Mark and Caroline Cook, where she was looking forward to a new life among scores of children just like herself.

Then the terror returned. Rebels attacked Makeni and the home twice, causing the children to flee for their lives into the bush, where their local helpers kept them hidden amid the killing, maiming and raping that continued around them.

Last spring, the children were taken north to the border with Guinea, where they have remained in a small hamlet of mud huts, living behind rebel lines with food and supplies being smuggled in by courageous local workers, funded regularly by donations from Hope and Homes for Children.

Eighty-four orphans have stayed there for nine months, waiting for the day, in the next few weeks, when the latest peace accord will allow them to return to the Makeni home which the rebels occupied.

Tenneh, however, is not with them. During the last rebel attack she was in Freetown receiving medical treatment and being cared for by a local charity worker, Dr Roland Kargbo, and his family.

In January she endured the terror of the rebel occupation of the capital, hiding under a bed at the family home for several days while the fighting raged all around. But peace has brought her new hope again.

For Tenneh, the one-time lost girl in the wilderness, life is now filled with the care and affection of the Kargbos. After the unspeakable cruelties of her country's civil war, her story has at last begun to take a turn for the better.

Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer was final surviving member of seminal punk band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Yaya Touré has defended his posturing over his future at Manchester City
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
Life and Style
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

    £60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

    Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

    £75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

    Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

    £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice