When things quieted down, the village was occupied by rebels and the situation was tense. Martha's father saw a steep decline in his business and was forced to move to a town deemed safe from rebel attack. There, he was able to rebuild his business and to send money and clothes to his daughter.
With her father gone, Martha moved in with her grandmother, who made a living by selling vegetables in the market. Sometimes, Martha had to help her and missed school as a result. But her situation took a sharp turn for the worse when her grandmother had a severe stroke, which left her unable to walk and almost unable to speak. Martha, by then 13 years old, found herself caring for her bedridden grandmother and with no news from her father.
Time went by and, although barely able to keep up with school work, Martha managed to pass the National Primary School Examination, which allowed her to go on to high school. However, with her father gone and her grandmother no longer able to work, there was no money for the necessary school fees.
Martha's hopes for continuing her education now depended on her father, and she anxiously waited for him to re-establish contact. One morning, she received devastating news: her father had been murdered by the rebels.
"The whole world stopped for me," says Martha. "For the first time in my life I felt alone. I realised I was an orphan."
Martha is now staying with her stepmother, a woman her father married before his death and who she refers to as 'aunty', and her stepmother's three children. To help her new family, Martha sells biscuits in the street market, but she longs to go back to school. Luckily, her stepmother's new husband has shown sympathy to her plight and is willing to help.
Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war (1991 - 2002) had devastating physical and psychological effects on thousands of children like Martha. Over 10,000 children were directly affected through family separation, random and indiscriminate violence, sexual assault, and abduction into the fighting forces.