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Hygiene kit helped African refugee keep hopes alive

April 2009

Mariama Kallon

Mariama Kallon was a typical teenager—excited about girlfriends, family, and boys. But what should have been one of the best times in her life quickly turned into horror. Her parents were shot and killed, her brother was abducted and slain, and she saw her sister get her legs brutally cut off. It was 1992, and civil war ravaged Sierra Leone.

"My family was constantly on the run, trying to escape the rebel soldiers," said Mariama. "It was terrifying every time the rebels came through a city. Someone would see their torches approaching in the night, warn the others, and we would run for the bush, grabbing whatever we could along the way."

One day Mariama arrived in yet another village to live with a friend. As she was telling her story, one neighbor said, "Mariama, we don't have anything to offer you except an invitation to church tomorrow. That's where we find safety. That's where we find hope."

Mariama decided to go.

"My first Sunday in that Latter-day Saint branch was a day I'll never forget," said Mariama, who soon joined the Church. As the war continued, the Church sent food and humanitarian kits. "Everyone was so grateful even to get a small bag of rice or beans," said Mariama. "I received a blanket and a hygiene kit that included a toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, soap, a comb, and a washcloth."

Soon, the rebels hit again and set fire to the house Mariama was living in. "As I was running to escape the flames, I took time to save only two things—my scriptures and my hygiene kit, she said. "We had to live on the run for a while, and I used my hygiene kit to help those around me. I would go to the river and carefully pass my bar of soap from person to person. The blanket too was invaluable. It sheltered us for many days until I used it to wrap an old woman who had died."

Mariama eventually went back to her home and decided to go on a mission. She was called to the Temple Square Mission in Salt Lake City.

"I arrived in Utah with practically nothing," said Mariama, "but I insisted on bringing my hygiene kit. One day, we were taking a tour of the Humanitarian Center and I recognized a blanket with an embroidered Relief Society logo—just like the one I'd had in Sierra Leone. I then saw hygiene kits like mine and familiar bags of beans and rice, and I began to cry."

"This is where they came from! Tears streamed down my cheeks as I remembered what these things meant to my friends and to me in Sierra Leone. I was so grateful to the Lord for preserving me, for bringing the gospel into my life, and for allowing me to serve a mission. I knew that His angels truly had been round about me, to bear me up."

In 2008, more than 1.6 million hygiene, school, newborn, and cleaning kits were assembled by members and friends of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Materials were provided by cash and in-kind corporate donations through LDS Philanthropies.