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Baker battles through war-torn Sierra Leone

Mariatu Baker, a member of the Hamburg Monarchs, was adopted by David and Patricia Baker in July 2003. Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes.

• This is the first of a three-part series featuring Sierra Leone-native and Hamburg Monarchs player Mariatu Baker.

A friend of David Baker’s came to a service at church one day in the early 2000s with thrilling news to tell to his fellow members. He was anxious to tell everyone about the latest addition to his family.

The church member had recently adopted a child from Sierra Leone. His family could not be happier with its decision, not just because it had chosen to care for a child, but it also felt a sense of fulfillment and gratification for helping out an innocent child from Sierra Leone that was in dire need of support during the middle of a war.

Already a biological parent of two children – a girl named Katie and a boy named Jordan – with his wife, Patricia, David Baker could not help but be charmed by his fellow church members’ courageous efforts to save that child’s life. So he and his wife decided to look into adopting some children from the war-ridden country and give them an opportunity at a better life in the United States of America with their family.

“We had a friend who adopted a girl from the same orphanage. He went over there and was quite appalled at the situation going on,” David Baker recalled his friend saying. “He came back and did a talk at our church. Not shortly after that did I consider adopting two kids.

“We already had a boy and a girl and we were interested in adopting another boy and a girl, because my wife and I thought that four was a better number than two.”

For the first six years of their lives, Freetown, Sierra Leone was the home of Mariatu and her twin brother, Francis. By 2013, the pair would become standouts for their respective Hamburg Soccer Club teams, striking the net as they dodged defenders on the field. But during the early 2000s, the twins were busy dodging armed rebels through tall grassy fields while the blood diamond war was at its worst.

“I saw a lot of soldiers and guns. I heard a lot of bombs and guns going off everywhere,” Mariatu Baker recalled. “I was with my aunt and uncle and we were trying to get into a refugee camp. We traveled at night so we wouldn’t be spotted. We would stay in tall grass and grassy areas and work our way through.”

Baker and her brother spent some time under the care of their aunt and uncle when they became parentless. Baker’s mother passed away from an illness, but it is unclear what went into the disappearance of their father.

Only about 3 years old when she lost her parents, Baker does not even have a single memory of her late mother.

“I don’t remember much about my mom. I don’t even know if I look like her,” Baker said. “But if she was alive and I was to meet her, I’d probably recognize her voice right away.”

After running and hiding from rebels during the war for some time with their family, Baker and her brother were put into an orphanage after their aunt and uncle could not care for them two and their own children any longer.

“They had a lot of kids of their own to take care of, and they really didn’t have the money to take care of my brother and I,” Baker said.

“I didn’t really know why it was happening, but once I got into the orphanage and got a little bit older I started understanding why I was put there and what was going on with the war,” said Baker. “The war didn’t end until I came into the states.”

So Baker and her brother became orphans. The orphanage seemed like an okay place for Baker at first, but she quickly discovered that it was not quite all that it was advertised to be and had a rough time during her temporary stay.

“It wasn’t as nice of a place as they make it seem when you first enter,” Baker said. “When you first come in, just to convince you, they would say they’re going to take care of you, but they don’t tell you that they were going to be abusive to you. They didn’t tell you that they wouldn’t feed you enough. It wasn’t the best place.”

Although her brother was able to get along with the other boys at the orphanage, Baker always found it hard to find other girls to play with.

“I did not like it very much. I did not make any friends,” said Baker. “I was not sociable at all when I was there. My brother made friends. I guess it was easier for the guys to get along than the girls. I had a very hard time getting along with the girls, plus none of them wanted to play soccer, so I didn’t have anyone to play soccer with. So I usually played soccer with the boys.”

Little did she know, soccer would eventually an even larger outlet for her once she made it to the states, playing on teams in Buffalo and Hamburg. And it all began a pair of 6-year-old twins first met a woman by the name of Patricia Baker – their future mother.

“My mom was the first one I met. That was pretty cool,” Baker said. “My dad and my siblings were at the airport waiting for us when we first got there. It was really exciting when I first met my mom.”

• Check out next week’s edition of the SUN for the second installment of Mariatu Baker’s story.


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