Sarah Culberson saw the unthinkable during her first visit to Bumpe, Sierra Leone in 2004 — children wandering with missing limbs, schools reduced to rubble, entire neighborhoods destroyed or burned.
This was no leisurely trip to the West African country known for its white sand beaches, though. Arriving in the small town of Bumpe, Culberson was taking stock of the land she would now serve as princess. “It was overwhelming. The reality wasn’t just, ‘I’m coming to meet my family and everything’s perfect.’
It was a reality check. This is what people have been living through. This is my family. How is this princess going to be part of this community and make a difference in the country?” Culberson said. “I felt the unrest of Freetown. I could feel in the air that people were nervous and trying to protect themselves. Even though there had been peace for two years, people were still on guard.”
Just two years earlier, a decadelong, brutal civil war in Sierra Leone had come to an end. A rebel force waging a campaign against the government had killed tens of thousands of people, and left many with missing limbs, and the economy in tatters.
Culberson didn’t know much of this history when she began searching for her biological family at 28 years old. She was raised in West Virginia after being adopted by a white family, and later learned that her biological mother died when she was 11 and her father lived in a village in Sierra Leone. Her search for her birth family culminated in a call from her uncle; he delivered the news that changed Culberson’s life forever.
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