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Côte d'Ivoire

Support for the reintegration of young Ivoirians affected by conflict

UNICEF Image: Côte d’Ivoire, children affected by conflict
© UNICEF Côte d’Ivoire/2007/Westerbeek
Philomène receives basic education and vocational training thanks to programmes supported by UNICEF Côte d’Ivoire and its partners.

By Sacha Westerbeek

GNAKANZOU, Côte d’Ivoire, 6 July 2007 – In Gnakanzou, a small village about 2 km from the Liberian border, young Philomène is learning to become a seamstress. With full concentration, she is measuring cloth which she will make into a skirt. Several years ago, however, her life was very different.

In 2002, rebel forces seized the northern half of Côte d’Ivoire in a conflict that drew in warlords and fighters from Liberia and Sierra Leone. Philomène was 13 years old when the rebels came to Gnakanzou. Her father was among those killed.

Abduction and escape

“I heard shooting when I was at school. We all went into hiding in the bush,” she recalls, adding that she was soon found, shot in the leg and taken to Liberia, where she had to cook for a group of 15 fighters.

During her stay in the bush, Philomène became pregnant. Two months after she gave birth, the newborn died. Eventually, Philomène escaped along with Sylvie, a girl from her village.

“All 10 girls who had been abducted from our village returned home,” Philomène says. “However, some of the boys have never been seen again.”

UNICEF Image: Côte d’Ivoire, children affected by conflict
© UNICEF Côte d’Ivoire/2007/Westerbeek
Ivoirian children affected by conflict still struggle to reintegrate into their communities.

The struggle to reintegrate

Thousands of children have been traumatized by conflict in Côte d’Ivoire and have difficulty reintegrating into their communities. The European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Department has provided funding to assist over 1,500 children formerly associated with armed groups in the country.

UNICEF and partners such as PAHO, a local non-governmental organization, are providing these youths with much-needed health care and psychosocial support. In addition, a UNICEF-supported programme provides an opportunity for children to develop vocational skills and receive a basic education.

Last year, Philomène began to study tailoring. Her friend Sylvie, now 18, has enrolled in a fish-breeding project. Both girls attend specialized classes where they learn basic literacy and numeracy skills that will be useful for doing business. Like so many others here, they continue their struggle to return to normal life.

UNICEF Image: Côte d’Ivoire, children affected by conflict
© UNICEF Côte d’Ivoire/2007/Westerbeek
Sylvie is learning fish breeding and hopes to run her own business some day.

‘All I hope for’ 

“I feel that my head is still not in place, as I have seen too much death and destruction,” Sylvie explains shyly. “When I came back from the bush, my husband had abandoned me, leaving me to care for our child. He was afraid of me.”

Sylvie still has difficulty communicating with those close to her, but she continues to receive help. The PAHO project seeks to create an environment where children feel safe, valued and appreciated for who they are.

“I am so happy to learn a skill, and I am very grateful for this opportunity,” says Sylvie. “I hope that in five years time, you will find me in a shop, selling fish – even if they are only sardines. The shop will have a big sign: ‘Sylvie’s Boutique.’ That is all I hope for.”




UNICEF’s Sacha Westerbeek reports on children affected by conflict in Côte d’Ivoire and their reintegration into society.
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