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Côte d'Ivoire

In Côte d’Ivoire, families cope with life in a divided nation

© UNICEF/CdI/2011/Slavin
Theresa Konan has welcomed 91 members of her family into her home in Tiebissou, Côte d’Ivoire. Her modest compound is now filled way past capacity.

By Patrick Slavin

TIEBISSOU, Côte d’Ivoire, 10 February 2011 – Theresa Konan lives in small town, near this West African nation’s ‘zone de confiance,’ a militarized boundary that separates the country into two territorial parts: the north and west, controlled by Forces Nouvelles, who support President Alassane Ouattarra; and the south, manned by Forces de Défense, under the command of President Laurent Gbagbo.

Côte d’Ivoire has been in a state of political crisis since the unresolved presidential election held late last year.

Last month, the two presidents' rival forces skirmished in the village of Yaakro, just 2 km from Tiebissou. After the incident, Forces de Défense ordered the town’s 2,000 residents to evacuate. Today the village is an armed camp, occupied only by soldiers.

'Opening their doors'

Soon after the evacuation, Therese Konan found herself hosting 91 displaced relatives. She also has eight children of her own, bringing the household count to 99. Her modest compound near Yaakro is now filled well past capacity, and the stress is finally beginning to get to her.

While Ms. Konan, 55, enjoys having her relatives over, accommodating so many people – for what in all likelihood will be an extended period – is overwhelming.

“This is what families are doing in western and northern Côte d’Ivoire, opening their doors to relatives and at times strangers, sharing their roofs and what they have, which in many, many cases is not very much to begin with,” explained UNICEF Representative in Côte d’Ivoire Agostino Paganini.

Supplies for the displaced

Ms. Konan, a retired public school teacher, carries the aura of a disciplinarian, albeit with a grandmother’s touch. “We make very, very large meals and everyone eats,” she said. “But everyone is restricted to small portions and everyone contributes what they can.”

Added Dr. Leonard Kouadio, Health Officer in UNICEF’s field office in Bouake, Côte d’Ivoire: “Hosting such a large group is difficult for families. There is one toilet and shower for 99 people, and there are serious protection issues for the children.”

UNICEF has started delivering emergency supplies to overburdened households here – including sleeping mats, blankets, soap, water-purification tablets, jerry cans, school supplies, recreation equipment and bed nets to protect children from malaria. In addition, UNICEF has raised awareness about child-protection issues among village elders and the children themselves.



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