Life after guns

Daouda * picks up a book and starts to read. It was not long ago though that he was picking up guns. Daouda is one of 83 children who were previously associated with armed forces or groups and who have now been supported to start a new life.

Julie Crenn
Un garçon frappe un ballon
21 December 2021

"Before the crisis I helped my father as a shepherd. He had a small flock and we travelled far in search of pasture and water. We left our family behind and we used to come back in the rainy season. I had two brothers and three sisters at home. We had a few sheep and cattle, but due to the lack of rain and the insecurity, we could no longer travel to fetch water and the animals died.

“So when the armed group came everyone was going with them, and I did the same. I thought that by going with them I would have a profitable job, but actually what I was paid covered just food and my clothes,” says Daouda *, a 17-year-old who has never been to school and who spent four years with an armed group in his village in Timbuktu Region.

"There is sometimes a ripple effect when an armed group arrives in an area," explains Moussa Seini, social worker in charge of the Transit and Orientation Center (CTO), on behalf of the Regional Directorate for the Promotion of Women, Child and Family in Timbuktu.

"All your friends go there and they become the masters of the village so it's attractive to join the group. It gives you status, it's rewarding," he says. “But young people do not understand the consequences of this engagement, which is why we are carrying out community dialogue and awareness activities.

As a 13-year-old Daouda was initially responsible for running small errands for the group, making tea or washing clothes.

“Afterwards, I was trained in weapons handling and I became a sentry at night. I thought I was going to get a salary,” he says.

Following a community dialogue conducted in his village by the Regional Directorate for the Promotion of Women, Children and the Family, and UNICEF's NGO partners, around twenty minors, including Daouda, were identified to be demobilized.

"People in the village started telling us that we had to leave the group, and we were taken to a center in Timbuktu," recalls Daouda.

The transit and orientation center Daouda was taken to is managed by the Regional Directorate for the Promotion of Women, Children and Families with UNICEF support. The center is a place for the transitional care of children associated with armed forces and groups, and unaccompanied children.

The CTO, with table football in the courtyard next to checker boards and other games, can accommodate up to 20 children, in five bedrooms with bunk beds fitted with mosquito nets.

A boy reads a book under a mosquito net.
A child who was demobilized from an armed group and who is now living at the CTO in Timbuktu.

"From a psychological point of view, children are often impulsive or withdrawn when they arrive at the center," says Abdoulaye Maiga, psychologist at the center.

"At first it was weird to be there," Daouda confirms. "But I had food and I could sleep. The center is a place where there are no problems, I could really rest, I felt at peace. “

“Daouda was very calm and he was very good at football too,” recalls the psychologist, smiling.

"The center team is there to guide children, to assist them and to return them to their community," said Moussa Seini, the center manager.

“We try to support them to have an emotional balance through individual follow-up. In addition to that, we also do educational talks and we mix young and old so that they understand that everyone is equal here. Daouda, for example, participated in literacy classes, individual interviews and group discussion sessions,” he says.

"I had access to books and to balloons, when I couldn't read and I hadn't played for a long time," Daouda remembers happily.

"We held awareness sessions where we talked about weapons, armed groups but also hygiene and disease," he says.

During his stay at the CTO, the team supported Daouda to develop an individual life plan to determine the best way to reintegrate him in an economically sustainable way into his community. For Daouda it was about starting his own small business.

UNICEF NGO partner AVSF facilitated the socio-economic reintegration of children.

"I received equipment to set up my shop and I also had training on running a business. I got a table, a scale and lots of goods like sugar, tea, flour, peanuts, dates, cookies, gasoline, candy, oil, coal, gasoline, etc.," says Daouda, who received support worth 310,000 CFA (US$532) in equipment to start his business.

UNICEF Mali thanks the US Department of State for its funding in support of this programme.