A place to heal

After fleeing the violence in the centre of the country, children are recovering from their psychological traumas in foster families.

By Julie Crenn
Dans une famille d’accueil des enfants déplacés mineurs non accompagnés jouent avec Abdoulaye Yacouba Maiga psychologue à l’ONG COOPI. Ces enfants ont fui la guerre et les exactions de tous genres pour trouver refuge au centre.
UNICEF Mali/2020/Keita
13 November 2020

Mopti - "My village was attacked at night and my grandmother helped us flee with my little brother" says Aïssata*. "We walked nine kilometres on foot before we would find a vehicle" she continues, staring blankly, her hands joined together. The 11-year-old girl still seems a little lost, withdrawn in her own world that was shaken up last March during the attack of her village.

“When these children arrived, they had nightmares or anxiety attacks.”

Her grandmother having remained in the village, Aïssata and her little brother took  refuge with Drissa* and Kadidia*.The parents of six children, took in nine more, four girls and five boys aged between five and 17. "These children are from my village. Even though I've been living in Sevaré for the past seven years, each person in my village is a relative to me: we don't differentiate between the biological parent and our neighbour," explains Drissa in the courtyard of his house. "Their parents are alive, they continue to reside in the village however they preferred to keep their children away from the violence; because of the continuous attacks children are also victims," stresses Drissa with his heart on his hand. "As I live here, it is impossible for me not to help them.”

Currently in Mopti region, 123 unaccompanied minors like Aïssata have found support in host families supervised by UNICEF and Cooperazione Internationale (COOPI), a partner NGO. Thanks to the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and the Global Humanitarian Thematic Funds (GHTF), these children benefit from local psychosocial services provided by social workers trained in child protection, and to provide the first line of psychological and psychosocial assistance. In order to help these children overcome their traumas, they are monitored by COOPI psychologist Abdoulaye Yacouba Maiga: "When they arrive, I see them every morning, I listen to them, I talk to them and appease? console them. In a host family, these children are able to find a protective environment. ». This psycho-social follow-up gives the children the opportunity to express themselves, to recover and to resume their daily life. 

Little by little, Aïssata has adapted to her new life alongside about fifteen children.  "In the beginning it was difficult to be here, now it's better, I know everyone," she says. "When these children arrived, many of them couldn't sleep, they had nightmares, night terrors or anxiety attacks. In Aïssata’s case, she withdrew into her own world. It took her time to open up but having so many other children in this home helps her to cope. Furthermore, it encourages her to play games and it prevents her from having moments of silence where she can think about all that she has been put through. »

Thanks to CERF and GHTF, these families also benefit from food support, kits containing milk, oil, rice, clothes (loincloths & t-shirts), mats, mosquito nets, toothbrushes, salt, soap, washing powder and bleach. "Since the arrival of these nine children, the food rations we use at home have rapidly quadrupled," insists Drissa who works as a teacher for a living. "We need support and assistance. With the Covid-19, the children each received a washable mask and the family got a hand washing device and extra soap thanks to COOPI," he emphasizes, pointing to the device installed at the entrance to the courtyard. Facilitators from COOPI also give awareness raising sessions to inform the children about the risks of the disease and the preventive measures that need to be observed.

These facilitators also conduct awareness-raising sessions on menstrual hygiene for young girls and the parents of host families. "It is not easy to talk about these subjects when your mother is not with you," says Abdoulaye Yacouba Maiga the psychologist. "It is a concern for many adolescent girls who see their bodies change," he adds, stressing the importance of this dialogue. Hygiene kits containing washable or single-use sanitary towels are distributed to adolescent girls.

While waiting to be able to resume a normal life and to find her family in the village, Aïssata, like the 53,637 other vulnerable children in Mopti region, is healing her wounds thanks to psychosocial support and the help of CERF and GHTF.

UNICEF Mali/2020/Keita

*Person's name have been changed for protection reasons.