A place where children can catch their breath
In Kayes, thanks to the support of the European Union, UNICEF's NGO partners welcome children in difficulty, on the move and/or unaccompanied, for emergency care at the "one-stop center".
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In Kayes, thanks to the support of the European Union, UNICEF’s NGO partners host children in difficult situations, on the move and/or unaccompanied, for emergency care at the one stop “social welfare shop " or center. On April 30, 2022, 888 children accessed this center in the capital of western Mali, and some of them benefited from this emergency hosting programme and from referrals to adapted services.
There is a large crowd this morning at the one-stop center in Kayes. A group of children are playing table football, another is watching cartoons on TV, while a little one is dozing on the lap of a social worker.
"The center is there for all children, whether they are children on the move, children from the community who come to play and attend awareness sessions or children in conflict with the law," explains Maguette, case manager of Enda-Mali, an organization supporting UNICEF’s NGO partner Terre des Hommes Lausanne in implementing this European Union-funded project.
On this Friday morning, two new arrivals are registered in by the team: Cherif* and Mariam*. Both agreed to share their stories.
One day I saw a team from the NGO Enda-Mali at the bus station and they were talking about helping children.
Cherif is 14 years old. Originally from a village of Kayes region, he was sent by his father to Mauritania to learn the Koran. Unhappy with his living conditions, he ran away and went back to his family, who sent him to Kayes to stay with a second Koranic master. "I was not allowed to go out with the other children and he was beating me," says Chérif, lifting his shirt to reveal the scars of the abuse he had suffered.
The boy fled again and found refuge at the bus station. "There, I washed the buses and sometimes they gave me 500 francs in exchange," explains the boy. "There was a place with prayer mats where I slept. One day I saw a team from the NGO Enda-Mali at the bus station and they were talking about helping the children," he recalls in a soft voice. "I asked a man I liked, who often gave me food, if this was true, if these people would protect me. When he said yes, I knew I could trust them.” Chérif was then taken care of and hosted at the one-stop center. "Here I received clothes, shoes, but also soap, a toothbrush, toothpaste, everything I needed to wash myself, and above all I can watch television," he concludes with a shy smile.
Mariam is also 14 years old. She has never been to school and comes from a remote area, hundreds of miles from Kayes. "When I was 13, my parents sent me to Bamako to be a maid in a family. But the family moved to Kayes and that's when the husband started hitting me with a belt," she says, looking at the ceiling. "I tidied up, did the housework, the washing, the dishes, looked after the children and they asked me to sell ice worth 2,000 francs a day.” If she does not bring back this daily tithe the girl is beaten.
"One day I came back later without having sold all the ice and he insulted me, he insulted my family and then he locked me in a room with handcuffs. I know handcuffs are for criminals, but I didn't steal, I didn't kill, so I knew I was in danger.” The young girl managed to escape and find refuge with neighbours who brought her to the court the next day, where she was taken in charge by the children's judge in collaboration with the local services of the Promotion of Women, Children and Families department and referred to the one-stop center. "Since I arrived here, I have been comfortable, I have food, I sleep and wash when I want, I play with the children, especially at table football," she says with a smile.
"We meet with the family and assess whether reunification is possible and work with the child and family on a life plan."
After this emergency care, the aim is to respond to immediate needs while launching the process of reunification with the family. "We do a search for the family, then I go to the child's village," explains Laya, a social worker. "We meet the family and assess whether reunification is possible, and we work with the child and his family on a life project," he adds. Chérif wants to become a 'driver's apprentice' before becoming a bus driver as an adult, while Mariam is still thinking about what kind of vocational training she might like. "In several days, if a quick family reunification is not possible, the two children will leave the one-stop center to be taken care of in foster families," says Mamou, a child protection assistant at Enda-Mali. While waiting for their transfer, Chérif and Mariam are using this time at the one-stop shop to catch their breath and enjoy their favourite activities, television for him and table football for her.
*First names have been changed for protection reasons.