Protecting future generations from the impact of violence and conflict in Mali
Zeinab, 14, sexual violence survivor wants to believe in the future again.
The atmosphere is calm, the director's office is softly lit by the sunbeams gleaming through the window. Zeinab* tells her story. She speaks shyly and quickly, picking at her nails. Beside her is Cheick Oumar Sissoko, the psychologist of the Kanuya Center in Bamako where the 14-year-old girl has found refuge for the past eight months.
In her lost looking eyes, sadness and strength mingle, a form of resilience after having gone through a very painful trauma. Zeinab was sexually abused when she was only 13 years old.
This painful story begins when she decides to leave her father and Burkina Faso in search of her mother, who lives in Mali and whom she says she has never met. She is a 13 year old who girl arrives alone in Bamako with only her mother's name in mind. It is difficult, if not impossible, for this search to succeed. There are literally thousands of "Fatoumatas" in Bamako, it's a very common name here.
Very quickly, the need to eat and to find a roof over her head impose themselves. She finds some work as as a street vendor through a shopkeeper at the market for about a dollar a day, often less when she does not manage to sell all the goods. This is barely enough to eat one meal a day.
At night, she finds space under the market stalls to sleep.
It was then that a man offered to take her in. Believing in her good luck, Zeinab accepts. But a few weeks later, the benefactor turns into a torturer. He and his friend abuse her. One of them is arrested by the police after being reported, and Zeinab is placed in Kanuya Centre on a juvenile judge order.
Providing holistic care for traumatized children and youth.
The first few months at Kanuya are challenging.
"Frightened, Zeinab was showing signs of post-traumatic stress and was isolating herself from others. She was insecure and afraid of being stigmatized," explains Cheick Oumar Sissoko, psychologist at the Kanuya center.
She undergoes several tests and receives medical care. Progressively, the meetings with the psychologist help her to overcome her fears and to reconnect with herself first and then with others. The workers at the Kanuya Center, supported by UNICEF, have been trained in child protection, psychosocial care, and protection against sexual abuse and exploitation of victims of violence and/or affected by the conflict.
In addition to the psychologist, Zeinab confides in Aïssata, one of the center's educators, who very soon becomes a mother-like figure for the teenager.
"Here at the center, I have everything I need: food, clothes, friends to whom I can tell everything I feel. It's like a family," says Zeinab.
Each day at the center is a new dose of hope for the future.
"I first touched a computer at the center. It makes me want to go back to school. Later, I want to do a job where I can work with a computer,"
Today, the frightened and withdrawn girl has started to smile again surrounded by all her friends at the Center. She has regained her self-confidence and is opening up to others a little more each day. After eight months at the Kanuya Center, Zeinab is integrated and does not hesitate to speak up during the discussion groups. She has also discovered her a passion for table soccer and computers.
"I first touched a computer at the center. It makes me want to go back to school. Later, I want to do a job where I can work with a computer," says Zeinab, her eyes shining.
Reintegrating children socially by trying to reconnect them to their families.
But Zeinab has not forgotten her mother. She still hopes to feel her mother's arms around her one day. In the meantime, Zeinab will return to her paternal grandmother who lives in Mali. The Kanuya Center team has begun the search for her.
The support services provided to Zeinab are key components of the project "Protecting the Future Generation - Children Affected by Armed Conflict in Mali" which includes strengthening the case management system for survivors of violence.
Thanks to the Government of Japan, UNICEF and its partners in Mali are working to provide appropriate medical, psychosocial and reintegration support to 5000 children affected by the conflict and/or violence such as Zeinab. Some 387 children and women (136 survivors of Gender-Based Violence and 251 (189 women, 62 girls) displaced and repatriated children and women, and their host communities, have also benefited from family and socio-economic reintegration services to mitigate the long-term negative effects of the conflict on them.
The project was funded through $2 million from the Japanese government.
Through UNICEF Mali, the Japanese people are contributing to preserve the safety and dignity of children affected by the armed conflict in Mali, thereby reducing the risk of further instability by providing child protection and socio-economic reintegration services in the most affected areas (including the internal conflict zones).
For every child, protection; for every child, a future.
*First name changed for protection reasons.