News / Africa

In Mali, Communities Grapple With Post-Traumatic Stress

People seeking refuge from Tuareg separatist rebel group MNLA display a Malian flag in a military camp in the northern town of Kidal, July 17, 2013.
People seeking refuge from Tuareg separatist rebel group MNLA display a Malian flag in a military camp in the northern town of Kidal, July 17, 2013.
Ivan Broadhead
— Almost a million Malians remain displaced after ethnic and jihadist violence spread across the north following last year’s coup d’état.
 
Despite fresh memories of conflict and atrocity, some of those displaced are seeking to return to their hometowns to vote in Sunday’s presidential election.
 
In a country that was home to only six psychiatrists before the war, aid agencies are seeking to raise awareness of post-traumatic stress, particularly among vulnerable children.
 
In an enclave of Bamako, the capital, small Christian communities that hail from Gao and Timbuktu have sought refuge from the conflict that swept their region over a year ago.
 
This evening one of their number, Fatima Bagayoko, a mother of six children and guardian of five more, celebrates her 39th birthday.
 
Under a Malian flag in the garden of her new residence, friends from home join her for a birthday picnic and a game of boules.
 
Sitting upright and serious in a white plastic chair next to a rusted shipping container, Fatima describes the effects of the conflict on her youngest daughter.
 
"It was terrible," she said. "One night there was a battle outside our door. Bullets came into the house. We thought we were going to die. A month after our escape, our eight-year-old was terrified of any unexpected noises. As a mother, it is intolerable to be so helpless."
 
Fatima’s husband, Mohamed Ibrahim Yattara, is the U.S.-educated Baptist pastor of one of the largest churches in Gao, a city of 65,000 that was home to around 800 Christians before the conflict. In the days after the jihadist occupation, which began in March 2012, he hoped the Christian community would be left in peace.
 
Soon, however, his church was vandalized, then two young daughters of a friend were raped by the jihadists.
 
Women in the community sought to counsel the girls, said Yattara, who himself reached out to their 19-year-old brother, who had suffered a nervous breakdown.
 
“It was in the afternoon. They took the girls, they raped them in a military camp, then early the next day brought them back. [The brother] saw how they brutalized his father, his sisters and mother. And he was a witness of all the gunshots in the city. I think, altogether, that is what traumatized him,” Yattara explained.
 
Searching for a way to escape, the priest hired the last remaining bus in Gao and filled it with 53 members of his congregation.
 
The Christians found room for another 76 fleeing Muslims, who crammed into, and onto, the bus. Yattara eventually led the entire group to safety in the capital, 500 miles away.
 
In Bamako, the non-governmental organization Plan Mali continues to operate its emergency response center. It coordinates food, health and educational aid for communities still affected by the conflict.
 
Dr. Sita Sidibé is the organization’s medical adviser. Before the conflict there were very few psychiatrists in Mali, he said. Today, there are perhaps two.
 
"With so much sexual violence and children displaced without their parents," he said, "it is fair to say that we have seen a degree of psychosis setting in among victims in those areas that were occupied, and we need to offer long-term help."
 
Fadimata Alainchar, Plan’s country director, hopes Sunday’s election will allow a healing process to begin for Mali.
 
But conservative Mali has little history of identifying or treating mental illness, let alone post-traumatic stress among vulnerable children.  
 
“Even if everybody left, they came back," said Alainchar. "And when they did they saw all the atrocities. This guy was killed in a tree and his body was there for more than a month. The fish factory was bombed with jihadists inside and you could smell the rotting bodies two months after. If I could smell it, the children did. If I saw that body hanging there, the children did also — that kind of trauma you cannot estimate."
 
Alainchar takes issue with observers who argue post-traumatic stress is not an issue in Mali because most citizens fled before fighting directly affected them.
 
Increasingly optimistic about the future as U.N. peacekeepers deploy around Mali, Yattara says that despite the pain of the last year, there have been important benefits to his congregation’s exile.
 
“Our hope is the country remains a secular state," he said. "If it doesn’t, we have to stay. It is our country. If we have to die, we should die here. There is no need to flee any more.
 
"It was a good thing to be together in Bamako as Christian families, to learn and to teach the theology of suffering and to have a collective therapy.”
 
One or two of those playing boules at the picnic hope to return to vote in Timbuktu and Gao, joining the other Muslim residents reportedly returning home from exile and refugee camps. But election or not, the majority of Yattara’s congregation insist they will remain in Bamako for now, still uncertain about confronting the horrors of this last year.

You May Like

Iraqi Kurds Warn Baghdad While Moving Toward Independence Vote

Warning comes after Iraqi air raid kills four in Kurdish-held territory, and as most world leaders warn against secession More

Study: Childhood TB Rates Much Higher than Estimated

Research also presents first-ever estimate of new TB infections among children: nearly eight million in 2010 More

China Establishing New Silk Roads

Beijing officials promote creation of two new economic paths - so-called 'Silk Roads' - one a land-based road and another a maritime trade route More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Civilians Fear Mideast Violence Could Turn Into Full-Scale Wari
X
Zlatica Hoke
July 09, 2014 1:24 PM
Violence in the Middle East is escalating at a time when there are no new peace talks in sight. Israeli and Palestinian leaders have condemned the brutal deaths of three Israeli teenagers and one Palestinian teen, and have vowed to punish those responsible. But both sides also seem to be gearing up for more fighting. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Civilians Fear Mideast Violence Could Turn Into Full-Scale War

Violence in the Middle East is escalating at a time when there are no new peace talks in sight. Israeli and Palestinian leaders have condemned the brutal deaths of three Israeli teenagers and one Palestinian teen, and have vowed to punish those responsible. But both sides also seem to be gearing up for more fighting. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video American Roadside Attraction 'Dinosaur Land' Lures Visitors

A big part of the American landscape of the middle 20th century was the roadside attraction - small zoos, amusement parks or quirky museums along the highways families traveled on their way to vacation destinations. Most of those attractions are gone, but one in Virginia, a couple of hours from Washington, called Dinosaur Land, is still going strong.
Video

Video Burma Football Friendly Brings Together Battlefield Opponents

As most of Myanmar’s ethnic armies maintain a fragile ceasefire with the government, some of the troops were able to let off a little steam, World Cup - style. Steve Sandford reports from Karen State, Myanmar, also known as Burma, on a peace initiative aimed at building trust between the opposing sides of one of the world’s longest-running conflicts.
Video

Video FIFA’s Football for Hope Tournament Kicks Off in Brazil

As excitement builds toward the final matches of football's (soccer's) World Cup, another competition has kicked-off in Brazil. The Football for Hope Festival brings together underprivileged young people from around the world for an event that is less about winning than about enjoying the game and one another. Scott Bobb reports from Rio de Janeiro.
Video

Video Brazil Evictions Continue Near Future Olympic Sites

Football's World Cup in Brazil is drawing to a close leaving great sporting memories. It also leaves a legacy of controversy over evictions and land dispossessions that made way for the event. The scenario is repeating itself as Brazil prepares for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from a community near a future Summer Olympics site.
Video

Video More Americans Turning 100 Than Ever Before

An Arkansas woman who just celebrated her 116th birthday isn't as unusual as some might think. Gertrude Weaver -- officially the oldest living American and second-oldest person in the world -- belongs to a fast-growing segment of the U.S. population: people who are 100 years old or older. There are about 53,000 centenarians in the U.S. today. VOA's Julie Taboh shares their secrets to longevity.
Video

Video Caipirinhas Introduced to International Audience at World Cup

The hundreds of thousands of football fans visiting Brazil for the World Cup are consuming large quantities of caipirinhas, the national tipple based on muddled lime and the sugarcane-based spirit cachaça. VOA’s Brian Allen talks to some of the expert caipirinha purveyors in Rio and has this report.
Video

Video Ocean Sole: Turning Trash Into Art

From Kenya to Washington may seem a long way to travel to spread a simple environmental message. But one group from Nairobi is doing just that at the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Mackenzie Buckwalter has more for VOA on their work cleaning up their nation’s coastline -- and turning discarded rubber sandals into art.

AppleAndroid