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

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    Factions Shift as Civilians Die in Syrian War

    Scenario likely only to further confuse military situation on ground and potentially worsen humanitarian crisis that already has grown to epic proportions

    Presidential Hopefuls Woo Minorities, Evangelicals

    Four GOP candidates to speak at forum at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina

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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.