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

Islamic State Survivor: A Yazidi Girl's Tale

Sarah Said Haydar, captured a year ago while fleeing Islamic State onslaught in northern Iraq, was so traumatized by militants, she sought to end her own life More

EU, US Applaud Kosovo Law on Special Court

Joint statement says lawmakers' decision to address allegations of war crimes 'demonstrated their commitment to the rule of law and to honor international agreements' More

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' 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.
Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Tradei
X
Robert Carmichael
August 04, 2015 3:07 PM
Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Trade

Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Growing Number of E. Jerusalem Palestinians Seek Israeli Citizenship

Most Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have long rejected the option of full Israeli citizenship, seeing it as a betrayal to their political cause - the formation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But as that dream remains elusive, more and more Palestinians are applying for Israeli citizenship. Zlatica Hoke reports the decision is hard for many Palestinians who say they have to be pragmatic about it.
Video

Video With No Money, More Students, African Universities Struggle

Academics from around the African continent converged in Johannesburg last week for the African Universities Summit, a chance to tackle some of the major issues facing higher education in Africa today. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Wisconsin's Voter ID Law Still Mired In Controversy

Voter ID laws have sparked controversy across the US. More than 30 states enacted laws requiring citizens to show identification before they vote. Against fierce opposition, the state of Wisconsin recently enacted one the most restrictive voter ID laws in country. As Jeff Swicord reports, no one can predict its impact as the 2016 election nears.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Hailed as Highly Effective

At last, there's a way to end the suffering from the Ebola epidemic that has ravaged West Africa for more than a year. Researchers say the vaccine is so effective, there may never be a major outbreak of Ebola again. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs