The on-going political crisis in Côte d’Ivoire has had a tremendous effect on the country’s adolescents and children. Since the crisis began last November, more than 300,000 Ivorians have fled their homes. Field report by Edward Bally
VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Anja Baron reports on UNICEF-supported counselling for returning school children in post-crisis Côte d’Ivoire.
About 60 per cent of them are women and children. Homes have been burned down and more than 800,000 children have been unable to attend school for several months. Even though the crisis has eased, many still bear psychological wounds and trauma.
After being closed for four months, Bloleu School in western Côte d’Ivoire has finally re-opened, and not just for local children. Along with the regular pupils, 22 displaced children in the region are attending to escape on-going violence in their villages.
Ashkenaze Gouli Ouaigue, 12, is one of these new pupils. He comes from Duékoué, a town 200 km away. He was forced to leave his home one night after his family came under attack. “People were being killed. My father and my mother said we had to flee,” he recalls. “My father is a doctor, he just had time to get his identification papers and we left. As for me, I left all my belongings in my room.”
Children in crisis
After escaping, the family had to walk through the forest and bush for two days, before finally reaching a safe enough area to continue their journey by bus.
Ashkenaze has no idea when he will be able to return to Duékoué or what he will find when he does. And there are many more children like him. There are approximately 1.2 million children in need of assistance. So far, some 700 have been identified as having been deprived of parental care, and around 500 children have been victims of sexual violence.
To help these children rebuild their lives, UNICEF is working hard to try and heal the psychological wounds of the crisis.
In Logoualé, UNICEF has set up a child-friendly space in a former hotel where around 200 children every day are cared for. UNICEF’s non-governmental partner Métissage is providing three counsellors to work with the children before they go to school.
Many children feel the need to talk about what they’ve witnessed. The counsellors aim to listen, reassure and help the children adapt back to daily life. “We’re trying to distract them from the problems of the crisis, from the war,” says Sandrine Dion, one of the counsellors. “Some children were in Duékoué and they saw a lot of things, so we’re trying to put them in an ambiance which makes them forget what they saw and what traumatized them.”