Written by Moussa Thera, an Emergency Education Programme Assistant with Save the Children in Mopti, Mali. On January 10, as armed rebel forces captured Konna – a town less than an hour away from their location – Moussa and the rest of the Mopti office staff were forced to relocate to Bamako for their own safety; days later they were able to return
“On Thursday afternoon, I was planning a distribution of school supplies for children with our local partners. We knew there were tensions in the North, in Konna, so we’d taken security measures just in case, but we wanted to keep on working as usual because there’s just so much to do here in Mopti.
“Our meeting was interrupted when the news came in that Konna had been taken by armed groups. It’s only an hour away from the Save the Children office.
“Then we received a call from our office in Bamako asking us to get ready to be relocated. The car was ready, but we had to go home to collect some of our stuff.”
Chaos in the streets
“As I walked out from our little building and down the street I realised the streets were crowded; hundreds of people were running in every direction. Children were shouting and all the women had loaded their belongings on their heads.
“Then everybody stopped. Only for a second, but it seemed a lot longer. In unison everyone looked up at the sky to see three aircraft heading north on their way to battle. Then back to confusion as the crowd returned to panic.
“On our way out we passed a few security checkpoints. They checked our IDs and on one occasion searched the car. Each time we were held for up to 40 minutes.
“Alongside the road hundreds of men, women and children trundled out of town. Between them and us was a seemingly endless collection of motorbikes.
“During a stop, I talked to a few people waiting to take a bus. They told me the price for transportation to Bamako had rocketed.
“By the time we reached Segou [mid-way between Mopti and Bamako] it was getting late. We were planning to stop for the night but all the hotels were fully booked: clearly we weren’t the only ones heading back south.”
Threat to education
“The road to Bamako was long and we arrived very late. It had been a long day and we were tired from stress. My colleagues and I wished we could have stayed there, in Mopti, but we had no choice.
“The children in Mopti need our support to go to school. Our work there provides students with educational kits and supports school gardening and canteen activities.
“We also identify out-of-school children and help them get back into the education system. That’s what I love about my job: I know our work gives these children the opportunity to study that they otherwise wouldn’t have.
“When disaster strikes, education can often be forgotten. But it’s so important: it’s not only about learning, it also gives children a sense of normalcy. I believe this is really important in times of conflict, when everything around is upside-down.
“It broke my heart to leave. The sooner we can go back the better. I hope we can go back soon.”
Moussa Thera and his colleagues were allowed to return to Mopti and resume their work one week later on 17 January.
Save the Children is currently implementing water and sanitation, education, child protection and health activities in the region of Mopti to support internally displaced children and host communities.