Kim Brown, Conflict and Humanitarian Policy and Advocacy Adviser
Seeing the smile on Diko’s face makes it hard to comprehend that last year she had to up and leave her life and community in Timbuktu behind.
I’m in Mopti for a four-day field visit during my two-week trip to Mali.
Mopti is the gateway to the north of the country, where conflict has caused some 400,000 people to flee their homes over the past year.
My colleague Annie and I are spending our weekend meeting with children and their families, hearing about what things were like in their communities before the conflict broke out in the north.
Diko left because of fighting and constant gunfire in her village – she needed to protect her children. She wants to go home, but it just isn’t safe enough yet.
The internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Mopti, home to about 600, is full of activity.
The monthly food distribution has arrived and people are busy picking up their rations.
One of the first things I notice are some makeshift shelters along the back wall of the camp – each with four long sticks in the ground with burlap wrapped around them.
We find out that they used to be the bathrooms for the camp, but we’re happy to hear that they aren’t in use anymore because Save the Children has built new showers and toilets.
Looking around the camp, the evidence of our interventions to keep families clean and healthy is everywhere: mothers giving their children a bath, others doing the morning dishes, and still others doing laundry, all using supplies from the hygiene kits that Save the Children has provided.
Many of the children have seen and experienced things that no child ever should.
A young girl explained that her brother was beaten up by armed men who threatened to kill him,
“When I think about my brother and I have bad dreams about it, I dream they are going to kill him and leave him there. It hurts me to think those things. I haven’t been able to speak to anyone about it.”
Many children also told us of their schools being attacked, which led to their schools being shut down and their studies being brought to an immediate halt.
One boy told us what happened at his school after it was attacked:
“There were papers ripped up all over the place. There was a guard there – he was really scared, he said he thought they were going to kill him when he didn’t want to give them the key. That was all on the same day. The teachers fled after that, they left town, and so there were no more teachers. From the day the rebels first got there, the school was closed. I don’t know if it has opened up since.”
It’s horrible to see what these children have been through.
Understanding the situation in the north helps to develop how we can speak for the people of Mali at the international level. We have already called for more human rights monitors to be sent – their presence can help to stop people from committing crimes against children and can hold perpetrators to account.