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By Edwige Depagne-Sorgho
Nine year old Saoudata has had to make a sacrifice that no little girl should.
She’s had to evacuate Sévaré without her mother or her two-year old brother. The only reason that they were left behind was because her mum, Habibatou, was short on bus fare by 6,000 CFA (US$12).
“She has to put her children first, that is what mothers do”, her aunt Zachery said.
Saoudata and three other brothers and sisters will be living with their Aunty Zachery and Uncle Ahmed.
It’s the second time they were uprooted because of the conflict in Mali. Last year, the Timbuktu family – including Ahmed, Zachery and their three children - fled to Sévaré when fighting broke out in the historic north Malian city. They felt Sévaré would be safe. Now they’ve had to run again, this time to Ségou the regional capital in central Mali where there is a large army and government presence.
This city is still bustling with activity seemingly oblivious to the fighting north and west of the town. There was a tense moment when the armed insurgents crossed the border from Mauritania and seized Diabaly about 160km north of Ségou. The tension was noticeable in the town but the following day everything was back to normal. The markets and stores are open and trading is alive and well.
In the midst of life, Saoudata is visibly unhappy.
“I miss my mum. I miss my little brother. I wish we were still all together in our family home. I wish everything becomes normal again so we can go home and be all together again.”
She also misses school and her friends. Getting Saoudata back into school is something that Plan International can help with.
The global children’s NGO has been helping hundreds of displaced children find school places and has put on catch-up classes for them and allowed them to sit exams which they missed last year.
Hundreds of children have been denied their right to education since the beginning of the crisis in Mali. Education officials have said that 300,000 pupils have been out of school, over half of which are girls.
Despite efforts over the last decade by the government, education for girls in Mali, especially in rural areas, is not regarded as priority. Education officials say that is because of ingrained cultural practices such as early marriage and the general perception that a “woman’s place is at home”.
“I wanted to become a doctor but since we left home in Timbuktu, I don’t think I will be able to go back to school. I hear my family talking about finding me a husband as soon as possible. That’s not what I want,” 14 years old Aicha confided to a Plan team.
Her friend, Fatoumata, however has been allowed to be enrolled in Sido-Sinokoura primary school in Ségou. This is part of Plan’s Emergency in Education programmes for displaced children. She’s also received a school kit to help her get started.
As part of this program, Fatoumata benefits from catch-up classes and regularly attends the Children Friendly Spaces (CFS) for extra-curricular activities.
“These catch-up classes and CFS are just great. Over the past months I have seen so many displaced children coming to Ségou with very poor literacy and numeracy going back or even above the levels they should have for their age group” explains Aminata Samaké, head of the Fondation Education Communautaire pour le Développement (FECD), a local NGO which works with Plan Mali in Ségou.
Fatoumata is settling in well to her new school. But she says that her life as an IDP has “downgraded her lifestyle”.
“At home, I used to go to the cinema and hang around with my friends quite a lot. Here I know nobody and nobody knows me. I haven’t found a group which is up to standard really”.
No one knows when the conflict will end or when Fatoumata and others will be able to return home. In the meantime, they are having to make new friends and start new lives.