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A Painful Separation

"My lifestyle has been downgraded by the conflict," says 9-year-old Saoudata.
January 22, 2013

Nine-year-old Saoudata has had to make a sacrifice that no little girl should.

She’s had to evacuate Sévaré without her mother and her 2-year-old brother. The only reason that they were left behind was because her mother, Habibatou, was short on bus fare by twelve dollars.

“She has to put her children first, that is what mothers do,” said her Aunt Zachery.

Saoudata and her siblings will be living with their Aunt Zachery and Uncle Ahmed.

It’s the second time they were uprooted because of the conflict in Mali. Last year, when fighting broke out in the historic north Malian city, they fled to Sévaré because they thought it would be safe. Now they're relocating to Ségou, the regional capital in central Mali, where there is a large army and government presence.

Ségou is bustling with activity seemingly oblivious to the fighting which is occurring north and west of the town. There had been a tense moment 100 miles from Ségou when the armed insurgents crossed the border from Mauritania and seized Diabaly. The tension had been noticeable in the town, but the following day everything had returned back to normal.

In the midst of life, Saoudata is visibly unhappy.

“I miss my mother. I miss my little brother. I wish we were together in our family home. I wish that everything would become normal again so that we could return home.”

Saoudata also misses school and her friends and this is an area where Plan International can help. Since the beginning of the conflict, Plan International has been busy helping hundreds of displaced children find temporary schools where they can take catch-up classes and make-up exams.

Since the beginning of the crisis in Mali, hundreds of children have been denied their right to receive an education. According to education officials 300,000 students have been out of school and half of these students are girls.

Despite efforts over the last decade by the Malian government to improve girls’ education, ingrained cultural practices such as early marriage and the general perception that a “woman’s place is at home” has made these efforts difficult.

“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,” confides a 14-year-old Aicha to Plan.

Her friend Fatoumata is enrolled in Plan’s Sido-Sinokoura Primary School in Ségou. She has also received a school kit to help her get started with her studies.

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 few months, I have seen many displaced children with poor literacy and numeracy skills come to Ségou and excel beyond 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 adjusting to her new school, but she says that her life as an internally displaced person has “downgraded her lifestyle."

“At home, I used to go to the movies and hang out with my friends. In Ségou, I don’t know anyone.”

No one knows when the conflict will end or when Fatoumata and the others will be able to return home. In the meantime, they will have to make new friends and start new lives.

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