Mali: Displaced families in Ségou struggle to cope

5 April, 2013
Mariam, mother of eight, has not been able to find a job. "We cannot always pay the rent," she says hoping to return to her hometown in northern Mali. Credit: OCHA/Ulrike Dassler
Mariam, mother of eight, has not been able to find a job. "We cannot always pay the rent," she says hoping to return to her hometown in northern Mali. Credit: OCHA/Ulrike Dassler

An estimated 470,000 people have been displaced by the conflict in northern Mali since March 2012. Nearly two thirds of these people have fled to southern and central Mali, where they and the communities hosting them are still coping with the impact of last year’s regional food and nutrition crisis. The displacement has led to a significant population increase in south-central regions such as Ségou, where tens of thousands of displaced people have sought refuge, overstretching host communities’ resources.  

Humanitarian organizations have reached hundreds of families in Ségou with urgently needed aid, including food, water and shelter. They are also providing longer-term support through rural development projects and cash-for-work programmes, but they continue to face operational and funding constraints. The humanitarian appeal for Mali, which asks for US$409.5 million, has only received 20 per cent of the funding so far. This gap has affected many programmes, including those focusing on education, leaving many families without access to the most basic services or the opportunity to improve their lives.    
 
Mariam, mother of eight 
 
Mariam fled her home in Kidal, northern Mali, two weeks after armed groups took over the city. She and her children went to Ségou, travelling 1,000 km south by boat, to stay with family members who generously shared their home and food with them. 
 
But in just a few months, the house became overcrowded with more people who had fled the conflict, forcing Mariam to look for another place to stay. She now rents a small house but struggles to pay her $20 rent because she does not have a job. 
 
“People are beginning to get tired of us,” Mariam explained. “We cannot always pay the rent. We are now three months behind, but the owner is kind to us because he knows that we have nothing,” she added, saying that she hopes to return home soon. 
 
Ensuring her children’s education is another challenge facing Mariam. Her younger children can continue their education in a nearby primary school, but the older children have dropped out because the high school is too far away and the bus ride too expensive.
 
Ahramatou, displaced student
 
Eighteen-year-old Ahramatou’s education was affected when armed groups closed the schools in Gao when they took over in June, claiming that “education promoted Western values.” She could only return to school when she fled to Ségou to live with her aunt. However, living outside northern Mali has brought another set of challenges for displaced students.  
 
“Almost all the students from the north attended Franco-Arab schools. They are educated in Arabic and not in French, which is the language of our schools in the south,” said Oumar Paré, the Principal of Abdoul Cabral high school. “Many of them speak very little French and that will have consequences for their grades. They urgently need catch-up education and also psychological support.”
 
Ahramatou attends the high school with 300 other displaced students, many living with relatives and host families who are themselves struggling to cope with the increasing number of displaced people. Many of them go to bed hungry every night because there isn’t enough food for everyone.  
 
“Many students are often sick, and it is very difficult for them to stay focused in class because they are hungry,” said Mr. Paré. “And they have been through traumatic events, witnessed executions and seen dead bodies in the streets.” 
 
Only about half the displaced students attend school regularly, unable to cope with the challenges and stress. Some of them have to walk for an hour to reach school and often do not have money to pay for their meals.
 
“We have nothing to do with this war but we are the ones who are suffering,” said Ahramatou, feeling frustrated about her situation. “I cannot keep up with all my courses and I really need a lot of catching up.”
 
Determined to improve her situation, Ahramatou set up an association to raise funds for books, remedial courses and food for displaced students to help them complete their school year in Ségou and hopefully pass the year-end exams. She is still trying to raise the required funding.
 
Reporting by OCHA Mali