Man, Ivory Coast
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
It has been a long day of work and I am finally home. As I sit outside, the pitch black sky is lit up by a distant lightning, revealing the silhouette of the belt of mountains that surrounds Man, the town I’m now living in, in western Ivory Coast. There is no thunder, just lightning, and as soon as it’s gone, the sky returns to darkness. Normally, I would have just enjoyed the beauty of this moment, but this time it’s different. I know that later tonight, when the rain catches up with the lightning, there will be children and families unable to sleep because they have no shelter.
Hundreds of thousands of families were forced to flee their homes in the Ivory Coast after disputed elections in November sparked a major crisis. Now, almost six months after the elections, children are still suffering the devastating consequences. Their homes have been burnt down, schools destroyed, hospitals looted and family members killed.
Right now, 150,000 people are still displaced in the West alone. Thousands of children are without a home, some staying with host families who don’t have the resources to support everyone. Others live in overcrowded camps, struggling to find free space to lay their heads at night, which, for many, still means sleeping under the stars.
Today I visited one of the camps where about 25,000 people are crowded together on the grounds of a local church. The conditions are atrocious. Apart from the need for adequate shelter, there is also a massive shortage of food, clean water, mosquito nets and medical supplies.
As I walked through the busy and narrow alleys of the camp, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of children – they were everywhere. Many of them showed signs of malnutrition and stomach diseases. Some of them would not stop crying.
The amount of need was palpable at the camp, and I was glad that we were there to take action.
While my colleagues work flat out to provide the basic needs of these children, I work to protect children from abuse, violence and exploitation. Despite the disheartening conditions I had witnessed on my visit, I left the camp with a sense of accomplishment. My visit resulted in a successful negotiation for a free space to set up a temporary school and a supervised playground. Children will soon have an opportunity to learn, play, express themselves and have fun together. In the midst of their daily struggles in the camp, children will have a space to leave their hardships aside and just be children.
Knowing the space was secured; I had completed my mission of the day and our team returned to our base in Man.
Following a sudden brisk wind and a marked temperature drop, the rain arrived to Man, heavy and merciless. I get myself ready for bed and, knowing that this is only the beginning of the rainy season, I can’t stop thinking of the needs of families spending the night outdoors.