Birthplace: On the Side of the Road


By Laura Bellinger

More than eight months pregnant with twins, Lea Zehe, 26, fled to the forest with neighbors when her village near Blolequin in western Côte d”Ivoire was attacked. Lea and her neighbors are but some of the tens of thousands whose homes were pillaged and razed during five months of post-election violence in the country.

After weeks of hiding in fear of further attacks, Lea and her neighbors walked for 30 miles to reach a camp for internally placed persons. Along the way, Lea went into labor. “I gave birth to two boys on the side of the road with the help of an older woman’, she says. "As soon as I had the babies, I stood up and we kept on walking.’

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Lea with her twin newborns, whom she named "Doctor" and "Judge". Photo: 2011 Laura Bellinger / CARE

Lea has not seen or heard from her husband since the attack and has no family at the camp. A long-time housewife, she has no education and no means of income. She doesn”t even know how to write her name. “I”ve lost everything,’ says Lea. ’My mother and sister, my only other family, live in the South, in San Pedro, where they take care of my other children who are 5 and 7.’ Furthermore, Lea”s health is not good. “There”s something wrong with my stomach,’ she says, while breastfeeding one of her sons. “The clinic gave me medicine, but the pain is still there. I am not well.’

Life at the IDP camp has improved during the past two months. When Lea first arrived, there was no shelter. Everyone slept on mats on the ground or in the one building. Now, there is at least a separate sleeping area for women and children, and makeshift tents to shield people from the rain.

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Life at the IDP Camp in Guiglo, Cote d'Ivoire Photo: 2011 Laura Bellinger / CARE

During this time, Lea is thankful to have the support of Madame Vlei Leontine, a retired social worker who volunteers at CARE”s listening center in the camp. “I am alone,’ Lea says slowly and pensively. “I need help.’ With local partner ASAPSU, CARE launched the center in early May to help the camp”s 5,000 residents work through feelings of grief, fear, sadness, and revenge─a crucial first step towards helping people rebuild their lives and prevent further violence. To date, Madame Vlei has held private, one-on-one sessions with more than a hundred residents. She also provides referrals to professional psychologists, through an established referral system, for more severe cases of trauma.

Before meeting Madame Vlei, Lea lay her future in the hands of her two-month old twins “Doctor’ and “Judge’. She hopes they live up to their names, and is glad to now have other options for improving her future.

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Social worker Madame Vlei Leontine provides psychosocial support to camp residents at CARE's Listening Center.