Cote d'Ivoire: Traumatic Violence, Sleepless Nights and a Place to be Heard


by Laura Bellinger

Bobbing in and out of his chair, a spritely six-year-old boy answers "Mignon" when asked his name. Mignon means "cute" in French. The name suits him, but unfortunately his life has become anything but cute.

Mignon and his father, Tiehi Didier, are staying a camp in Duékoué, Côte d'Ivoire sheltering 10,000 of the more than 500,000 Ivorians forced from their homes after several months of bitter, post-election fighting. And the heartbreaking story of how son and father arrived here speaks to why CARE has created a "listening center" to provide professional psychosocial support for survivors of Côte d'Ivoire's brutal violence.

Two months ago, Mignon and his mother traveled to Dabou, a coastal town where his mother regularly bought cassava to sell near their home in Abidjan. Like most Ivorians, Mignon's mother did not own a car, so, as is quite common there, they shared a ride home with a stranger. As the car neared Abidjan, they were stopped at a roadblock. Unbeknownst to Mignon's mother, the driver of their car had a gun. When the people manning the roadblock found the driver's gun, they ordered everyone out of the car.

"They cut off the driver's head," Mignon says quietly, "Then they told my mother to close her eyes. She closed her eyes and they shot her with the gun and cut her arms with a machete." Mignon gestures to his own arms to show where the men cut his mother, then gets up from his chair and runs behind his father.

"Mignon ran home to find help," Tiehi says. "And his aunt called me."

Tiehi hopes the listening center's social workers will be able to help Mignon. A school administrator, Tiehi says he understands the importance of counseling gravely traumatized children. Tiehi was traumatized during the post-election violence, too. Separated from Mignon's mother, Tiehi was living in Bloléquin during the attacks. Not only was his house burned down, but he was imprisoned as well.

"I was chained by the ankles for four days. They thought I was with a rebel group and I finally convinced them to let me go," he says. Tiehi and Mignon, along with Tiehi's wife and their four other children found shelter at the camp for internally displace people in Duékoué.

"I don't know what to do with Mignon," Tiehi says quietly. "He can't sleep. He has no distractions. He keeps asking to go back to school, but now I have no money for school. We have no home."

Working with the local partner ASAPSU, the CARE listening center offers private one-on-one sessions where these victims of violence can work through feelings of grief, fear, sadness, and revenge. The listening center also provides referrals to professional psychologists for the worst cases of severe trauma. It's a crucial first step, not only for personal healing, but for preventing further violence and working towards reconciliation.

CARE has extensive experience implementing programs that strengthen the bonds between different groups in Cote d'Ivoire: Muslims and Christians; planters and cattle farmers; Boso fishermen and local fisherman. CARE continues to believe that the forces bringing them together are stronger than those pulling them apart.

Only by listening and learning can these groups build a future in which Mignon and the thousands of other children like him can sleep soundly once again.

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Tiehi Didier brings his son Mignon to CARE's listening center regularly to try to him help him deal with the loss of his mother. Photo: 2011 Laura Bellinger/CARE

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Martine Johopaoudy has regular sessions with CARE listening center social worker Vlei Leontine. "I need to be heard every day," says Martine. Photo: 2011 Hortense Agnimel/CARE