Recovering from conflict: Giving people a place to be heard

By: 
CARE
Six-year-old Mignon has witnessed things no child should have to see. He's receiving counselling at the CARE listening centre at the camp he and his father have taken refuge in.

A spritely six-year-old boy from Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, Mignon’s name means name means “cute” in French. It suits him, but unfortunately his life has become anything but. The heartbreaking story of how he and his father arrived here explains why CARE has created a “listening centre” to provide professional psychosocial support for survivors of Côte d’Ivoire’s brutal violence.

Mignon and his father, Tiehi, are staying a camp in Côte d’Ivoire, alongside 10,000 of the more than 500,000 Ivorians forced from their homes after several months of bitter, post-election fighting.

Two months ago, Mignon and his mother went to Dabou, a coastal town where his mother regularly bought cassava to sell near their home.  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. Unknown 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 centre’s social workers will be able to help Mignon. A school administrator, Tiehi says he understands the importance of counseling gravely traumatised children. Tiehi has suffered terrible experiences in the violence too. Separated from Mignon’s mother, Tiehi was living in Bloléquin during the attacks. His house was burned down, and he was imprisoned in a case of mistaken identity.

“I was chained by the ankles for four days. They thought I was with a rebel group. 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.

“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 a local partner, the CARE listening centre offers private one-on-one sessions where 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 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 programmes 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 can these groups build a future in which Mignon and thousands of other children like him can sleep soundly once again.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.