January 23 2013

SOS Children's Villages keeps up work in Central Mali

23/01/2013 - A few kilometres away from the frontline, the SOS Hermann Gmeiner School in Socoura near Mopti reopened on 15 January as the situation is calm. However, some SOS employees and their families have moved further to the south due to the unpredictable situation as did many other families.

The last road block to the front line with insurgents who took over Northern Mali last year is in Sévaré, on the road to the SOS Children's Villages programmes in Socoura, 10 km away from Mopti. Sévare escaped the fighting by a hair's breadth. While the fourteen SOS families were evacuated last April to SOS Children's Villages in Kita and Sanankoroba, the SOS Hermann Gmeiner School and the Kindergarten had remained open.

Photo: Emmanuelle Lavenac
The SOS Hermann Gmeiner School in Socoura is still open despite the unpredictable situation   © Emmanuelle Lavenac
The 500 children that benefit from family support programmes in four villages of Mopti (Socoura, Diondiori, Takouti and Bakoro) remained there at first and continued to go to school; 154 of them attend the SOS Hermann Gmeiner School, 70 go to the SOS Kindergarten. However, after fighting between government troops and opposition forces resumed, students of the SOS Hermann Gmeiner School and their families fled to the South of the country on 10 January. The intervention of French troops to stop the opposition forces from advancing further south has succeeded in calming the situation and school has resumed as of 15 January. Aside from the absence of students whose families have fled south, the situation in Socoura is calm.

When the rebels took the city of Konna, people were trying to leave Sévaré and Mopti. There were long queues at petrol stations and the streets were full of traffic. The shops were closed and the streets were deserted of their usual busy activity. Banks had evacuated cash by private planes. Five days after the start of a counter-offensive, an eerie calm has descended on the town, which has become the furthest government-controlled outpost in the region. The town remains closed to journalists.

Families of SOS co-workers were evacuated

Upon the rebel’s taking of Konna, SOS co-workers were given the option to go south. Both village director and school director asked them to get ready and organised the evacuation. Some of the staff is originating from the south. Despite the serious situation many chose to stay. None of the SOS staff suffered any physical injury and their families are unharmed.

The director of SOS Children's Villages Mali, Mr. Ibrahima Bane, took the road from Bamako arriving in Socoura Mopti after a trip of 635 km on 14 January. This visit was meant to reassure and to encourage the local staff that they are not alone and that they will get any possible support they need. After making sure that their families were evacuated some co-workers said that they had stayed to protect the facilities and equipment.

Photo: SOS Archives
The children from Mopti are sharing meal with their friends in Kita © SOS Archives
"Cautiousness is the order of the day"

On the way back to Bamako, Ibrahima Bane went to the SOS Children’s Village Kita, 200 km west of Bamako, to inform the displaced children, SOS mothers and family assistants from Mopti about the situation in their town and to show sympathy with their concern.

Ibrahima Bane confirms that "in Mopti cautiousness is the order of the day. We follow up the situation to be prepared for any contingency. The recent French intervention gives us hope that the advancing rebels shall be stopped, now joined by the other African nations. We have been having difficulties with e-mail connections over the past few days but we keep close telephone contact every day."

Photo: Emmanuelle Lavenac
Picture from better days - a family from Mopti who is supported by SOS Children's Villages © Emmanuelle Lavenac
Growing number of families fleeing south

Sévaré on the river Niger holds an international airport and a garrison and was the target of thousand rebel fighters descending from up North. On 11 January, France intervened initially with air strikes to try to halt a rapid advance because of the rebel takeover of the town of Konna, a town 55 km from Mopti the day before. French and Malian armies are to be joined by soldiers from the West African force, with Chad, Benin, Ghana, Niger, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Togo led by Nigeria. The UN has approved plans to send 3,000 African troops to Mali to recapture the north but they are not due to arrive until September 2013.

According to Le Monde and other French media, France is also planning to base a substantial contingent of troops at Mopti in central Mali, from where they will be able to carry out operations in the north of the country. An offensive to the North is said to either start before the rainy season in the next six weeks or to wait until autumn.

Meanwhile in central Mali, hundreds of people are fleeing to areas further south. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says it fears the fighting could force 700,000 people from their homes. So far the conflict has caused nearly 150,000 people to flee the country, while another 230,000 are internally displaced, the UN humanitarian agency said last week. The UNHCR has registered 144,500 refugees in neighbouring countries; 54,100 in Mauritania, 50,000 in Niger, 38,800 in Burkina Faso and 1,500 in Algeria, OCHA said. The UNHCR said that an estimated 400,000 more could flee Mali, with a further 300,000 displaced within the country.