March 14 2011

Côte d'Ivoire: "The situation is frightening ..."

The director of SOS Children's Villages Côte d'Ivoire on the unstable situation

14/03/2011 - Côte d'Ivoire has been the scene of violent outbreaks and armed conflicts since the results of the Ivorian presidential elections in late 2010. The children from the SOS Children's Village in Abidjan have been evacuated for as long as the violence in areas of the town continues. The director of SOS Children's Villages Côte d'Ivoire Paul Gbato sums up the situation from his point of view.

Photo: SOS Archive
The director of SOS Children's Villages Côte d'Ivoire, Mr. Paul Gbato - Photo: SOS Archives

Ever since the presidential elections, the people of Côte d'Ivoire have been hoping that the outcome would put an end to the conflict that has plagued the country since 2002. Unfortunately, things have taken a turn for the worse and the situation in Abobo is frightening.

To ensure the safety of the children in our care, we decided to evacuate the SOS Children's Village in Abobo-Gare, and move all the children, mothers and staff to our village in Aboisso. The situation there is calm and safe, and Aboisso will be one of the last towns to experience any violence due to its remoteness and proximity to neighbouring Ghana. If an evacuation of the SOS Children's Village Aboisso becomes necessary, this will be easy to do.

Our priorities for the immediate future include the inscription of all our students in schools to avoid them losing an entire school term, but also to identify and help children who have been caught up in the violence, especially in the West of the country.

I have just returned from Aboisso and am glad to say that all the children there are fine. The team of the SOS Medical Centre in Abobo have also been moved to Aboisso and are ensuring the children are well. Furthermore, we were able to secure sufficient basic food provisions to last the next three months. The children have started to attend the SOS Kindergarten and SOS School; inscriptions for the older students in various schools and professional training centres are being processed.

The only inconvenience for the children and mothers are the cramped conditions this has led to. The SOS families in Aboisso have opened their homes to the families from Abobo and every home is now being shared by two families. Luckily, the children of the two SOS Children's Villages often spend their holidays together and frequently participate in joint educational activities, so they know each other well and get along just fine.

As far as the school is concerned, the increased number of students per class (about 45) will make some changes necessary. The teachers of Aboisso are currently being supported by the teachers from Abobo, and we will introduce lessons in two shifts, so that one group of children can be taught in the mornings and the other in the afternoon. We are also looking for living space to rent because there is very little space for the youth from Abobo in the Aboisso youth facility.

The violence and instability have also caused difficulties in the daily work of SOS Children's Villages Côte d'Ivoire. Several co-workers were unable to come to work due to the volatile security situation and communication has been difficult due to telephone lines repeatedly being cut by bandits. Furthermore, the closing of banks has rendered any financial transactions exceedingly difficult. We have now relocated our offices to Cocody, which is a much calmer, residential area of Abidjan.

The inhabitants of Abidjan remain resolute in their resilience: with the exception of certain areas of the city, such as Abobo or Anyama, people are going to work, the shops are open for business, public transportation is running and the children are going to school. In spite of all the troubles and violence that have been reported in the international media, the general atmosphere among the population of Côte d'Ivoire is still one of hope for a peaceful solution.