THIS week is Christian Aid Week.
RORY McKEOWN visits Mali to find out how the charity is helping thousands of people in the African country forced to flee their homes during a jihadist rebellion.
WHAT would you do if your city, town or village was infiltrated by extremists?
Hundreds of thousands of Malian people chose to flee the homes they have lived in for their whole lives to avoid the crisis that took hold of the West African nation in September 2012.
An estimated 203,843 Malians seeking safety and shelter fled to other townships and villages to live with distant relatives or families they had never met before. They have become known as internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Christian Aid has been carrying out important vital humanitarian efforts in the country for 40 years.
Those efforts became even more |crucial when the jihadist movement began to spread through the country in January 2012.
In March of that year, President Amadou Toumani Toure was ousted in a coup d’état.
I visited Mali to see the extraordinary efforts the charity and its partner organisations are undertaking to bring the country back to its feet and ensure its people, including thousands of IDPs, are supported.
Mali is a beautiful country, with bustling markets adorning town streets, the smell of fresh fish and fruit tantalising the nostrils, and some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve ever seen.
The Malian people are friendly, always smiling and greeting you with firm handshakes, while the children remain ever intrigued by Western visitors.
But behind the smiles the memories of bloodshed and conflict linger, the pain of fleeing their homes and families still remains.
The IDPs are having to adjust to their new lives while villages are adapting to an increased population and the effect it is having on resources.
But it is the Malian way, and everyone treats each other like family – even if they are not related.
Yet thanks to the efforts of Christian Aid and its partner organisations, people are given hope, food and the prospect of a happier future.
Here in Sévaré, a thriving town in the Mopti region, I meet members of the Groupe de Recherche et d’Applications Techniques (GRAT) humanitarian
organisation, a partner of Christian Aid.
Yacouba Tangara is the man in charge, and his enthusiasm for helping an estimated 187,000 people still living away from their homes is evident.
The scheme has helped villages by providing rice and seeds, and the tools and training to farm crops to promote self-sufficiency through two projects.
“The first project was to reduce the pain, problems and troubles families have suffered to help them recover after seriously being affected by drought and rebellion”, Yacouba said.
“The condition of displaced people was very serious – some were mentally disturbed and completely disorientated. They didn’t know where to turn to.
“The main objective was to improve the condition of displaced people and to build a capacity for the host families in four districts – Sokoura, Konna, Fatoma and Borondougou.
“There were a lot of displaced people from these areas. To give assistance, we provided 1,000 families with a cash transfer.”
However, their efforts were put under strain as the jihadist rebellion intensified and spread further through the country. It meant families who had taken in displaced people became displaced themselves as thousands more looked to escape the trouble.
Intervention from the French military in January 2013 pushed the rebels back and GRAT was able to put its plans back on track.
GRAT has provided 45 tonnes of fertiliser, 42 tonnes of seeds, and more than 200 pieces of agricultural equipment.
“The host families in the first phase were displaced themselves as they went to seek refuge in neighbouring villages”, Yacouba added.
“After the jihadists left with the help given by France, the families started to come back and join their villages. The result of the second project is very visible. Vulnerable farmers receive fertilisers, equipment and seeds. A thousand households have benefited from cash transfers.
“The project has really made a positive impact and helped a lot of displaced people to be in a better shape.”
The efforts of people like Yacouba mean IDPs like 25-year-old mother-of-two Kadidja Maiga can feel assured there is support for her, despite living hundreds of miles away.
She was forced to leave her home town of Diré in the Timbuktu region of the country when the rebels arrived on her doorstep.
She fled with her husband Nouhoum Kaya and young children Kadidja Kaya, Ali Kaya, and Baba Kaya to live with another family in Konna.
Her two sons, Ali and Baba, have returned to Diré to live with their grandmother, but Kadidja, Nouhoum and their daughter remain.
“When the rebels arrived we got scared because all the movement happened in front of our house every day. We couldn’t stand it,” Kadidja says.
“We couldn’t go to the market and had to stay in. It was fear of being persecuted for going out, and there was flogging and guns on the street all the time.
“Women couldn’t even go out. The readjustments to life take a long time. We have suffered a lot and have had to overcome a lot of difficulties to get here.
“I am still in fear of them coming back. GRAT has helped me a lot – we received money from them and it was really helpful, it solved different problems. May God bless anyone who gives anything to help us here – my thanks go to all of them.”
Father-of-three Hassan Cisse, 28, now lives with a host family nearby after fleeing from Douentza, and is grateful for GRAT’s support.
His family endured seeing public flogging and gunmen on the streets as his village was gripped by Sharia law.
They eventually made it to Konna, where they spent a night on the streets before being taken in by a man called Ousmane Cisse. GRAT was supplying them with food and support, but the insurgent rebels broke into Ousmane’s house and took everything.
But they are starting to get their lives on track again a year after the rebels were pushed out by the French military.
He said: “When you see people fleeing, they don’t know where to go. When I got here it was so much safer.
“When we arrived things were really tough, and the first thing was to find a place.
"When we found here it was a big relief. My wife has continued nightmares and has been distressed for a long time.”
They wanted to punish me for showing rebels around
Sekou Komina is the SEKOU Komina is a portrait of the suffering Malians felt at the height of the rebel movement in 2012.
The 48-year-old was working as an electronics mechanic and supplied support for the Malian national army, which had a base in Konna.
But his world was turned upside down when he was captured by jihadist
extremists – and found himself moments from death.
“I became technical director of a radio station and became well-known –
everyone knew my telephone number in the region.
“I was overwhelmed by information and calls and gave up my phone to the
military, as I was getting too much information.”
Sekou was eventually captured while carrying out work for the military.
He was asked if he was a soldier and was kicked in the back of the head in full public view.
He was taken into a house and beaten.
There he had his hands tied behind his back and was repeatedly asked what he did for a living.
He said: “A man took his turban off and tied it to my face – I was
"He then ordered someone to kill me. I started saying ‘Allahu Akbah’
and another rebel told them to stop.
“It was then we heard a loud explosion and they let me go.”
A week later he got a call from a section of the Malian army claiming he gave information of the location of their base to the rebels.
He had his hands and legs tied up behind his back and was interrogated
"They wanted to punish me for
showing the rebels around. Some of them recognised me but didn’t say anything.
“I was put in a car by a soldier to go to a base in Sévaré, but decided to go to another base to pick up cigarettes.
“It was here I was spotted by Pascal, an army captain, who came over to the car and saw me. He started crying.
“Pascal told me everything was going to be fine now.”
How to help
Christian Aid works with some of the poorest people in almost 50 countries, through local partner organisations, to end poverty.
This Christian Aid Week (11-17 May) thousands of volunteers across the UK will take part in Britain’s longest running door-to-door fundraising week to raise money for its vital work with communities like those in Mali featured here.
To make a donation call 08080 006 006 or donate at caweek.org.