In the early months of 2011, more than 130,000 refugees fled into Liberia to escape fighting in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). Many arrived in villages like Glarlay, which were already struggling with food and water shortages. Joseph Mansaray, Emergency Response Officer from our Freetown office, describes a recent visit to Glarlay.
Among the many Ivorian refugees that I met in Glarlay, Kouhon Princess Doe’s story was the most touching and inspiring.
“You seem to be in a very happy mood,” I started our conversation.
“Indeed I am”, she replied, “I have to always keep a happy mood for the sake of the children. But when I am alone, sometimes I feel like crying when I think of home.”
Kouhon is a 40-year-old married woman with three children. She and her children left Koahro in north western Côte d’Ivoire in the company of other Ivorians fleeing from that country’s post-election crisis. Kouhon said she does not know the whereabouts of her husband and whether he is still alive, since they got separated that fateful night when they fled.
“As a single parent, I always have to keep a cheerful mood to keep the hope of my children alive” she said, trying to hold back the tears that were welling up.
Kouhon and her family lost everything – including her cherished sewing machine – during the crisis.
“I am a seamstress by trade and I used to make enough money to supplement my husband to meet our family needs especially for the children”, she said. “I am very thankful to the hospitality of the Glarlay community which welcomed us during our flight. My initial worry was how to cater for the needs of my children, especially for food and shelter”.
Today, Kouhon says she is happy as CAFOD has provided her with shelter, household and cooking utensils as well as food and agricultural farming tools and seeds.
“My host father has offered me a sewing machine on loan, which I am using here to keep my sewing skills up to date and earn some money to supplement what I get from CAFOD’s support,” she said, proudly displaying her sewing skills.
The machine is only available to her when the owner is not using it. “If I had my own machine, I could make more money and send my children to a good school not too far away from here,” she lamented.
Hope, reconciliation and childcare
Kouhon is also a member of a theatre group comprising Ivorian and Liberian women supported by CAFOD under the protection programme. The group provide cultural displays on a weekly basis to convey messages of hope, reconciliation and child care to both refugees and hosts families.
“Do you intend to return home”? I asked her. She answered that she felt safe and secure here, and as a single parent, the prospects of her being able to provide for all her family needs back home in Côte d’Ivoire are very slim.
“Besides, there are still a lot of people with small arms in Côte d’Ivoire, and civilians are being harassed every day,” she said. “I am very thankful to CAFOD and our hosts for what they are providing for us here.”