“I was chained to a tree in the outskirts of my village. They all said it was the only thing to do in order to chase the demons away from my body. At that time I knew it was my destiny to be exposed to the elements, forced to eat garbage for the rest of my life. My only hope was my family, my husband was praying for me every day.”
Elisabeth’s eyes burn with sadness, fueled by memories of the life-changing experience she went through many years ago. “Unexpectedly, one day something happened, though. That’s why today I am here with you.”
The Belleville Center gives both former and currently mentally ill women and their children shelter, ultimately aiming at their re-insertion into society. Proper medical and psychological treatment is provided, as well as education for the children and custom-made vocational activities, such as hygiene, tailoring/dress-making, manioc processing, agriculture and textile manufacturing for the women.
“Only” medical care
What happened? While she was chained to a tree, Gregoire from the Saint Camille de Lellis Association (one of our local partners), approached Elisabeth’s family. He convinced her husband to unchain her and allow her to receive specialized medical care. Elisabeth’s only demon was depression.
Elisabeth’s story is simple: a few years after she got married she started to suffer from depression. The depression worsened, so her family took her to the traditional healer, who assessed that she was possessed by evil spirits. Following to local traditions, she was chained to a tree in order to chase those spirits away.
Stories such as Elisabeth’s happen because families and communities don’t know what mental illness is. There is big stigma, lack of social awareness, and scant access to treatment.
Following a year of professional treatment in her village, Elisabeth recovered. She currently lives with her youngest baby, Salem, in the Saint Camille Rehabilitation Center in Bouaké. There, she receives close medical follow-up for her mental illness.
When Elisabeth moved to the center, it was in order to study a vocational trade. For her, the training is not just about learning a skill, though. It is much more about regaining her dignity and identity as a person.
Elisabeth’s recovery is not just about herself, it is also about women’s empowerment. Through educational and psychosocial activities, Elisabeth and other women like her can enhance self-awareness, build a motivation for social life, and acquire skills to earn an income.
Since its inception 2010, 80 women suffering from mental disorders have received help. These women have regained their capacity to provide for their family’s basic needs. Like Elisabeth, they all learn to manage family tasks again and can look after their children.
Some of them have even started small businesses. There is now a dress shop and a hairdresser inside the center, both of which are also accessible to the women living in the village outside.
Getting a mentally ill woman back to work is one of the most powerful ways of giving her life meaning, to unlock her potential, and to raise her expectations.