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Ivory Coast
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March 2010 - on going
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Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast: Mentally ill Women Making their Way Back into Society

“At the time I knew it was my destiny: I was chained to a tree, 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.”

ELIZABETH, 30 years old

The Context

Since the civil war broke out in Ivory Coast in 2002, mental and psychosocial problems have become more profuse, especially in women. In times of violence and insecurity, women are often victims of physical and sexual abuse. This, and the increasing pressures of leading a home while the men are out fighting, severely restricts their access to public services.

In this context depression and other mental conditions are appallingly common. Sadly, the money the government invests in combating these type of illnesses is scant. In a country with 20 million people, only two psychiatric hospitals exist.

In West Africa, mental illness is considered to be a magical, supernatural event, caused by spirits taking over the body. People suffering from mental disorders are believed to be possessed by evil spirits and are many times abandoned by their families; left to wander the streets alone, homeless and with no food. In other occasions, the sick are either sent to spiritual healing centers, or “prayer camps”, or left in the outskirts of the village, where their treatment consists in being chained to a tree or a wooden block for an indefinite period of time while their family prays to cast out the evil spirits.

The St. Camille association helps these people by freeing them and taking them into their Rehabilitation Center in Bouaké, properly taking care of them and giving them vocational and professional training to promote their reintegration into society.

Our Project

The Belleville Center’s goal is for its women to go back to a normal life, re-acquiring knowledge in the areas of work, self-awareness, family life and social life.

The Center gives both former and currently mentally ill women shelter for themselves and their children. Proper medical and psychological treatment is provided, as well as tailored vocational activities to promote their reintegration into their village. Activities include: hygiene, tailoring/dress-making, manioc processing, agriculture and textile manufacturing.

The children, for their part, are offered an Education Center and psychological and medical aid, as well as meals during the school year.

Our Partners

Associazione di Cooperanti Ticinesi e Associati (ACTA) of Lugano, Switzerland.
Association Saint Camille de Lellis, Ivory Coast.
Bouaké Dioceses, Ivory Coast.
Notre Dame De La Paix Congregation

Our Activities

I. Training Courses for Women

The project’s main activities are ongoing training courses for women. The women are divided into groups and rotate among the following workshops:

  • Alphabetization, social and personal formation: Three times a week, two groups of 10 women increase their knowledge of French from basic to elementary-school level.
  • Cooking: Lunch and dinner responsibilities rotate among participants (African and European cooking are taught).
  • Sewing: Embroidery, crochet and needlework are taught. All materials are provided, including sewing machines. The various products created are also sold here: baby clothes, handbags, embroidered tablecloths, aprons, etc.
  • Hairdressing: The “New Look” workshop is exclusively for the Center’s women, teaching them the art of African hairdos; a salon was opened, that offers its services to all the women in the neighborhood.
  • Gardening: With a passionate gardener at the helm, the women are taught what to plant in which season.

II. Daycare and education center

A daycare and education space at the Belleville Center became essential for the children of the women being cared for. The daycare center is also open to the children in the neighborhood who do not have the chance to attend any other educational facility. This allows them to receive proper education and acquire skills that are relevant to their social context.The children attending are aged 3-6, divided among the center’s three sections. At the daycare center the children are given close pedagogical attention that is in tune with their environment. A positive key point is the integration of different religious faiths.

III. Health Center and Infirmary

The infirmary operates with a doctor and a nurse. It offers services typical of a small clinic and medicine dispensary. In addition, it has an examination room for patients under observation, or for those needing to stay the night. The Health Center is also fitted with classroom to educate women on pregnancy and maternity. It is open five days a week and is free to the Center’s women and available to the community at 200 CFA (0.30 euro) per visit
Our Results So Far

Today the center provides residential services to 60 women and 20 children. Results can be separated as follows:

Women’s reinsertion program

In 2013 the first group of women began phase three of the reinsertion program. This phase serves a double purpose: that of providing women with a means of socioeconomic independence and the implied, and crucial, change in society that these women’s reinsertion means. Phase three is in fact a definite step towards the community acceptance of individuals who have suffered from a greatly stigmatized illness.In this framework, four women were selected after finishing their vocational training because of their aptitudes and will. They were supported in setting up their own income-generating activity and finding a place to live independently. The women were granted a small loan to be paid back once they get their economic activity on track.

All of these women are now working in different sewing shops that they contacted through our program and are managing to live independently in Bouaké.

Currently, four more women are ready to leave the center and two more have asked their villages to accept their reinsertion. All of them are supported and monitored by a social worker in these transition phases.
New women are expected to take the newly liberated places within the Belleville Center.

Children’s education

We have enrolled most of the women’s children at the local school, except for two who attend the Belleville’s daycare center. All of them are kept busy with in-house chores and homework. The fact that all of the children at the center attend school is an important achievement because before joining Belleville schooling was optional.Additionally, all the children have bonded into a tight group in which they sleep, eat and learn together. They have taken up the center’s schedule and habits, learning that rules and organization are an integral part of life.

With the help of the psychologist, we have been able to ensure all of the children have a favorable environment for growth and learning. The psychologist has been of invaluable help in dealing with the most problematic cases, designing a personalized program for each one.

Child daycare center

The child daycare center currently counts 75 children. This number confirms the neighborhood’s need for a daycare facility and the resident’s interest in taking part of it.Through individual and group activities, we strive to provide children with the following skills:

  • Personal care and hygiene
  • Respect towards teachers and peers
  • Language and communication
  • Pre-school knowledge, such as numbers and the alphabet

Much to everyone’s surprise, the children effortlessly accepted the structure and rules we provided.

Dispensary

Association Saint Camille manages the dispensary, which offers ambulatory care and dispenses medication to the Belleville community. It is open five days a week and counts with a medical doctor and a nurse. While it has still to reach the number of patients it can receive, it currently carries out between five and 15 medical visits a day.

The Belleville Center currently plays a very important role in the community, especially the education center, which is consolidating itself as a reference point for the entertainment and education of both children and parents.

It is important to point out that the center was set up in an Islamic neighborhood and is run by a Catholic nun. Having overcome the initial suspicions and the stereotypes linked to mental illness, the neighborhood families have welcomed the center’s role and are now active participants in its various activities. The taboo against the women and mental illnesses are giving way to tolerance.

The Belleville Center has been recently declared the most effective structure for mental healthcare in the country by the Ivory Coast’s Minister of Health.