“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
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.
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.
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
I. Training Courses for Women
II. Daycare and education center
III. Health Center and Infirmary
Today the center provides residential services to 60 women and 20 children. Results can be separated as follows:
Women’s reinsertion program
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.
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
Much to everyone’s surprise, the children effortlessly accepted the structure and rules we provided.
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.