Senegal: Stéphanie Malak - 'I'd Love to Return to My Village... But I Don't Dare' (Senegal)
Ziguinchor. Stéphanie Malak was injured by a landmine in 1998 when her village, was attacked, allegedly by rebels from the Movement for Democratic Change (MFDC), and then mined. She fled with her family to Ziguinchor where she is trying to make ends meet. She told IRIN her story.
"I come from a village called Saint Louis Mancagne. We used to grow fruits there, and I went to school. The rebels came in 1998 and they became more and more difficult to live with - always asking for money, stealing our fruit, and fighting. There was more and more fighting and one day they killed the village chief and his brother, so everyone fled to the next village for shelter.
"It was when we were living there that I had my mine accident. I had decided to return to our village to collect some fruit to eat and when I was in the forest I stepped on a landmine and lost my leg. I was in shock when it happened but someone found me and eventually took me to the hospital in Ziguinchor.
"My mother went into shock when I was injured - she said it should have been her who had the accident - and she was never the same. She suffered from physical paralysis until she died a month ago.
"Other people from the village who tried to return also had accidents, and three small boys who tried to return to their old house were killed on the way home. When my accident occurred my whole family decided to flee to Ziguinchor and we've stayed here ever since.
"The hospital rehabilitated me and gave me a prosthetic leg. I had to pay for it but an NGO [non-governmental organisation], the Landmine Victim Support Movement, helped me. I have to pay to maintain it - the knee-hinge snaps off occasionally - but it's hard to find the money.
"As soon as I was given my new leg I started sewing at a workshop and I joined a cooperative of displaced women which dyes clothes to sell in the markets. I also buy and sell cashew nuts for extra money, but even then I don't seem to have enough.
"Sister Betty, a nun in town, helps me a lot. It's because of her that I'm wearing these clothes and shoes, and she gives me food when I'm short. She treats me like her daughter.
"I have three younger brothers to support - one has just graduated from secondary school but the other two are still students and none of them work. I also look after my big sister's three children because she's left for the village. I have to cook for the family, take the children to school, and buy all our supplies, on top of working my three jobs.
"If you came to my house you would understand how difficult my life is. We live in three rooms with other displaced families. We hardly have room to breathe. Life at home isn't peaceful. The hut is made of mud and in the rainy season our mattresses get soaking wet.
"A local NGO gave me a loan to set up a small business but I had to spend it all on food for the family instead, and I couldn't pay them back.
"My dream is to have my own sewing business. It's difficult being part of a cooperative because you can't make your own decisions or use the profits when you need to. Of course I'd love to return to my village one day - we have everything there, cashews, oranges, lemons, mangoes - but it is surrounded by mines and I don't dare."
Von: 9.5.2008, allafrica.com