Ivory Coast: From chains to dignity

These months saw the launching of the third phase of our innovative Belleville Center project in Bouaké, Ivory Coast.

The center was built in difficult times for Ivory Coast. Not only did the country suffer a war that severely distorted it, but the new president’s election has done more to divide the population than to unite it.

In Belleville, a group of mentally ill women have found hospitality and refuge. These women, while suffering from mental diseases, had been forced to live in isolation and, many times, in chains. Our Belleville Center took care of them in its colorful premises in the middle of the green forest. Because all of us, including ill persons, have the right to live in beautiful, joyful places. Because we all strive for beauty.

At the center, women can live with their children and learn how to take care of them. Furthermore, they are given the possibility to learn a trade, something to allow them to go back into their communities and be self sufficient.

Today, a group has been chosen from the 60 women who are currently with us. This first group will spearhead the road to independence, self-sufficiency, community reinsertion and so much more.

It is a moment of great pride for these women, who have found the courage to overcome illness with dignity, and are now ready to take the next step forward. We have managed to accompany them from chains to training, but freedom is still to be conquered, and this poses immense, but certainly not insurmountable, challenges.

Thanks to the knowledge gained at our center, these women are now being given the possibility to go back to their villages or to the town of Bouaké. Even though only a sewing machine or an ironing board is needed to start a small business there, courage continues to be the key ingredient. And it is required in great amounts.

After years of living in Belleville, freedom actually is quite a big step.

These women are starting down a long road, and it will represent a big challenge for our partners on the ground. The communities’ acceptance will probably be their biggest obstacle. The community, the villages and the families, have to embrace their women’s return, their ill women’s return.

Healing continues to prove, again and again, to be much more than a personal path. Healing is a society’s acceptance for change.

Bouaké’s women will make it, we are sure of it. We will be at their side.