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Mali Crisis: A Mother's Journey to Save Her Son

A two-year-old far from home and good health gets a second chance
Two-year old Salim
Two-year old Salim receiving nutritional therapy in an ACF stabilization center. Photo: ACF-Mali, L. Grosjean

This week has been a hopeful one for citizens of Mali. After several weeks of intense conflict, major outposts in the country’s north – Gao and Timbuktu – have been secured. Still, almost 250,000 Malians are displaced, and many of them have been for months – even before the most recent outbreak of violence. Humanitarian needs remain significant. Our teams are hard at work caring for children like the little boy you are about to meet.

Fatoumata Zahara sits on a hospital bed in Bamako, Mali, next to her two-year-old son Salim. The little boy is severely malnourished and is suffering from kwashiorkor, a condition that makes his body bloated from hunger and leaves his skin cracking painfully.

The mother and baby fled their home in Gao after conflict erupted. Fatoumata’s husband was shot dead by a stray bullet when Gao fell under control of armed groups.

“Before long I had nothing,” Fatoumata said. “I could not even make a small bowl of porridge for my baby and could not take him to the hospital as I didn’t have enough money for the transportation to go there. Thanks to a friend of my mother I was given a free bus ticket to Bamako. My mother was too old to make the trip with us so she stayed behind. I am very concerned for her. But I had to leave because my son couldn’t even open his eyes, they were so swollen.”

“Before long I had nothing. I could not even make a small bowl of porridge for my baby and could not take him to the hospital as I didn’t have enough money for transportation.”

—Fatoumata Zahara, Malian Mother

Families in crisis

Since the start of the military intervention in Gao, access to food supplies has deteriorated massively, with families struggling to survive. Major supply routes to Gao have been cut off and food stocks dwindled, with most shops and businesses closing as the conflict worsens.

As they left Gao on the bus Fatoumata looked out the window and saw airplanes bombing from the skies behind her. But unfortunately their troubles did not end there. On the way to Bamako, her bus was violently attacked by rebels. The passengers were forced off and Fatoumata found herself in the middle of nowhere, frightened and alone with her very sick son.

Luckily, a man who was also fleeing Gao drove past and seeing the desperate state little Salim was in, offered to drive the mother and baby the rest of the way.

“My child saved me that day. Without him, no one would have stopped to pick me up. Now it’s my turn to save him.”

—Fatoumata Zahara, Malian Mother

The road to recovery

As soon as Fatoumata arrived in Bamako she took Salim to a local health center where Action Against Hunger is working to diagnose and treat malnourished children. The team immediately saw that Salim was on the brink of death and admitted him for intensive round-the-clock specialist care. Now after a few days his swellings are beginning to diminish and the pain is subsiding. Our team is confident that, with time, he will make a full recovery. 

“I really hurt in my heart for everything that has happened,” says Fatoumata. “I do not know what we will do next but we will have to stay in Bamako until there is peace in the north.”

We’re supporting 14 health centers in Bamako, and our teams are working round the clock to save malnourished children’s lives, just like Salim’s, every day. 

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About Lucile Grosjean

Lucile manages emergency communications for Action Against Hunger, traveling to and reporting from areas of active conflict where humanitarian needs are great.

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