July 25 2013 Mali: Children Return after a year in exile After 15 months of being hosted and protected by the two other SOS Children’s Villages in Mali, 14 SOS families have returned to their homes in Mopti. A massive famine in 2012, followed by political upheaval and fighting in the northern part of the country, had made the move a necessary precaution. Hundreds of thousands of people flee the fighting - Photo: K. Thomas The children of the SOS Children’s Village Socoura/Mopti in Mali, bid their farewells to their brothers and sisters of the SOS Children’s Villages in Kita and Sanankoroba earlier this month. The aftermath of a massive famine, followed by political unrest and fighting had made a return impossible. One year in exile? Or a family visit? The children and mothers had no trouble feeling welcome because the SOS mothers and aunts from the three villages already knew each other from various training sessions. The children were also quick to make new friends, performed very well at school and even went to a summer camp with their sisters and brothers. The normality of going to school is important for children who have been through traumatic experiences - Photo: K. Thomas In early July 2013, when the situation in the troubled parts of the country had calmed down, the children, mothers and aunts boarded buses that would take them home. During the tearful farewells, SOS mother Hawa Diarra spoke for all when she thanked their hosts: “The spared neither time nor effort to make us all feel at home.” Many stayed to help Many staff members back in Mopti, rather than fleeing south with their families, had made a personal choice to remain in the area to provide food and other goods to many families arriving from the north and to enable their children to attend the SOS Hermann Gmeiner School. To these children, going to school means more than keeping up with their lessons. It gives them a sense of normality. As the director SOS Children’s Villages Mali point out, “We stay because we are needed now more than ever”. SOS Children's Villages Mali is working hard to effectively help hundreds of families in urgent need - Photo: K. Thomas An on-going crisis since 2012? Since the beginning of the crisis in 2012, some 175,000 Malians have fled the violence into neighbouring countries, while well over 200,000 people remain displaced within the country’s borders, according to UNHCR. SOS Children’s Villages is working to reach almost 12,000 internally displaced people with food, psychological support and administrative assistance in order to help them return home. Mali will be holding presidential elections on 28 July 2013.