The horror begins when fighters arrive in Miata’s village in the west of the Ivory Coast and start shooting. It’s chaos with people running in every direction and 17-year-old Miata can only run for her life.
As she flees to the bush she’s separated from her mother. She’s alone and struggling through the jungle when she’s captured by a fighter. He makes her stay with him, telling her she has to be his ‘wife’.
“All the time I was looking to escape,” Miata says. “We had nothing, no food or water. One day he went to find meat and I realised it was my chance. I saw other people in the bush, including a woman from my village and I ran after them and joined them. We spent a week walking all the way to Liberia. I heard my mother was looking for me but I never found her.”
When Miata finally made it to Liberia she was so sick she was taken to hospital, where she was treated for an infection. Since getting better, Miata has been staying in Zwedru, one of the many communities along the border hosting thousands of refugees. The woman she fled through the bush with is looking after her.
“When I arrived I had nothing but the clothes I was wearing, but now I’m being helped and I feel so much better,” Miata says. “I met a girl in the village who told me about the Liberian Red Cross centre, where children affected by war can go and get help. She took me there and I registered for the programme.”
The child advocacy and rehabilitation centre was set up in the aftermath of Liberia’s own civil war and continues to help 300 children every year to overcome the trauma they experienced.
A hopeful future
©InfoMiata smiles shyly as she talks about her experience at the Red Cross centre. She says: “It is really good here and I’ve already learned a bit how to speak the language. My house was burned and I’m afraid to go back to the Ivory Coast. But here I have a counsellor who listens to me and I can say that my heart has gone down – which means everything is fine.”
As well as getting numeracy and literacy lessons at the centre, Miata chose to learn tailoring. She says: “It is what I was going to do in the Ivory Coast, but since my father passed away my mother couldn’t pay for my school fees. I want to learn well and earn money to take care of myself.”
Despite the trauma Miata experienced so recently, she is clearly excited by the opportunity the Red Cross programme is giving her and especially the chance to explore her ideas about fashion. “I like making long skirts and sleeveless tops, I like blue and orange together or black and red,” she says. “I’d like to stay here and set up my own tailoring business.”
Read Picherinne's story about struggling to feed her babies after fleeing the Ivory Coast conflict