Bangui: A healing journey amid post-electoral violence

The story of France Beldo, hit by a stray bullet in Bangui

09 Feb 21

Since last December, the security and humanitarian situation has deteriorated rapidly in Central African Republic (CAR), as a coalition of armed groups, called Coalition des Patriotes pour le Changement (CPC), and the government, supported by UN military personnel and foreign troops, are clashing in the wake of presidential and general elections. 

The day of the incident 

After numerous offensives across the country, fighting took place on the outskirts of the capital, Bangui, on 13 January 2021.

31 year-old France Beldo was shot and wounded that day - and taken to SICA Hospital, a surgical trauma facility run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

France Beldo, 31, was wounded by a stray bullet on 13 January 2021 attack in the outskirts of Bangui, Central African Republic.

She was hit by a stray bullet while at home on her terrace in Damala neighbourhood.

France takes a moment to rest, leaning against a wall in the MSF’s SICA Hospital, after a medical consultation to change wound dressing on 2nd of February 2021, in Bangui, Central African Republic.

The bullet hit her hand, chest and shoulder, luckily without causing damage to any vital organs.

“When I can stand up normally, when the swelling is reduced, and when I am no longer in pain, I will be able to resume my activities," she says.

“We were near home when I heard gunfire. We went inside to hide”, recalls France Beldo. 

PK12 neighborhood came under attack by the rebel forces on 13 January 2021, in Bangui, Central African Republic.

“The shooting eased off, so we went out on the terrace. I was talking to my daughter when a bullet hit me".

MSF response

"I wondered if I was going to survive. They took me on a motorbike [to SICA hospital] and I regained consciousness”.

France is brought to the recovery room after a surgical procedure to get her wound stitched on 19 January 2021, at MSF's SICA Hospital.

“They gave me medication, first aid and an X-ray. Three days later I had my first surgery.”

France practices exercises to regain motion at the physiotherapy department of MSF’s SICA Hospital on 2nd of February 2021, in Bangui, Central African Republic.

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MSF teams provide free surgery and trauma care in this 80-beds hospital they built in 2017. 

SICA hospital has an emergency room and two operating theatres, and offers comprehensive treatment, including post-operative care and physiotherapy.

In the wards, road traffic accident victims, who represent the majority of trauma patients treated every year at the hospital, are alongside war wounded and victims of violence, with bullet or stab wounds. 

The road to recovery

“After the dressings, they take me to have physiotherapy for my hand. I exercise it, and they put cream on it".

MSF staff change France’s wound dressing on 25 January 2021 at MSF’s SICA Hospital.

After orthopaedic or visceral surgeries, convalescence often takes months or even years, and the physiotherapists department of the MSF’s SICA Hospital plays an essential role in the patients’ healing process. 

After orthopaedic or visceral surgeries, convalescence often takes months or even years. The physiotherapy department of the MSF’s SICA Hospital plays an essential role in the healing process of our patients.

In order to ensure optimal recovery, regain motion and avoid disabling consequences, they intervene as soon as the operation is over.

On January 22, France Beldo completed her inpatient treatment and is ready to go home.

France sits in a taxi, ready to leave the MSF’s SICA hospital and go back home, on 22 January 2021.

She will return regularly at SICA hospital for medical follow-up, dressing care and physiotherapy.

France walks out of the MSF’s SICA hospital on 22 January 2021 after completing her inpatient treatment. She will continue to receive outpatient care and come back regularly to the MSF's SICA Hospital for wound dressing, physiotherapy sessions and more.

Latest cycle of violence 

The day before, the government announced a 15-day state of emergency across the national territory. Tensions continue to run high. 

PK12 neighborhood came under attack by the rebel forces on 13 January 2021, in Bangui, Central African Republic. It is that day that France was wounded by a stray bullet while staying at home in Damala neighbourhood, right next to PK12.

In a country already hard-hit by years of civil war and facing a chronic health crisis, this latest cycle of violence is further exacerbating people’s vulnerability. 

Support of her family

At the gates of SICA Hospital, France Beldo and her family say goodbye to the relatives of other admitted patients, before getting into the taxi that will take them home.

Claire, France's sister, smiles as she says goodbye to other MSF patients’ families on 22 January 2021, at the gates of the MSF’s SICA Hospital. During her hospitalisation, France's family slept outside, waiting for visiting hours, and took care of her.

During her stay at hospital, France’s sister, aunt and mother took care of her, helped her wash and eat, and often slept outside waiting for visiting hours. 

France laughs with her sister on 25 January 2021 while she is waiting outside the MSF’s SICA Hospital for her first dressing change and medical check-up since she completed her inpatient treatment and left hospital.

To all my family, I say a big thank you

She lives with Claire, her sister, and their respective children.

 

France walks out of the MSF’s SICA Hospital on 22 January 2021 after completing her inpatient treatment.

Looking forward  

By practicing her physiotherapy exercises twice a day at home, she hopes to regain full and painless motion as quickly as possible. She moves her fingers more freely, but her forearm hurts.

Claire, France's sister, helps her dress up in front of her house, for her first external consultation at the MSF’s SICA hospital, on 25 January 2021. She completed her inpatient treatment and left the hospital the day before.

“I’m a shopkeeper. I sell small stuff here in my home. But since the incident, all my money’s gone. I don’t sell anything anymore.”

MSF staff change France’s wound dressing on 25 January 2021 at MSF’s SICA Hospital.

She hopes to be able to stand up, walk, and get rid of the pain to resume her activities.

France learns exercises with Bonaventure, an MSF physiotherapist on 22 January 2021 at the MSF’s SICA Hospital. The exercises hurt, but she practices, hoping that her life will soon return to normal.
 

An ongoing struggle

Her health has improved but still requires outpatient care on a regular basis. She feels tired. Her left leg has been hurting for a few days now and she can barely walk. 

France gets up, helped by her family, at her home in Damala, a neighbourhood parallel to the road where the fighting happened on 13 January 2021. "It still hurts where the bullet is located in my shoulder," she says.
 

A bullet is still lodged in her left shoulder.

“For now my arm’s immobilised, and I can’t get around". 

I’m often hungry, but I don’t have the money to feed myself properly

Claire, France’s sister, arranges France's clothes, after fixing her bandage that was starting to come off, on the 2nd of February 2021, at her home in Bangui, Central African Republic.

"The bullet wound paralysed one of my legs. I have nerve pain and the wound where the bullet penetrated hurts. My chest and my arm hurt too”.

Hopes for her children

 
France has two children, called Estive and Jolivia. They eat breakfast on the terrace where their mother was hit by a stray bullet during the fighting on 13 January.
 
France laughs at Estive's energy, as she sits on the mattress at home, on 2nd of February 2021 in Bangui, Central African Republic.
 
 

“The children have school for a month, and then the shooting and fighting start up again, and they stop going".

"I want it to stop for our children to be safe. It has to stop so that the country can be peaceful again. And so that we, the people, can work and have money”.

It worries me. We can’t live with weapons all the time. 

France waits for a medical examination on 22 January 2021 in the MSF’s SICA Hospital. "When I can stand up normally, when the swelling is reduced, and when I am no longer in pain, I will be able to resume my activities," she says.
 

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