Interview with Aminata Kalo
Aminata Kalo is sometimes referred to as Mother Courage. She calls herself ‘une belle forte’, a beautiful strong woman. And rightly so: she came to Belgium as a desperate and illiterate woman, but came a long way and recently bought her own house in Brussels. Her programme counsellor Awet went to see her for an interview.
By Awet Desta Aregawi and Marianne Buyck
Who? Aminata Kalo
In Belgium since: 2006
bon integration programme: 2008 & 2013
“I would love to tell my story, because I’m very grateful for bon. I’ve learned a lot in Brussels and really got to know myself as well. Now I know who Aminata is.
I’ve been in Belgium since 2006, after I fled Guinee with the help of some women. I didn’t know anything about Belgium and didn’t speak French or Dutch. I spoke Malinké, the language of my village and my people, as well as Soussou and Peuhl, which I’ve learned in Conakry. I couldn’t read or write since I’ve never been to school. There is no school in my hometown. My parents haven’t seen a school their whole lives. And to send their children to a school outside the village, to learn something that wasn’t even useful in the village… that wasn’t up for discussion.
At a young age, my parents sent me to Conakry to marry a man who already had a wife. In his house, I was the cook as well as the laundry and cleaning maid: I did everything. And I soon had a child. Today my daughter Fanta is 22 years old.
My whole life in Guinee can be expressed in one word: ‘souffrance’, suffering. I know that word inside and out. I have felt miserable so deeply that it was the only word remaining. My husband’s first wife knew how I suffered and helped me escape. She did not want my death on her conscience. But I had to leave my daughter Fanta with another woman, which made it extra difficult.
In Belgium, I was taken to the asylum centre Fraipont. I learned some French. After six months, I was given refugee status based on my forced marriage. I moved to Liege, where my social worker enrolled me for ‘Lire et Ecrire’. But my head was too full and I didn’t learn anything. I didn’t have much contact with other people in Liege. I heard other refugees talk about Brussels and left.
I found some peace and quiet in Brussels. I was able to focus again. Through other people from Guinee, I came to bon. A lot has changed since then! Katarina, my social orientation teacher, was really good to me. I learned what is allowed here and what isn’t. I learned how life in Belgium is organised. Katarina taught me my rights and told me where to go to defend them. And Awet, my programme counsellor; I have no words for him. Thanks to him I now know where I am, who I am and what I am capable of. Even now, after all these years, I can still turn to him. He has a lot of patience and explains what I have to do, step by step. I follow the steps. Awet also helped me to get my daughter Fanta to Belgium. It was very difficult in the beginning; she too had to restart everything. (I wanted to find her a Dutch-speaking school, with a good organisation and clear rules.)
After bon, I followed a training course to become a cleaning help. I learned how to behave, what people like and dislike here. I found work through article 60, in a nursing home. I’ve always worked hard and I’m good at saving money. I knew what I wanted: a better future for me and my child, and my own house to live in.
But I also found another husband. I married a man from Mali and we have two children. But he didn’t fit my plans for the future very well. He didn’t want to work. He lived from my money and work. I asked for help at my children’s school because I wanted to make sure that I would get to keep my children after a divorce. And I did. I now live alone with my children; I’m both mother and father. My daughter Fanta helps me. The father of the little rents a room elsewhere but has visitation rights. I’m able to save money again and continue on my plan: to build a safe place for my children and me.
My Congolese neighbour told me about the Community Land Trust, an organisation which allows people to buy a house through some kind of tontine. I got the necessary information and obtained a loan from Woningfonds. I was patient and I saved money and now I have my house. I moved in last month. It’s a great and healthy home, and I’m very happy.
Now I truly am Aminata. I know what I want and how to fight for it. Now I am a ‘belle forte’, a ‘straffe madame’, strong and beautiful. I always have the courage now.”
“Aminata, is there anything else we can do for you now?”
“Yes! Certainly. I have lots of friends and acquaintances in Brussels. I also know a lot of people who have become Belgians themselves, just like me, but unfortunately I haven’t made any Belgian friends with Belgian families who can show me to the inside of Belgium and its inhabitants.”
“Let’s try to make that happen!