Guinea : Interview with Mariama Bah Diallo, retiring after 26 years of service with Terre des hommes
When did you start working with Terre des hommes?
In 1988. I started working on reducing malnutrition rates through a pilot project in a health centre in Conakry. I also worked on the development of specialised care and the protection of street children.
You have saved the lives of thousands of children afflicted by malnutrition, among other things. How do you view the work you carried out?
Great pride in having contributed to directly saving the lives of thousands of children. I remember meeting Edmond Kaiser in Guinea on a project with Sentinelles. He was an uncomplicated person. One day, I saw him get up from the floor rather than get out of bed. Edmond wanted to see what it was like to sleep on a mat just like other people did.
During your 26 years, what major events and changes have you witnessed?
We started working with pen and paper, then with a typewriter then with a computer. Subsequently, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene was incorporated into the nutritional projects. Concerning working conditions, I had to work at the homes of six co-workers because we did not have any Terre des hommes offices. That was a very different time.
At 25 years old, you were involved in a terrible car accident which left you physically impaired. How did this event shape your future?
On 3rd October, 1974, I was admitted to medical school. Unfortunately, my accident occurred on 14th September which prevented me from joining the faculty. The government of Guinea then sent me to Poland, Yugoslavia and East Germany for two and a half years for treatment. On returning to Guinea, I finally trained in nutrition and food science thanks to a grant from the WHO.
I had the pleasure of having a daughter in 1979 despite my handicap. Today, she is a civil servant and works for the Ministry of Security and is married to a commander in the army and has five children.
Have you ever wanted to give up and change profession?
No, I have always liked this kind of work. Despite a difficult and sometimes hostile environment, I’ve always known how to carry on. I was able to overcome the obstacles.
What is your fondest memory?
My fondest memory is probably the provision of treatment for malnourished children with HIV/AIDS, thanks to the work and campaigning of Tdh in 2006. Since then, the drugs are free and readily available.
I have also had the pleasure of travelling to Benin, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Mauritania to train various health and community workers as well as to set up a number of nutritional centres in Guinea and Mauritania.
Terre des hommes has been very important. I experienced many wonderful events but also some pain and disappointment. You pick yourself up and start over again. Life goes on.
Today, I am 65 years old. I’m resting for a bit in the home of my daughter and son in law and looking after their five children. The local health centre sometimes calls on my services when difficult cases arise. There are still wonderful things left to do and I am available for projects if anybody needs my assistance.
Find out about the work of other humanitarian professionals committed to Terre des hommes: