Mill Rats' Modibo Diarra escapes Mali with family

A Saint John basketball star, who has been trapped in his native country of Mali, is on his way back to Canada with his family thanks to local supporters.

Expected to be back in Saint John by Sunday

A Saint John basketball star, who has been trapped in his native country of Mali, is on his way back to Canada with his family thanks to the help of local supporters.

Modibo Diarra, a player with the Saint John Mill Rats, flew to Mali in March to be with his wife and three-year-old daughter following a military coup.

Since then, there have been executions, rapes and other human rights violations in the country, according to Amnesty International.

Diarra refused to leave without his wife Mariam and daughter Cindy, but said he needed help to get them out.

A group of supporters in Saint John, dubbed The Africa to Canada Committee, spent months raising about $15,000 to help pay for visas and flights.

The family left Friday and is expected to arrive in Saint John on Sunday.

Supporters thrilled

"It's been months of waiting and meetings and fundraising and talking to the lawyers, so it's been overwhelming finding that he's coming, and he's booked the flight and it's happening so quickly and we're thrilled," said supporter Rebecca McCullough.

"He's a good friend so it's good to have him back where he should be with his wife and daughter," she said.

"This is such a concrete thing. When you write a cheque and make a donation you don't necessarily see where it goes, see the change. Again, this is such a concrete thing, we see when we can change someone's life and help.

"That's been an amazing thing for [my] whole family to work so hard and see it pay off."

McCullough said Diarra and his family will will stay with her until they can get settled into their own place.

Ian McCarthy, general manager of the Saint John Mill Rats, is amazed by the community support.

"This is a true demonstration of a community that stands together," he said in a statement. "Not only have people reached out from Saint John, but from Quispamsis, Rothesay, Grand Bay, Hampton, St. Andrews — the list continues.

"We are focused on getting him and his family settled and healthy."

Fundraising efforts will continue for other items the Diarra family may need, such as winter clothing and gift cards for food, he said, noting Diarra supports 22 extended family members in Mali.

Meanwhile, Diarra and his wife and daughter will eat free of charge this month at the Rothesay Netherwood School cafeteria, McCarthy said.

The committee is planning a large welcoming back party for Diarra and his family at the end of September. Meanwhile, there will be an informal gathering at Jungle Jim's on Sept. 11 for anyone who wants to stop by and meet the family.

Diarra will also start working shifts at the Mill Rats Fan Zone, the team's retail ticket location at Brunswick Square, to be able to express his gratitude for the support he has received and to earn more money for his family, said McCarthy.