A New Brunswick basketball star and his family were lucky to be back home in Saint John this weekend after civil strife in Mali threatened their attempt to return to Canada.

Modibo Diarra, the 6’10’’ centre with the NBL’s Saint John Mill Rats, touched Canadian soil with his wife Mariam and daughter Cindy, 3, early Sunday morning after spending the last four months in Mali.

Diarra flew to his homeland in April in hopes of returning to New Brunswick with his family.

However, the day the basketball star left for Mali, a military coup took place in the country’s capital. Shortly after the coup, rebels seized control of the country’s north and declared independence.

Since the military coup, UN officials have reported that widespread hunger, displacement and political unrest are putting countless lives at risk.

While Diarra was planning to return to Canada immediately with his family, the escalating violence in the country put their plans on hold.

“Sometimes the military was just shooting around, so it was not really safe at all,” Diarra told CTV Atlantic on Sunday. “So I just kept them, most of the time, inside the house.”

As his teammates awaited his return, a community group in Saint John was created to raise money to help Diarra cover the costs for lawyers, visas and travel expenses.

The group, dubbed the Africa to Canada Committee, managed to raise $15,000 for the family.

“We were literally worried for their health and their future and their safety from time to time,” said committee member Rebecca McCullogh.

She said helping Diarra and his family gave her a new perspective on life.

“Just appreciating the family, and the life that we have and how hard sometimes you have to fight for your family,” said McCullogh. “It just really hit home for us that we’re so fortunate and in some ways life is so easy for us.”

Diarra’s teammate said during the last basketball season Diarra spoke of his family every day.

“Actually having them here and knowing they’re safe and everything that they’ve gone through, it’s a blessing to see this actually come to fruition.

Upon landing in New Brunswick, Diarra said his family is thrilled to be in the country.

“I was so afraid to leave without them because anything could happen,” he said.
“I thank God and all the people helping me and my family, helping me to get them here. I'm just so emotional right now."

However, Diarra said his wife and daughter are already bracing themselves for their first Canadian winter.

“One thing they’re scared of is snow and the cold,” said Diarra. “So, you see, all of us got the jackets already.”

With a report from CTV Atlantic’s Andy Campbell