CRS in Burkina Faso

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Sahel Food Crisis: A Refugee's Story

By Helen Blakesley

Fadimata Walet Haiballa is a 49-year-old Tuareg woman from Gao in Mali. She's been living in a temporary refugee camp in Fererio, Burkina Faso, for nearly 6 months now. Her husband was the victim of rebel violence in the north of their home country. She, her three children, 82-year-old father and other family members fled, traveling for 2 days to reach neighboring Burkina Faso. She's the women's representative on the camp committee.

Fadimata Walet Haiballa

"I left all I had behind," says Fadimata Walet Haiballa of her former home in Mali, where her husband was killed during violence. Now, she, her children and other family members are struggling to adapt to life in their temporary home: a refugee camp in Burkina Faso. Photo by Helen Blakesley/CRS

This is her story, in her own words.

The militia rebels spread terror in our region. They would harass us, knock things from our hands—and worse. There were bombings, executions. I lost my husband in one of the bombings. We had to leave. We were terrified.

I left all I had behind. Life has changed completely.

Back in Mali, before the troubles, we were in our big, beautiful house. We lived in good conditions. We didn't know fear, we didn't have this hot sun beating down on us. I had the father of my children with me. Now we're here in the dust, with the sun. We're thirsty; we're surviving on mediocre food. A lot has changed. Above all, my work, my job—with which I could feed and clothe my children—that's all gone.

I used to trade in honey, rice and glass objects. I'd also give credit to people during the lean season. They'd buy animals and fatten them up. Then when they sold them, they'd pay me back. But when it all blew up in Mali, I lost everything. The receipts are back there so there's no way I can get the money back. I'm here with my arms folded. We're here, like orphans. I have so many emotions inside of me.

CRS Assistance Is Saving Lives

CRS has distributed nearly 750 tons of food—such as millet, rice, sugar, vegetable oil, and salt—to approximately 39,000 refugees in Fererio and other refugee camps in Burkina Faso. Refugees seem to prefer the CRS-supplied food because it is most similar to their usual diets.

Without this assistance, many refugees would have been at risk of dying from hunger, particularly when refugees first poured into Burkina Faso. That country's own resources are stressed by a long-term food crisis in the Sahel region.

CRS is also:

  • Supplying hygiene kits for women
  • Distributing emergency kits containing nonfood items, such as stoves, plates, trays, buckets, ladles, mats, water cans, kettles, and soap, to 200 households
  • Building latrines, showers and large-diameter wells in the camp of Fererio

Burkina Faso has offered us all the security possible. We do feel safe. It's just that life isn't easy here. We're given rice, beans and a bit of oil to cook with. We're grateful, but can you imagine a meal made out of that? Is that enough to sustain us all this time? We do have a water supply. There are communal taps.

'I Want a Stable Country'

One of the biggest problems women have right now is feeding our children, having enough milk. We don't have many clothes to wear, either. You'll see women here with torn clothes because that's all they have. We have hardly any underwear left. As for daily life here in the camp, in the morning after I've said my prayers and washed, we'll sit down for breakfast—although we don't always have any. As I'm the women's representative on the camp committee, there's a small meeting where we discuss any issues there are.

But there's not enough work to do, really. That's one of the main challenges for us who live here: not having anything to do. The women's morale is very low, as they can't work. They have their babies on their backs, but they can't do anything for them. I myself used to be independent, from my husband, my parents, because I worked. I had a job, I was useful, I supported my children. But today, I am useful to nobody—not to myself, nor to others. Everyone's in the same boat.

If we had machines, we could sew or weave and make things. If we had little projects, we could work and be useful to the camp, to our men, our children. If you have a goat or a sheep, you can build your life again. Fatten it, eat it or sell it to feed your family. If we're given food, we eat, then it's finished. But if we had our own activities, we could earn some money and reinvest it.

I don't think I'll be going home to Mali soon. This situation has happened before. It's not the first time, nor the second time. In 1963, my mother carried me on her back to escape the rebellion. In the 1990s, I carried my children in my arms to flee. We saw some terrible things.

I won't go back to Mali until there's lasting peace. I want a stable country—of peace and justice and rights for everybody.

Helen Blakesley is CRS' regional information officer for West and Central Africa. She is based in Dakar, Senegal.

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