Sahel Food Crisis: A Refugee’s Story

By Helen Blakesley

Refugee camp

Fadimata Walet Haiballa (in blue) is a refugee living in the camp in Fererio, northern Burkina Faso. Her husband was killed in the violence in northern Mali, so she fled with her 3 children. Photo by Helen Blakesley/CRS

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

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. So 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.

Refugee woman

Fadimata Walet Haiballa is among more than 65,000 refugees that have fled rebel violence in Mali to come to Burkina Faso. Photo by Helen Blakesley/CRS

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.

One of the biggest problems us 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 sow 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. It’s a sustainable solution to our problems.

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.

CRS Assistance is Saving Lives

CRS has distributed nearly 750 tons of mixed commodities to approximately 39,000 refugees in Fererio and other refugee camps in Burkina Faso.

Commodities include millet, rice, sugar, vegetable oil, and salt. The food distributed by CRS is preferred because it corresponds to beneficiaries’ dietary habits.

Without this assistance, it is feared many refugees would have died of hunger, particularly at the beginning of refugee’s influx into Burkina, whose own resources are stressed by a long-term food crisis in the Sahel region of Africa.

Additional CRS assistance:
· Distribution of women hygiene kits
· Distribution of emergency NFI kits including cooking material (stoves, marmites, plates, trays, buckets, ladles, etc.), mats, water cans, kettles, and soap) to 200 households
· CRS is also building latrines, showers and large-diameter wells in the camp of Fererio.

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

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