Posted by Tanya Axisa, Head of Disaster Resilience and Response of Plan UK
It is hot. Dust so thick it quickly leaves a patina on my clothes, skin and hair. I hear babies crying, children laughing, mothers scolding and animals braying. But beneath that is the low, quiet murmur that comes from people who are relieved, yet still worried and a bit frightened by their situation.
Diane, clad head to toe in pink chiffon, sits outside the health center, waiting to see the doctor in Mentao refugee camp. She is one of several thousand people here who in the last few months have fled from Mali to relative safety of this camp in Burkina Faso. The camp has been set up by the local government, UN agencies and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) including Plan.
“We have been here for 2 months and 15 days. We came by a horse-drawn carriage. It cost us 100,000 CFA (approximately US$200) to get here. The journey was very hard. We had no food or water for much of it. It took one week. We had no choice but to come this way. The horse was not good but they stole our bike."
Diane shares her reasons for fleeing her home in Timbuktu, Mali’s capital, with me. She refers to night-time raids by bandits during which women were raped and their homes destroyed and looted. “I still can’t sleep at night. When I close my eyes I see the bandits coming again.”
Running for their lives
Timbuktu is nearly 300km from here, across difficult terrain that would take days in a car, let alone a horse-drawn cart exposed to the elements. Diane and 15 other families left there the day after a major raid. A single mother, she has 5 children; her husband died in 2003. She and the other women left in fear of their children’s and their own lives.
“Thanks to God we came here. We have more security here.”
The camp, whilst providing a safer place for families such as Diane’s, is not by any standard luxury accommodation. The camp, much of it still under construction and expansion, is not yet up to acceptable standards. International NGOs struggle to provide adequate health facilities, water and sanitation, and food, but more people arrive every day.
People, who like Diane, are traumatized by what they saw in Mali. Children sit around with no means to play or study. They don’t even have a football.
More funds are required urgently to provide the basics for survival and recovery: food, shelter, health, emotional first-aid and support and for children to play and study safely. Plan has constructed 34 of an eventual 50 latrines in the camp; a borehole for fresh water is almost complete. Plan will support the start of ’summer school’ for children here to catch up on their studies at the end of the month.
The need is tremendous however, and more funds for education, emotional first-aid and child protection are needed.
In the meantime, Diane and hundreds of other women in the camp, make the most of their situation. For their children, they try to make it feel like a home. Whilst she is far from Timbuktu, Diane feels safe at last.