Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Fearing culture casualties in the food crisis

Posted by Mark Wentling, Country Director of Plan Burkina Faso

Mark pumping water at the Plan well in Mentao South refugee camp
Recently I visited the Mentao-South Camp near Djibo, a regional city 124 miles north of Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. The camp was established at the beginning of May to absorb and care for the thousands of Malians fleeing the violence in their homeland. Plan has been working with UNHCR camp management to provide services to the 8,820 Malians, mostly Tuareg people, living there now. Women and children are the majority residents. Plan has been building latrines, showers and has drilled a borehole for fresh water. Sanitation and clean water are cornerstones of good health, especially in the cramped, stressful environments of a refugee camp. Plan will also begin assisting with schools for the children, especially the primary children to give them a safe place to be.

Culture key
One afternoon, I met with the Tuareg refugee leaders. We sat down in a large tent after removing our shoes as is custom with the Tuareg. The Tuareg’s are herding people, for centuries, they have roamed the Sahel with their animals. Theirs is a culture steeped in centuries old traditions, chaffing at times against modern sensibilities and borders. We spoke about violence that drove them from their homes in northern Mali. They said the vast majority of Tuareg people would never accept the application of Sharia Law or the presence of foreign terrorist elements in their land. Peace would be achieved when the Tuareg people revolted against those who were introducing practices that were contrary to their traditions.

Hard conditions
Culture and tradition are the lifeblood of a community. The leaders confided that conditions in the camp were hard. Families were worried about surviving. Even the food provided was a source of concern as fresh milk and meat are staples of their diet. I could hear their real worry and fear beneath their words, that traditions and culture would be the lingering casualty of this crisis. “We appreciate the clean water you brought us, and the schools, but can you help us get fresh milk? It’s our tradition for our children, for our future.”

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