“My heartfelt appeal: to be able to act to help my Burkinabe sisters in distress”
By Syntyche Ouedraogo, of Oxfam’s humanitarian communication team in Burkina Faso
My small West African country, Burkina Faso, a name that literally means “land of honest men”, has been plunged into violence and is facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. Daily attacks by armed groups terrorizing the population have become the new normal. Hundreds of thousands of compatriots, soon to be counted in the millions, have had to flee their homes, leaving everything behind.
My life has suddenly changed. In this crisis, I became a humanitarian worker with Oxfam, going out to meet those who would become “my second family”, collecting their stories and testimonies. I carry their voices and their memories.
The first time I went to a dangerous area, it was gut-churning. From that day, I’ve known that I was cut for this job. I know that every step into the unknown can be the last, but I want to help my sisters, my daughters, my friends, my people.
The stories are all the same and at the same time they are all different. In the North in Barsalogho, I met Rasmata who confided her fears to me. She told me how the terror has taken over her daily life, how at the slightest noise, at the slightest movement, she is overwhelmed by fear and falls sick.
Disease — the coronavirus — has now taken over insecurity, and I feel powerless facing this new threat. The biggest problem here is the lack of access to water: how can you protect people without water? As a humanitarian staff, I must support them, but there are days when it is the displaced people themselves who support me. I am overwhelmed by the events.
The vast majority of displaced people are women and children, and they lack everything. They are crammed into classrooms and tents, with no shelter, no privacy, fear in their stomachs. These women, who have fled without any clothes, are destitute and do not even have access to hygiene protection during their periods.
However, they never give up. Women, young people, girls, old women, all of them go about their daily business to be able to eat a little. Their courage is immense, they are driven by a remarkable dynamism. As one of the heads of household on the site of sector 4 of Kaya tells me, “ women take care of us all”.
Indeed, the women knit either clothes or bags that they sell. They support each other and have developed savings and loans solidarity groups that enable them to help each other in case of problems. Some of them work in the rice fields along the dam while others are employed in market gardens. The oldest of them collect debris and crop stems from the fields to sell to herders, while others sweep and pile up sand and gravel to sell to house builders.
In the face of their determination, we cannot stand idly by. They are on the front line and more than a million of them need urgent help, help that we are unable to provide today because of a lack of funding.
Read more in the report ‘Women in the Crisis in Burkina Faso: Survivors and Heroes.’