Rampant insecurity from recurrent attacks by unidentified armed groups in the Center-North region of Burkina Faso have caused many families to flee their homes to seek shelter in Kaya, capital of the province of Sanmatenga. A traumatic situation in an already difficult context marred with widespread fear over the coronavirus pandemic, chronic food insecurity and alternating periods of extreme droughts and floods.
On the side of a hill, that surrounds Kaya, five tents stamped with the UNHCR logo serve as homes for several internally displaced families who have fled attacks over nine months ago.
Sporting a blue hijab, 12-year-old Khadidja* carries her baby brother Ibrahim*. “I remember everything,” she says, her face prematurely tightened by events she was too young to witness.
"I was in bed when I was woken up by my mother. The day before, in the neighbouring village, armed men killed everyone. For fear of being next, my parents decided to leave the village."
Khadidja’s family abandoned everything overnight, leaving behind the home where they had always lived.
“Children and women were placed in donkey carts and I remember spending hours and hours on the road, with the fear gripping my stomach,” says Khadidja. “I thought it was the end for us.”
During their escape, any person they met on the road was a potential threat. Increasing attacks by unidentified armed groups have targeted people indiscriminately, setting homes on fire and taking away animals and grain.
“Who are these people who are angry with us? What have we done?” Khadidja wonders.
Armed violence has displaced more than a million people in Burkina Faso — half of them this year alone. Overall, the complex and multifaceted humanitarian crisis has impacted the lives of three million people, including over 535,000 children under the age of five who are suffering from acute malnutrition.
SOS Children's Villages Burkina Faso works closely with other humanitarian organizations to alleviate the suffering of hundreds of children and women among internally displaced persons who have taken shelter in Kaya. The organization supports the development and alternative education of 646 displaced children through a child friendly space and a temporary learning space.
For Khadidja and her family, returning home does not appear to be a safe option right now, says her father Alassane.
“We have no choice but to adapt,” he says, surrounded by children. “I am a farmer but I will have to find another occupation so I can continue to provide for my family.”
“Every day we see our children coming back from child friendly spaces which have been set up especially for children. They are in a great hurry to go back there every morning that God makes. Their smiles give us reason to hope for a better tomorrow.”
*Names changed to protect the privacy of children