Mental Health – October 6 2022

Psychological support for Burkina Faso’s internally displaced children

Since 2015, the armed conflict in Burkina Faso has displaced nearly 2 million people, more than half of them children.  Eighteen -year-old Ali and his family were forced to flee their home in Dablo, northern Burkina Faso after an armed group stormed their village two years ago.

It was a sunny afternoon, and Ali and his cousin Karim were tending the family herd, as they would normally do during rainy season.

Suddenly, they were surprised by a large group of armed men on motorbikes who were driving fast towards their village. At that immediate sight, the two boys started to run away, but during the escape Karim was gunned down and killed.

Ali considered his cousin as his best friend and confidant, and that scene will be etched in his memory forever.

"Karim and Ali were inseparable. They were like two sides of the same coin. They told each other everything, went for walks and had fun together," recalls Issouf, Ali's father.  "After this event, my son's life changed. He stopped talking. He would cry all day, and hardly eat anything. He was frightened by the slightest thing.”

Ali is one of the thousands people in Burkina Faso who have witnessed or experienced firsthand armed violence and have been forced to flee since the beginning of the conflict. Internally displaced children and youths are exposed to greater risks, including family separation, school drop-out and psychosocial distress.

Overcoming the trauma

In January 2022, SOS Children’s Villages launched the Support Project for the Resilience of Internally Displaced Persons in Kaya, northern Burkina Faso, to provide multi sectoral assistance - ranging from education to employability and psychological care - to internally displaced children like Ali.

Daniel Ouedraogo, Ali’s therapist and psychologist at SOS Children's Villages in Burkina Faso, has seen a worrying increase in the number of children and young people experiencing trauma due to violence and displacement. “What they experience is incompatible with their young age, and they need personalized physiological treatments to be able to recover.”

Children and young people exposed to violence, if not adequately supported, are more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), that can manifest itself through hyper reactivity, avoidance or intrusion symptoms, aggressiveness or withdrawal, affirms Mr Ouedraogo. “Scientific evidence shows that when the psychological support is provided at an early stage, it can prevent PTSD, and help restore a sense of security, rebuild confidence, reconnect with others and reduce unpleasant emotions.”

The insufficient number of frontline workers, the high mobility of internally displaced people and the inaccessibility - for security reasons - of some areas of the country, are the main obstacles to a more comprehensive and efficient response to Burkina Faso’s urgent crisis.

Onward and upward

Despite the challenges, Daniel Ouédraogo has high hopes for Ali’s future. The therapy that they have started together early this year, is bearing its fruits and Ali is now talking again. "His health has improved a lot and he is gradually regaining a taste for life. It took a lot of patience and psychotherapy," says Daniel. ”Now he can speak, and he actively participates in group discussions at home in the evening.”

Alongside the psychological support, Ali will soon receive vocational training to orientate him towards his future career and job prospects, although his mind is already made: "I want to become a great sheep breeder and have the biggest flock in my village," says Ali, who is gradually regaining confidence and looking ahead to the future.

Ali's mother, Mariétou, will also benefit from skills training, to help her launch her own income-generating activity and meet the family’s growing needs.

The Support Project for the Resilience of Internally Displaced Persons in Kaya supports internally displaced persons, particularly children, young people and women with services ranging from education to employability and psychological care. The 18-month project is being implemented by SOS Children's Villages in Burkina Faso, in partnership with a local NGO, Alliance Technique d'Assistance au Développement (ATAD), and funded by SOS Children's Villages in Germany.

*Text and images by Jessica Tradati