A Once Peaceful Life Now in Danger
“Peaceful, clean, and quiet,” are the words that 12-year-old Mariama uses to describe her village in Ansongo.
Ansongo lies on the Niger River, about half way between Gao and the Niger border in Mali. Several weeks ago, the village was raided by heavily armed bandits and Islamic extremists as part of the on-going conflict in northern Mali that has created chaos and fear in villages large and small.
“We don’t know where they came from, or why, but they brought death and destruction with them,” says Mariama.
Families left the town seeking safety. Mariama, a 6th year student, and her brothers escaped by floating down the Niger River in a canoe. They stopped when they reached Ayourou, Niger.
Safe, But Not Home
In Ayourou, refugee camps have been established to receive the escaping Malians. Although the camps offer a temporary safe haven, living conditions are difficult.
Mariama has tried to keep her spirits up by treating this time away as a holiday, but she dreams of peace and returning home to Ansongo.
The shelter is precarious and food rations aren’t sufficient. Living under a tarpaulin, the family is only able to eat once a day, due in part to the resourcefulness of Mariama’s mother in finding food.
The rainy season is upon Niger, complicating the lives of the refugees. However, families have joined together in an effort to survive and raise their children.
The Ayourou region of Niger has now become the temporary home to nearly 12,000 Malians seeking safety from the violence. Almost 8,500 Malians live in a refugee camp set up by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and managed by Plan where they receive food, shelter, and medical assistance.
As the majority of the refugees are children, programs have been developed to meet their needs, ensuring access to education and protection. Catch-up classes have been started to help students, and school will officially start in October for preschool and elementary children.