Kelly Di Domenico and Guy Des Aulniers, Emergency Relief Programs Officer, are currently in Niger, one of the hardest-hit countries in the food crisis which is sweeping across West Africa. Our team is also in the company of three journalists from Salt and Light Television, who have traveled to witness first-hand, the situation and the emergency relief programs we are supporting in the country, in collaboration with the Canadian Food Grains Bank (CFGB).
The team arrived in Niger on July 23rd and will visit a number of humanitarian projects being implemented by local partner, CADEV (Caritas Niger), including refugee camps, food distribution sites and agricultural relief projects. They will meet and speak with beneficiaries and local leaders and share their stories with us, so we can help others to better understand the scope of the current crisis and what we can do about it.
"There are more refugees arriving every day." These were the words of Nassar, the Caritas Niger representative who accompanied us to the Tabarey Baley refugee camp in Ayourou, close to the Malian border. It is the beginning of the desert here, where the air is dry and the sun is strong. In early February, Malians began to cross the border into Niger to escape violence in their villages by fundamental Islamist groups that have taken over the North of the country. Many who have arrived at the camp tell that their homes have been pillaged, family members have been attacked and they no longer felt safe, so they walked for two days straight to cross the border and reach the camp.
This camp opened officially in May and there are already 7,000 people living here, spread out over four communities. The people huddled around their tents in the sharp glare of the sun still seem in shock of what has happened to their country, to their communities and to their lives.
I met Youssef here, a young boy of only 8-years old who arrived with his family a mere two days ago. His big brown eyes have a haunted look to them, as if they are still looking at the violence that he and his family fled in Mali. He seems unsure of his surroundings and all the activity happening at the camp: tents going up, children being weighed for malnutrition, young girls collecting water at the pump. They are five in his family and now sharing a low-lying tent amidst the sea of others. In his quiet, shy voice, he tells me that they eat rice everyday for each meal. Back in his village in Mali, he went to school, but now it is not clear if and when he will get to be in a classroom again. Or even go home, for that matter. And that is the dilemma with the Tabarey Baley camp. With little end in sight to the political instability in Mali, what originally seemed like a temporary situation, is now clearly becoming a long-term one.
Caritas Niger has been helping in the camp with the registration of new arrivals and the distribution of non-food items, such as pots and tarps for shelter. They realize, however, that they must begin to plan for the next steps, to make sure that children like Youssef can continue their education, that mothers can feed their children and that families can find the ways to re-start their lives in this new place.