Anne Marie McCarthy, Plan International Ireland’s Emergency Programme Manager
Today I learned a new word in French – ‘brimer’, to bully. It was in the context of a discussion on protecting children in emergency situations. I write this from Burkina Faso, a West African country, which many people in Ireland have never heard of.
When I lived in Senegal 20 years ago, this was a country that people used to come to visit for FESPACO, the film festival, but recent events mean that tourism is almost non-existent. Now, unfortunately, conflict between armed groups and the government is having a huge negative effect on people, especially women and girls.
Even though Burkina Faso enacted legislation against Female Genital Mutilation in 1996, the practice still takes place. Before the crisis, girls were exposed to child marriage, but there are fears that these issues will become more widespread, both as coping mechanisms but also through force.
Schools are being targeted by armed groups and closed due to insecurity. We are seeing increasing numbers of children and young people who are showing signs of fear and worry because of the violence they have experienced or witnessed and the upheaval of displacement.
Displaced people are being hosted in camps, with family, and in host communities. Burkina Faso is known for its solidarity among its people, but there are fears that the pressure of additional family members will push some households further into poverty. An additional fear is that overcrowding in accommodation may lead to child abuse, and increased levels of domestic violence. There is general acceptance that this crisis situation will continue for an indefinite period.
Plan International has been distributing basic essentials, including dignity kits, to displaced people since January and has developed Child Friendly Spaces to protect and support children.
We aim are reaching over 1,500 pupils through education activities and over 6,500 children, youth, women and men through protection support.
Burkina Faso is listed in the 183rd position on the Human Development Index, out of 189, indicating that may of the indicators of development were poor, even before the current situation. While we urgently need to respond to the humanitarian crisis, there is still so much to be done in the areas of the country still unaffected.
On my way back to the hotel this evening I saw this sign:
Is there a better future for Burkina? In order to answer in the positive, resources are needed to respond to the current crisis, but also address how we can achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in Burkina Faso and across the Sahel.