A 15-year-old Malian girl talks about how she is adjusting to life in Mangaize refugee camp, Niger.
MANGAIZE and NIAMEY, Niger, 19 June 2013 – As conflict in northern Mali escalated, Fadimata Agali, 15, was forced to flee her home in Menaka, leaving family and friends behind.
Fadimata and her grandmother fled to the Niger on foot. They settled in a makeshift tent in Mangaize refugee camp, close to the border. Fadimata’s sister Aissata, 12, later joined them.
The little family are adjusting to life in this dust-blown refugee camp stretched across the Sahara.
“We are all separated”
According to UNHCR estimates, over 50,000 Malian refugees have crossed into the Niger. Most have sheltered in refugee camps and with host communities in regions severely hit by recurrent food shortages and poor access to social services.
Fadimata feels somewhat safer in the camp, away from the trauma she experienced in Mali. She is learning to live with the pain of separation from family, friends and home in a strange land, under harsh living conditions.
“In Mali, I was in my own proper house,” she says. “Here, I am living in a tent with very little protection from the sun.
“We all are separated.”
Each week, Fadimata approaches new arrivals from Menaka to inquire about her family, to find out if there is any news.
“I don’t want to miss my classes”
Fadimata has been attending Mangaize middle school, close to the camp, where she is in Grade 8. Fadimata says that, when she started lessons at the school, she felt left out. She did not know anyone. As time has passed, she has met new friends from the host community.
“I know that some kids do not come to school and prefer to stay in the camp,” she says. “But I don’t want to miss my classes.”
Fadimata describes her days. “On a school day, I wake up early at around 6:00,” she says. “I prepare breakfast, and we eat. I leave for school at 7:10 a.m. Class begins at 8:00 a.m. During break, we eat lunch at school with my friends. At 1:00 p.m., I get back home to our tent. If my grandmother is sick, I prepare food for the afternoon. If she is feeling well, she prepares some meal and we eat together.”
“During weekends, I either go to my friends’ place in the village or they come here in the camp,” she says.
Being able to attend school means Fadimata’s education will have less interruption. But – for her and other children in the camp, school is also offering some structure towards re-establishing a routine – which, in turn, helps mitigate the continuing impact of the conflict, and of life in the camp.
The big city, and longing for home
Fadimata and her grandmother recently travelled to Niamey, the capital of the Niger. There, she saw her aunt for the first time since she had left Mali. It was also her first visit to a big city. “Niamey is not like Menaka, it is not like Mangaize, it is not like Gao,” she says. “In Niamey, there are many vehicles, a lot of people who run in town.”
Fadimata was happy to reconnect with her aunt and explore the city. She had mixed emotions as she was driven around the streets of Niamey and shopped in the big markets for gifts to send home to her family. As the days and months have passed, the longing to see her family has only grown.
Shortly after UNICEF staff in the Niger met Fadimata, she was able to travel to Menaka to visit her parents, who had returned home. She is currently on a two-month school break. Fadimata will be back in Mangaize when school re-opens in September.
UNICEF, in partnership with UNHCR, NGOs and the Government of the Niger, continues to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees from Mali. The response includes life-saving services such as health, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene – as well as investing in the future of children through access to education and child protection.
The targets are that 11,500 boys and girls will be able to continue their education in camps and schools in host communities, 15,000 children will benefit from psychosocial care through child-friendly spaces and 101,650 people will have access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation facilities. UNICEF expresses its appreciation to donors for the generous contributions received, which have made the current response possible.
Story by Shushan Mebrahtu