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Mali: fighting to survive

We seem to fly along the bumpy desert-like roads, barely missing the scrubby bushes and sending the goats fleeing just in time with our beeping horn.

I stare out my car window at the barren land and the odd donkey and cart. It’s never quite how you imagine it and Diema certainly isn’t how I imagined it.

I knew it would be hot here, but its scorching. There isn’t a breath of air and the heat instantly makes me feel claustrophobic.

I knew poverty was rife in this region but it’s only when seeing it that you begin to understand the daily realities of the people of Kayes.

Harsh environment

As I approach the village, I scan the scene. Families cower from the sun in their mud huts, roofed with twigs and thatch.

Women rhythmically pounding millet seeds in wooden bowls, sweat pouring down their faces. Fires burn in makeshift shelters, ready for the preparation of the millet for dinner.

Goats tethered to the odd tree, sleeping in the shade. This is a harsh environment and you have to be extremely tough to survive in the best years…never mind this year.

Warm welcome

I see the men and women have gathered to greet me. It’s always embarrassing and humbling when families come out to welcome you so warmly.

I crouch down with them on the mat and begin shaking hands. Everyone looks directly at me, solemn but friendly, nodding their heads in respect.

I introduce myself to the group, my name is Katie, I work for Save the Children, I’m here to hear your story and tell people back home about the crisis you’re facing.

Fighting to survive

Immediately people start to speak, yet never interrupting each other. I know the causes of this crisis very well now, but when you hear it from a mother, father or child who are living through it, it takes on new meaning.

There was no rain, we had no harvest, prices have risen, we have no money to buy food…we are fighting to survive.

As we talk an argument breaks out behind me, in one corner of the village. I ask the group what the problem is and they tell me last week the government distributed some seed. It wasn’t enough and there is a belief that some took more than their fair share.

Each family is having to look out for their own and the argument instantly drills the message home: they are fighting to survive.

Time is running out

I spend four hours in the village talking to a range of people: a grandmother who gave up her last millet to her children and grandchildren; fathers who feel angry they cannot provide for their family; mothers who are scared they won’t be able to continue to breastfeed their children and a young boy who worries he won’t be able to continue with his school, as he just hasn’t got enough to eat to keep him going through the day.

This really is the frontline of the food crisis, and it’s clear that time is running out. These villagers can’t continue like this for much longer.

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