Category: Resilience

Helping protect vulnerable children in west Africa


This is a guest post by Henry Makiwa, British Red Cross senior media relations officer, who recently went to Burkina Faso.

Salamata Ali with her youngest son outside the nutritional screening clinic where she volunteers

© IFRC/ Faye Callaghan

According to the UN, at least 1 million children are at risk of the most severe form of malnutrition across the Sahel. Almost twice as many are at risk of malnutrition if strong action is not taken now.

This situation in Burkina Faso is most critical along the border areas that separate Burkina Faso and Mali.

“We have an ongoing problem with malnutrition in this part of the country,” Dr Kdonia Anicet, a paediatrician at Djibo hospital, a twenty-minute drive from the border with Mali, says.


West Africa interview: it’s vital we plant now


In Senegal two weeks ago, I spoke to Momodou Lamin Fye, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ west Africa representative, and Nathalie Bonvin, regional food security, nutrition and livelihoods delegate. They explained the urgent need for funds, if people are to be able to plant crops before the rains begin.

It is now hungry season in west Africa

© Sarah Oughton/ BRC


Nkhetheng’s story: preserving happiness

Group of people singing while preserving vegetables

© Sarah Oughton/BRC

When I met the ever-smiling Nkhetheng in a kitchen in Pokane, in the mountainous kingdom of Lesotho, he was leading a group of villagers in some exquisite harmonies which filled the room alongside the fragrance of chutneys, pickles and jams which they were making as they sang.

Nkhetheng Pitso, 55, is married with ten children and knows all about the struggle to grow food in Lesotho’s challenging climate. This is his story:

“When I was younger I worked in the mines, but I came home in 2004. Now I’m a farmer, but at first it was difficult to feed my family. I used to try gardening but the crops would die, as I didn’t have the skills I have now. But things changed after I got involved with the Red Cross in 2008.


Two months on: Sorhow’s family on their last bowl of rice


The last bowl of rice in Sorhow's house

This is a guest post by Henry Makiwa, British Red Cross senior media relations officer, who recently went to Burkina Faso. There, he revisited Sorhow Mohamed. Two months ago, Sorhow’s family was already struggling for food – now they have almost run out.

It’s high noon in Tin Akoff village in north-west Burkina Faso. Temperatures are shaving 50 degrees celsius on the thermometer. Not a cloud hangs in the skies, not a bird dares to come out, and scatterings of cattle and goats hide in the shade of leafless trees.

Everything here is serene and quiet, except for some hushed chatter of two sisters who watch over a feeding toddler – while shooing off a troublesome goat that’s constantly attempting to eat from the same bowl as the minor.


Sthabile’s story: an orphan with big dreams

Sthabile standing in her home

© Ziv Koren/BRC

Despite the many tragedies Sthabile, 15, has already known in her life, she is a quietly assured young woman, with a vision for her future.

Sthabile never knew her father and was just five years old when her mother passed away from HIV in 2001. For a while her grandmother looked after her, but then she also died.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m alone,” Sthabile says. “But I try to forget it.”

Sthabile lives in South Africa, where one in four adults lives with HIV. You can donate to the British Red Cross South Africa HIV Fund, and help us continue our HIV programme in South Africa.


West Africa: why Mali conflict will increase hunger

Safiutou Diallo receiving food from the Malian Red Cross

© Sarah Oughton/ IFRC

So a food crisis stems from a shortage of food, right? Not necessarily. When communities are in food crisis, it is usually because people are unable to grow or buy enough to eat, rather than because of an overall shortage of food.

If a farmer’s crop fails – or their goats get ill and have to be sold at a low price – they will not have money to buy enough food, no matter how well-stocked the market is. Even if people can make a little money, a poor harvest will often cause food prices to soar unaffordably high.

Across the Sahel region of west Africa, regional unrest, higher food prices, drought, pest problems and reduced income from remittances have been key factors in turning the annual hunger season into a crisis. They have all disrupted people’s ability make money, or produce food, and afford food that is available to buy.


World Water Day: UK vs. west Africa drought mapped

Villagers in Zakiré Zarma, Niger

© IFRC/ Mari A

Today is World Water Day, a campaign designed to bring much-needed attention to the link between water and food security. Not enough water to go round? That’s something even England – famed for its rainy days and grey skies – can appreciate.

Much of south-east England is currently in drought, and news headlines predict that it will get worse as summer peaks. There will be hosepipe bans. Lush green lawns will turn yellow. The roses will curl up their petals and die.

Large areas of the Sahel – a stretch of sandy, semi-arid scrubland on the edge of the Sahara – are also in drought, with the crisis set to peak over coming months. Yet, while both the Sahel and the UK are described as being in drought, they face very different situations.


Living with HIV: a lesson in love and humanity

Mnyamezeli sitting in her home

©Ziv Koren/BRC

There is no line between laughter and tears in Mnyamezeli Mbongwa’s house. A 68-year-old grandmother, you wouldn’t know it to look at her as she moves with a joyful energy.

And the camera loves her. She has the strong features you might find in carved ebony. Her household is large and encompasses more than its fair share of tragedy, yet it is also one of the most laughter-filled homes you could hope to encounter.

In a large round room with a mud floor she bustles around tidying up and tending to Asiphe, her 13-year-old disabled grandson who lies on a mat on the floor. There is no sofa in this home, just a hard wooden bench.

Orphans of HIV

Mnyamezeli pauses for a moment, gathers her skirts and sits down to answer a question.

“I was young when I got married, I was 16,” she says. “I have three children, but one of my daughters died from TB. Later I realised she’d had HIV. She left three children who my husband and I now look after – my granddaughter Thozama who is 20 and has a disability, and my two grandsons, 16-year-old Siphosihle who is healthy, and Asiphe who is severely disabled and was born with HIV.”