Ousmane thinks he’s ten but isn’t really sure. When we meet him, he’s been helping his family plough fields and he’s covered in dried mud. We’re here to find out how the food crisis in the Sahel is impacting him and his family.
The figures are staggering: more than 18 million people are suffering from a food crisis caused by poor harvests, rising food prices and insecurity in neighbouring countries.
This crisis has barely made the headlines in any of the world’s media but in Mauritania alone, it’s estimated that over 700,000 people are affected.
A human face of the crisis
Ousmane sits down in the shade to tell his story. He’s a serious but alert child and at first it’s difficult to get a smile out of him.
Ousmane has a six-year-old sister and two brothers, aged four and two. His parents are elderly and his mother was ill and at the local hospital. They all live in Sabar II, a village of mud houses, where families mainly live on an income from farming and livestock.
At this time of year, it should rain several times a week but they haven’t seen a drop in over a week. To make ends meet, Ousmane’s father goes to the nearest village to look for work every day. Some days he’s lucky and returns with food and money, but others he comes back with nothing.
No shoes, no school
The immediate impact for Ousmane is that he won’t be able to go school next year as his father can’t afford the school supplies, including the shoes he needs to walk two miles to school.
It’s very clear to Ousmane that getting an education is key for his future.
“It’s tough with the drought, we don’t eat much. If we eat at midday, we don’t eat dinner and if we eat at dinner, we don’t eat the next day. My father told me I won’t be able to go to public school next year because he can’t buy me shoes. I don’t have the shoes to walk to school.
“In the public school we study Arabic and French. I want to learn to be a teacher so that when I grow up I can teach other children,” says Ousmane. “I want to continue studying to become someone tomorrow.”
£10.50 per year
Abdalahi Ould Mohamed Mahmoud, child protection officer for Save the Children, explains, “The school is public but children need a uniform, notebooks, pencils, pens and books. Sending Ousmane and her sister to the public school costs 5,000 ouguiyas, £10.50 per year and their father can’t afford it.”
When we ask Ousmane about his favourite sport, he smiles at last. And when we ask if we could take a photo of him, he enjoyed posing for the camera, momentarily forgetting about his current situation.
“I like playing football with my friends. I also like watching football but I don’t follow any team,” he tells us.
A common problem
In Mali, our staff met a ten-year-old boy called Yarba. He lives in a village in a region affected by the crisis. There isn’t enough to eat and now his schooling is being affected too.
Yarba explained, “I like to learn so I can get a proper job in the future. That’s the most important thing to me. Sometimes I don’t go to school because there isn’t anything to eat. I have to come home at lunchtime to eat. It’s about a kilometre away but it’s very hot and I don’t have a bicycle, I wish I did. I’m very tired because I’m hungry and it’s a long distance.”
Yarba’s dream is to teach but his future currently hangs in the balance. With their food stock dwindling each day and no money left, sending Yarba to school is becoming increasingly challenging.
“With the rains starting I’ll have to help my family farm in the fields. I’ll pull the animal along that pulls the plough on the two days I have off school.”
What we’re doing
We’re working to reduce the drought’s impact on children’s lives. We’re developing food security programmes, promoting awareness about malnutrition, carrying out child protection work and providing direct help to vulnerable families.
Education is the only way to break the cycle of poverty. Girls’ education is particularly powerful to generate social prosperity, and a mother can significantly influence her children’s survival and increase their likelihood of being educated.