Mali: building a buffer and helping families into the future

We are not yet over the worst here in Mali but the end is in sight. The rains have been pouring heavily for the past month and predictions for this year’s harvest are good.

Despite this hopeful outlook, sadly our teams here know that families will continue to be plunged into a life-threatening hunger crises unless we take more decisive and longer-sighted action to tackle the underlying causes.

Recently I made a long and bumpy journey to Kayes region, where Save the Children teams are working around the clock in response to the crisis.

Kayes has been one of the hardest hit regions – over 38,000 children have been treated for acute malnutrition so far this year.

A more tragic reality

It’s swelteringly hot and the recent downpours have changed the landscape dramatically – fields are lush with crops and barren trees have flourished.

Yet I know peaceful rural scenes mask a deeper, more tragic reality for the communities here.

I met Sayon in his village, under the shade of a tree. Wearing a simple blue robe, with greying hair and a deeply lined face, Sayon explained his precarious livelihood and the devastating consequence it’s had on his family.

His story perfectly demonstrates the ongoing and underlying causes of this crisis:

“I grew only a third of what I usually grow this year. We eat everything I grow – we cannot sell any of it for money. The food ran out quickly and I had to do work in my neighbours’ fields to get us by.

“I could just about provide two meals a day – other families had to help us out. Three of my children had to leave in search of work and food. I also have two children suffering from malnutrition.”

Innovative aid

As Sayon spoke about how his family had been torn apart by hunger, I could see his neighbours’ and friends’ heads nodding in agreement, so I asked Sayon about the assistance he had received from Save the Children.

He started to speak more confidently and positively:

“One of my horses nearly died as it wasn’t getting enough food – he was very thin and very sick. My oxen were also not moving, as they were so weak.

“You see, the animals must be strong and healthy to plough the fields – otherwise it’s impossible for us to feed ourselves. I was very worried about how they were going to survive. But after receiving the animal fodder vouchers, we could feed them and they are recovering. Otherwise it would have been a catastrophe.”

I could see the impact this innovative assistance was having on Sayon’s ability to earn a living and pull his family back from the brink of disaster.

However, we know that our life-saving activities are not enough. We must support families, like Sayon’s, past the harvest, past the end of the year and into the future. Only then are we living up to our mission to do our best for children in this region.

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