Karim*, 8, lost his entire family in an attack on his hometown in Burkina Faso in June 2022. Wounded and traumatised, he is finally learning to live again.
Sitting on a bench at his school in Dori, Karim is a child like any other. He plays with his friends and goes to school. In class, he is attentive, participates and makes progress in his learning. Karim seems to lead a peaceful life. However, despite his young age, he has been through some terrible ordeals.
Karim lived with his parents in Seytenga, a town in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso, about 15 kilometres from the border with Niger. Burkina Faso has seen a rapid rise in violence since 2019, with frequent attacks by armed groups and the besiegement of dozens of towns.
In June 2022, Karim’s hometown was the scene of one of the most violent attacks since the start of the conflict, resulting in the death of at least 86 civilians and the displacement of more than 34,000 people. Following this attack, Karim’s parents, like many others, decided to flee to Dori. The cart carrying Karim and his family hit an explosive device during their escape, leaving Karim the only survivor.
Young Karim was picked up in a state of shock by Harta**, a shepherd in his forties who was not far behind. Harta recalls in bitter detail the attack that forced them to flee and the conditions in which he found Karim.
On the day of the attack on Seytenga, the shepherd had gone to the Niger border to graze his animals. Informed of an incursion by armed groups, he rushed back to Seytenga to collect his family. Once there, he only found his mother, his son and his nephew. There was no trace of his wife, who was pregnant at the time.
Harta has had no news of her since. He knows that his sister died in the attack but has never found out what happened to his wife. “They hit some people, chased others away and stole animals. That’s what drove people to flee the village,” he says.
Distraught and frightened, Harta and the surviving members of his family escaped. They took the same road as Karim’s family and witnessed the explosion of the cart. Harta remembers seeing the child’s body, thrown several metres by the explosive, covered in dust and lying under a tree.
“He didn’t look human. I tried to talk to him, but he could not hear or speak. We thought it was a spirit because we were in the bush,” recalls Harta, his throat tight and his gaze lost.
Arrival in Dori
Harta decided to take Karim with him to Dori. Once there, they set up camp with other displaced people on a patch of wasteland. Harta had lost his livestock, leaving him with no income to support his family or pay for the healthcare Karim needed. He resorted to going out all day looking for odd jobs, leaving the children in the care of his elderly mother.
A few months later, Harta managed to enrol them in school. Karim was still suffering from the physical and psychological after-effects of the explosion. His ears were infected, he had lost weight, and he withdrew into himself more and more every day.
When Harta enrolled Karim in school, he did not inform the teachers of the child’s condition. Karim attended school like all the other pupils and was subject to the same conditions. A few days after the start of the school year, his classmates approached the teacher to explain that Karim was ill.
“He wasn’t talking, laughing, chatting or playing. He didn’t do any work in class either,” recalls the headteacher. Because of his injury, Karim could not hear the teacher’s instructions. He also could not fit in with his classmates, who shunned him.
“When I looked at the child’s ears, I felt a chill,” says the headteacher. Harta, considered to be Karim’s guardian, was summoned to the school.
Harta told the headteacher Karim’s story. “I cried after listening to the story. I then sat down to try and find a solution,” she says.
Medical care and psychosocial support
The headteacher contacted NRC’s office in Dori, which quickly referred Karim to a health facility. The treatment he received enabled him to return to school. To help Karim engage with his peers, the teachers explained his condition to his classmates.
“We made them understand that the injury was not his fault, and that we were doing everything we could to look after the child,” explains the headteacher.
Alongside Karim’s medical care, NRC is training the school’s teachers in how to implement the Better Learning Programme (BLP), a psychosocial support method introduced by NRC in 2021 in Burkina Faso.
This approach involves helping children recover from traumatic events. The sessions, implemented in classrooms by teachers trained and supported by NRC, aim to help children cope with trauma and improve their learning through simple stress management tools, such as breathing and visualisation exercises. These exercises can be integrated into the children’s daily routine, both at school and at home, to improve their wellbeing, learning capacity and concentration.
“After implementing the BLP method, Karim’s stress levels were reduced and his academic performance improved,” says the school principal. Today, Karim is able to speak, hear better and take an active part in class activities. He has integrated into the group of schoolchildren.
Harta is very proud. “Thanks to the school, [Karim] will be able to take charge of his life,” he says.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Norwegian Refugee Council.