On 12 December 2021, a ruthless attack by armed men in Ouindigui (north-western Burkina Faso) forced hundreds of young people to flee their homes. Marie, a 16-year-old student, was among those whose education – in addition to every other aspect of her life – was shattered in the wake of the attack.
Since 2015, Burkina Faso has experienced a horrifying surge in violence and attacks, with many of them explicitly targeting public services and schools. This has meant that the education – as well as the homes, lives and families – of young people across the country has been under constant threat.
More than 5,700 schools were closed, due to the security crisis, in October 2022, depriving over 1 million children of access to education. Since 2019, Marie’s school has constantly been opening and closing due to security concerns.
But for Marie, education has helped her escape from the reality of the situation in Burkina Faso. Her favourite subjects are geography and history; learning the history of other countries ignites her imagination.
Despite her turbulent childhood, Marie would like to become a teacher to help other children who are suffering. To make this dream a reality, Marie requires a safe, constant and welcoming school where she can build her future.
When your home no longer represents safety
After the attack, Marie had to flee the village immediately.
Marie’s teacher, Kotim, was able to give some students money to find transport to the nearest safe village. However, most were left with nothing and were forced to walk for kilometres in search of refuge.
The students managed to regroup in the nearby town of Ouahigouya. In a life-saving stroke of luck, it was in this village that the students also found their teacher, Kotim, who was able to act as their guardian.
Many of the students had lost some, or even all, of their family in the attack and had nowhere to eat, sleep or study, so Kotim began searching for a new classroom where they could live safely and continue their lessons.
“I did this out of love for them,” explains Kotim. “I understood what they were going through because I was there, and I went through the same situation as the children. It was traumatic.”
Through EU humanitarian support, Kotim found a classroom to use where the students are now based.
“If we abandon the students, it means we have all lost. If we lose education, everyone has lost.”
Kotim, Marie’s teacher
Returning to school, step by step
Marie and her classmates had a gradual return to learning. “We didn’t go back to school right away,” says Kotim. “We had to take the time to settle down and think of something else.”
Partnering with the EU and charities working in the region, the students got notebooks, school materials, clothes, sleeping mats and some food. Once the students began to feel safe again, Kotim started to reintroduce lessons. “If they succeed, the whole of Burkina Faso will win,” she says.
For Marie, this traumatic experience has left her undeterred in her ambition to become a teacher.
“Even if there are problems in my country, I am happy that I can continue going to school,” she explains.
"I believe that education is a right for all children."
Building a positive future
At the end of the school year, Marie and her classmates sat an exam. Despite the horrors of the year, the students achieved a 100% success rate.
“We were so happy, we were jumping for joy!” recalls Kotim.
As a result of the excellent test scores, Marie’s class received 500 applications from other students wanting to join. While this still proves to be a challenge, considering that they only have one classroom to use, the number of applications shows the value of education for these students.
There is no doubt that the attack in 2021 changed the students’ lives forever. “One day we wrote an essay on an event that happened in their village,” says Kotim. “All students wrote about the attack. They remembered the day – a Sunday in December – and even the time it took place. When I started to read them, my tears flowed.”
However, the EU’s support and the dedication of Kotim have had a powerful impact. Students like Marie have been able to continue their education, no matter what, and follow the path towards achieving their life’s ambitions.
The resilience and strength of Marie and her classmates have proven to be stronger than the devastating trauma they have experienced.