BURKINA FASO: CHRISTIAN CHILDREN RETURN TO SCHOOL YEARS AFTER TERRORIST ATTACKS
The Coronavirus delayed the return to school of many children around the world this year, but for Christian children in Burkina Faso, their return comes after a much longer wait. Jihadist groups attacking Christian villages have forced 40,000 Christians out of their homes over the past three years. Those attacks have turned thousands of school-age Christian children into refugees and kept them out of the classroom. Now, a special Voice of the Martyrs program has enabled 1,104 of those children, some who are 19 or even older, to return to the classroom and complete their grade school educations. A plan to drill three wells to ensure their access to clean drinking water is currently underway.
“Our focus has been on three groups of children,” says Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr Hyun Sook Foley. “First, 350 Christian orphans who lost their parents in the terrorist attacks. Second, 500 pastors’ children who have been unable to attend school due to the violence. And third, 254 children from Christian families who lost everything due to persecution.” Representative Foley says Voice of the Martyrs Korea contributed 15,000 USD of the schooling project’s 73,000 USD total budget, with the remainder of the funds coming from Voice of the Martyrs Poland and other Voice of the Martyrs organizations worldwide.
Representative Foley says that the main objective of the project has been to get the children of persecuted Burkina Faso Christians back in school as quickly as possible. “Most of these children have been out of school for one year, and many have been out for as long as three years, due to the jihadist attacks that forced them from their homes,” says Representative Foley. “Their parents have had to prioritize other needs like food and shelter. Local churches across Burkina Faso have been helping them as much as possible, opening their homes and sharing their food. But providing education to these Christian refugee children was simply beyond their capacity.”
“That is one of the seldom-noted long-term results of persecution: Children of Christians in situations like this are unable to complete even grade school levels of education, and this causes them to fall to the lowest level of society, while the children of their persecutors rise to the top. It becomes a vicious cycle. That should not happen, especially when the Christians are families of martyrs who died because of their faithful witness to Jesus Christ.”
Representative Foley points to the example of Christine, a widow. “Christine’s husband was a pastor in Burkina Faso who was killed by a group of jihadists immediately after he finished leading Sunday worship at his church. Christine wrote, ‘From that moment, we were refugees in our own country. We couldn’t take anything with us. We lost everything.’ Now, we have been able to get all eight of Christine’s children back in school to complete their grade school education. The eldest is 23, the youngest is 6. Christine wrote, ‘Our life has changed. We received your gift for our children, and they can go to school. We stopped crying; we have hope.’”
Christina, the wife of a martyred Burkina Faso pastor, and six of her eight children displaying the school supplies received from Voice of the Martyrs. Shown next to Christina are (left to right): Clémentine (23), Youssounoukoa (18), Enriate (13), Eudoxie (11), Fani (8), and Izaac (6).
Christian children in Burkina Faso show the school supplies received from Voice of the Martyrs.
Due to the Coronavirus outbreak, a total of 339,909 students nationwide in Burkina Faso were deprived of education, with 2,512 schools closed. Schools re-opened in November 2020, enabling most students to return to the classroom. But Representative Foley notes that the improvement of the COVID-19 situation generally in Burkina Faso did not mean improvement of the situation of the persecuted Christian families. “They still cannot return to their home villages, and they have numerous needs, including access to clean water. Sending their children to school significantly reduces the demands on them as parents and caregivers. This is because in our Voice of the Martyrs program we have been able to cover each of the 1,104 children‘s school costs, which includes an enrollment fee, a PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) fee, a school uniform, and one meal per day for the whole school year. That means one meal less each day that these Christian refugee parents have to find some way to provide. We also equipped each of the children with school supplies–a backpack, notebooks, books, pens, and crayons.”
Representative Foley says that the situation facing Christians in Burkina Faso remains unstable and extremely dangerous. “Unfortunately, the jihadists continue their attacks in new places, especially in the Christian villages close to the Mali border” says Representative Foley. “But with many of these Christian refugee children having been out of school for as long as three years, we agreed with the local believers that we had to get the children back into school now. We couldn’t wait any longer for the situation to improve. If we did, a whole generation of Christians in Burkina Faso could lose out on education and slide further into poverty and social disadvantage.”
Representative Foley says that while funding for the Burkina Faso schooling project is now complete for this year, Voice of the Martyrs is currently seeking to raise 36,000,000 KRW to drill three clean drinking water wells in the locations in Burkina Faso with the most severe water shortage and the highest number of Christian refugees.
“In one of the cities where we will be drilling a well, there are more than 80,000 refugees,” says Representative Foley. “When information spreads that help is coming, everyone runs to line up. Unfortunately, the local officials that distribute the help are mainly non-Christians. Every refugee must provide an ID card. That card allows officials to know who is Christian. The officials do not openly turn away Christians, but they say things like, ‘Oh, I need to confirm more information about your situation.’ In this way, Christians are moved to the end of the line and often receive nothing. So Voice of the Martyrs has arranged to drill wells administered by local churches where Christian refugees will not be turned away.”
Christian refugees in Burkina Faso access clean water from a well supplied by Voice of the Martyrs. The ministry has plans to dig three more wells for Christian refugees before the May dry season begins.
Representative Foley says the well-drilling project is an expansion of one that Voice of the Martyrs began for Christian refugees in Burkina Faso in 2020.
“To help the Christians refugees most effectively, our goal is to drill the wells before May, which is the hottest and driest month in Burkina Faso,” says Representative Foley. Foley says the Voice of the Martyrs Korea is designating donations made to its Families of Martyrs and Prisoners fund in March to the Burkina Faso well-drilling project. Individuals interested in donating can visit www.vomkorea.com/en/donation or give via electronic transfer to Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s Families of Martyrs and Prisoners fund.
Please include the phrase “FOM/FOP” on the donation.