We asked children displaced by the crisis in Mali to write down their wishes and dreams in chalk. These photos tell a story of loss and longing for home, but also of hopes, resilience and recovery.
Douma just wants to go home. He's originally from Niger and he was with his brother looking after their animals in Mali when they were caught up in an air strike by security forces and badly injured. He's lost his leg and is now recovering as shelter for unaccompanied minors. But all he wants is to find his family and go back to his life and his flock. Tragically his life will never be the same, as he faces serious challenges returning to his nomadic life on crutches. Once he’s recovered from his injuries, UNICEF can help him get training in a useful skill to help him rebuild.
“I want to be a teacher,” says Oumou. She's one of thousands of children who've been displaced by the recent violence in central Mali. She lives in a camp for displaced people outside of Mopti. It's a long way from the open Sahel that she's used to. She’s recovering from the shock of having her village attacked and now living with her family. She wants to get back into school so that she can work towards her dream of being a teacher.
“No more recruiting children,” says Abdoulaye. He’s experienced it first hand. He witnessed violence when he saw his family killed in front of him. He got caught up in a militia and was put to work cleaning vehicles after combat. He escaped from the militia and because of UNICEF support he's opened up his own boutique in the market of Gao. His biggest wish is to protect other children from what he's been through.
“I want to open a business,” says Fatou. She's 13 and has a two-month-old baby. Like many girls affected by the crisis in Mali, she's out of school, which exposed her to sexual violence and exploitation. Fatou was homeless for part of the pregnancy after being kicked out by her family. After the birth, UNICEF helped her reconcile with her aunt so she's back home. Fatou dreams of going back to school so she can open her own business.
“I just want to find my father,” writes Mohammed from Kidal. As a shepherd tending to his animals when he was caught up in a raid by security forces. In the confusion he was scooped up by mistake. He was interrogated, then thrown into prison with adults. He was eventually released and he’s at a center in Bamako, but it's a long way from his home in Kidal. When asked to write his one wish in chalk, he says all he wants is to do is get back home and work with his father again tending their animals.
“PEACE’ writes Ahmed. His father was killed a month ago in a raid by bandits. They stole everything that he owns. His wish is to go back to what it was like before the crisis, when he looked after the animals for his father. Now he’s the oldest boy in the family and he feels the burden of responsibility to look after his mother and his little brothers and sisters.
Balla lives in a makeshift settlement outside of Mopti. His family was scattered and displaced after a terrifying nighttime attack on their village. More than three months have passed, but they still can't find his father. He's coping with being a child in extreme and challenging conditions. When asked to write his wish on a chalkboard, he wrote that he just wants to be reunited with his father.
Moussa was asked to join the local militia by his chief. A week later he was on night watch holding nothing more than a shovel. He was scooped up in a raid and arrested with a large group of adults. He's now in a UNICEF supported shelter and trying to get back to his family. When asked about his one wish, he said he wants a motorbike because he says they’re cool. His second wish is for the end of the conflict.
Adama in Mopti is one of hundreds of children who have been displaced from homes and been separated from his parents. All he wants is to go back to school.
“I want to have my own business,” says Fatou. She was with parents when their village was attacked when the crisis in Mali broke out in 2012. They tried to flee in a pirogue, a traditional fishing boat, but the gunmen opened fire and killed her parents. Six years later, she's recovering and hopes to open a business soon. Community workers identified her vulnerability and she gets counselling and comes to a UNICEF-supported center in Timbuktu for support.
“I want to go home,” says Ahmed. He was at the local water well when he got caught up in a raid by the security forces. He was thrown into prison and interrogated for more than a week. Then he was moved to another prison and now he's ended up thousands of kilometers away in a shelter for children in Bamako. He deepest wish is to go home back where he lives Kidal. But because of security issues, that seems almost impossible.
Ibrahim was recruited into a militia and forced to take up arms go into battle. He's now out of the armed group because he found out that he could get support from UNICEF to help him open up his own business. He runs a small shop selling food. But he says what he really wants to do now is to help other kids avoid being recruited.
“All I want is peace,” says Animata. She’s a Fulani girl who lives on the outskirts of Mopti but her home is 10 days away on foot. She walked to Mopti after her village was destroyed in a violent attack by an armed group. She witnessed the burning of her village and the loss of everything she knew. She's in a temporary learning center that UNICEF set up for displaced children like her, but her whole community remains in shock from the violence and they are struggling to create some stability for their children.
“I just want to go home,” says 12-year-old Sala. He's one of thousands of children who have been displaced by the violence in engulfing of northern and central Mali. His village was attacked and now he lives with his family in a camp outside of town.
Mina was abducted in a raid and held at gunpoint by an armed group. Her mother was so shaken by the event that she never recovered and ended up passing away. She’s coping without her mother but like so many children she's devastated by all the impacts of this crisis. She lives in Timbuktu and her biggest wish is peace.
Adama is a shepherd from Kidal. He was detained by security forces and questioned about armed groups. He was released from detention but now he can’t get home. He says he wants to get back to his flock and he just wants to go back to his village.
Aboubacar a shepherd from Niger. He was caught in an attack near the border and badly injured by an air strike. He’s now in recovery and safe at a UNICEF-supported center in Bamako. His one wish is to go back home.