Christina’s notes from the field:
We have a diverse group of youth attending our classes. While the Touareg ethnic group is dominant (90%) in the camp, other ethnicities are present and are included in our group: Songhai, Peul, and Arab. As with our previous project in a #Malian #refugee camp that was predominantly Touareg, we’ve tried in multiple ways to identify Bellah youth (an ethnic group who are part of the unfree social caste of Touareg society) and enroll them in our program. Due to the history of the relationship between Bellah and Touareg, which has been slave and master for centuries, including the Bellah is an extremely sensitive topic. In the last project, it was not even possible to use the name Bellah during recruitment and we did not succeed in including any Bellah youth. Fortunately, in this camp community there has been more openness to identifying Bellah and including them in the project. In one case a Touareg man brought in his Bellah foster daughter to apply to the program. She was identified as an unaccompanied minor by the organization Terre des Hommes who work with child protection in the camp, but how she came to live with her Touareg foster father is unclear. Perhaps she was taken from her family to work for him. The contrast between her and her foster father was huge. Besides skin color, she was very unkempt, seemed extremely underweight, and at first wouldn’t sit on the bench provided as she bent over the table to create her drawing application even though it was only inches away from her. When I realized she was going to create the whole drawing in this uncomfortable position I asked her if she wanted to sit down. She seemed like she had rarely, or perhaps never held a pencil. My sense of her was that she was coming from a place of extreme poverty and submissive status. Unfortunately, according to the leader of the camp section she comes from, she was unwilling to walk the distance to attend the class. Perhaps this new environment was too intimidating and foreign to her, or perhaps her foster father changed his mind about allowing her to attend. It is frustrating that we can make so little headway with such an important issue However, it makes sense given that including Bellah in educational opportunities is a huge break from their historical traditional role, and the difficulty we’ve experienced trying to include them reflects how deeply engrained these roles are.