In many African cultures, being raised by your grandparent is associated with greater stability, safety, the maintenance of relationships with siblings and extended family members, and the continuation of one's cultural identity and community ties.
Regardless of our origins and walks of life, most of us can recollect good memories of our childhood spent with our grandparents. Aichata, a bright student from Mali, teaches us that those benefits and values are worth keeping even in the most difficult of times.
An eight-year-old third grade student living in Mali’s conflict-affected areas with her grandmother, Aichata shares her positive experience of what living with grandmother feels like in a very hostile environment. Four years ago, little Aichata and her sister were forced to move to their grandmother's house, because their parents had no means to look after them and their siblings.
“I live with my grandmother and my little sister Fatoumata, while my parents live in another village far from here," she narrates. "I did not used to like staying here, because granny did not have food to feed my sister and me."
In the past, Aichata and her sister only had one meal per day – at the school canteen – as their grandmother had no means to cook an extra meal for the family.
“I'm in third grade and my sister in first grade. We do not have the same timetables, but we finish school at the same time, so around noon, we are free to go home,” Aichata continues. Most children at their school would be happy to go home as soon as classes were finished, but this was not the case for the girls, as they knew that going home at noon meant spending the rest of the day with an empty belly.
“Knowing that there was nothing to eat at home, we used to stay there [for as long as possible] and wait for the school canteen meal to finish, and eat before heading home for the rest of the day,” recalls Aichata with sadness.
Her 51-year-old grandmother regrets the fact that the girls had to go through such hardship, and explains that things were not that bad before the conflict.
“Before the ongoing instability, I use to farm, collect and sell firewood and charcoal. These activities allowed me to feed and take good care of the girls. Today, with the insecurity, it is very difficult for me to make ends meet without any support from elsewhere," she says.
It is common practice for grandparents in Africa to bring up their grandchildren, especially when parents do not have the means, and grandparents live alone. After Aichata’s grandfather Guessa passed away, his widow asked Aichata's parents to let her look after the girls.
“I come from a large family and when my parents told us that we were going to live with our granny, I was very happy, because I was sure that she would look after us very well," recalls Aichata. "When we first moved here, my parents use to send us a bag of millet every month. But after some time, they stopped and we all used to go to bed starving.”
Food was not the only thing the family lacked; the girls did not have school supplies or clothing. Fortunately, the family received a helping hand through the resilience cash transfer programme run by World Vision in their emergency response area.
“I am so glad the people with the orange T-shirts [World Vision staff] helped us. The day she [our grandmother] received the money, she started to have peace of mind and a smile on her face every morning," Aichata testifies with a shy smile. "Because she knew we would no longer go to school hungry; and that we would start eating a nutritious breakfast. She was also able to buy us clothes, school materials like pencils, and notebooks and bags.”
Aichata’s grandmother is thankful to be among the beneficiaries of the project.
“This year, I was lucky to receive 60,000 FCFA (US$108)," she says. "This money allowed me to look after the children. I used this money not only to buy 100kg of rice, sugar, and flour during Ramadan [when breaking fast], but also to fix a broken door in the house.”
She further adds, “I really cannot thank you – World Vision - enough for this money, knowing that I received support without asking for it. This support gave me hope for a better future."
Aichata soon chimes in, saying: "I wish that the same people [can continue to] help my granny to start her activities so she can earn money to look after us properly. Because I have my granny and my sister and I want to stay with her for a long time,”
"I desire to become a teacher when I grow up. I wish my sister and I will succeed at school to have money that will allow us to eat nice food and help other people like us when we grow up,” Aichata concludes.