Helping Hands for Burkina Faso Women

Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS

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Twenty years ago, Clementine Tapsobah was struck by a double tragedy.

First her son died unexpectedly. Then Clementine was banished from the community. Why? Her neighbors insisted the boy had died because Clementine practiced witchcraft.

CRS Helping Hands is feeding women like Clementine Tapsobah at the Centre Delwendé, which means \"Relies on God.\" The center supports women expelled from their communities after being accused of witchcraft. Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS
CRS Helping Hands is feeding women like Clementine Tapsobah at the Centre Delwendé, which means "Relies on God." The center supports women expelled from their communities after being accused of witchcraft. Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS

Since that day, Clementine has taken refuge at Centre Delwendé, a Catholic community center based in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. With support from Catholic Relief Services, the center is aiding more than 250 women who were chased away from their homes and families because of false accusations of witchcraft.

"After my son passed away," Clementine says, "I didn't know where to go, how to clothe myself or how to eat. When I first got here, it was really, really hard," she says, gazing at the floor. Then she looks up. "But it has gotten a little easier."

Food for the hungry

For women like Clementine, the center represents a new beginning. "We create activities for the women, such as cotton spinning, farming vegetables and preparing meals," says Sister Hortência Filipe Sizalande, the center director.

However, the vegetables that were available—cabbage, onions and such—are not enough to feed all the women every day.

So CRS has been supporting the center through our Helping Hands program. Volunteers in the United States package nutritious meals for the center in Ouagadougou and other places around the world where food is scarce.

"Thanks to the support from others, we can eat every day," says Clementine. "The generosity of people who come and donate to the center has helped feed us, and this has improved our lives."

Faith in God

Centre Delwendé means "Rely on God." This is how Clementine has remained strong.

"Through my faith and community support, and the sisters at the center, all the difficulties we used to face, we've overcome by the grace of God," she says.

Elisabeth Ouedraogo prepares meals from food provided by CRS Helping Hands to the Centre Delwendé refuge for women. Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS
Elisabeth Ouedraogo prepares meals from food provided by CRS Helping Hands to the Centre Delwendé refuge for women. Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS

For 50 years, CRS has also supported public education in Burkina Faso. With education, communities are beginning to understand the real causes of childhood illnesses and treatments.

"Through awareness raising, there is a small change in people's mentality [about witchcraft], and the number of women arriving here has decreased," says Sister Hortência. In 2014, 13 people left the center and returned to their homes.

In the meantime, CRS Helping Hands continues to provide a lifeline for women recovering from trauma.

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