AN INVASION of Islamic extremists has caused extreme hardship for thousands living in Mali.
Losing a close family member is one of the hardest experiences a person can face.
But losing most of your family and being forced to flee your home is unthinkable.
It is a reality Boureima Sadou faces every day.
The 24-year-old is a victim of the hardships and suffering thousands of people in Mali have faced since a wave of Islamic extremists invaded the country in January 2012.
This week is Christian Aid Week and the charity has been carrying out humanitarian efforts in the country for 40 years.
To mark the week, I visited Mali to see the vital work its partner organisations do every day and speak to those affected by war.
Young Boureima is your typical student. Dressed in a white T-shirt and jeans, he is style-conscious and eager to listen.
Although he is 24, he remains in school due to the Malian education system, but has wisdom beyond his youth.
His story is a tragic one. Boureima had already lost four siblings when he was forced to leave his home when the jihadist rebellion hit the Diré region of Timbuktu.
His father died in 2007 and his mother remained at home.
As a result, he became one of the estimated 203,843 internally displaced persons (IDPs) who had to flee, but he did so for the sake of his education.
He later found out his brother died in the conflict.
He now attends St Joseph’s Technique Catholic School in Sévaré, in the Mopti region of Mali, but fears he may never get the chance to go back home.
Despite the anguish, Boureima has made friends with Alhousseiny Dicko and Mahamane Traore, who are also IDPs and sitting beside him.
“At the beginning of the crisis there was looting, people were being beaten up, and we suffered seriously,” he said.
“There was famine and the school stopped. Among us there were students who were due to have exams and we were told in order to study we have to get down south.
The village of Songho
“When we arrived here we found it was not easy to live. The living conditions here are very difficult.
“Sometimes the school starts at 7am and sometimes we finish without food to eat. At break time in the morning we feel isolated when all the students can buy small things to eat and we are left without.
“Education is very important to us. We want to get an education so we can get jobs and support our parents later in life. I wish to go home during the holidays but I am fearful the crisis might return.”
Mali was gripped by terror when the jihadist movement spread through the country in January 2012, prompting thousands of people to leave their homes.
The country became even more unstable in March when President Amadou Tourmani Toure was ousted in a coup d’état.
The coup gave the extremists further leverage until the French military intervened and helped the Malian army push back the militants and stop them spreading across the nation.
Although France has withdrawn some of its troops, around 1,000 still remain.
But Christian Aid’s partner organisations remain as committed as ever to helping the families that need it most.
One of the organisations is Action for Human Promotion (APH), which provides food distribution schemes for communities and the tools to generate further income.
I saw their efforts first-hand in the stunning Dogan village of Songho.
It is a village entwined in an arid mountainous terrain that provides some of the most breathtaking views of Mali.
The extremists didn’t reach Songho but the effects were prominent.
A number of IDPs made their way to the village, stretching their resources to the limit, and tourists are nowhere to be seen.
There I saw families receiving millet grain, which will be distributed to those most in need.
Laya Alla Ye Karembe looked younger than his 67 years, but spoke at length on the support APH has given him and his village.
Laya Alla Ye Karembe
Laya, who also supports people suffering from epilepsy, said: “The harvest had not been good. We were trying to work out how we were going to survive. God helping, the project turned up. We didn’t have any help and now we are eating well.
“This is the second food distribution programme since the beginning of February. The first distribution would be given to the most vulnerable households.
“The conflict has not been fought here but we have had relatives who came from the areas where it took place. It has been a burden for families here in Songho, as a tourist area. As soon as the conflict happened, no one came here.”
Meanwhile, back in Sévaré, Brahima Gambi cuts a striking figure in his traditional turquoise Malian attire.
The 56-year-old has a wife and four children but opened his arms to the many IDPs who came to the village for somewhere to live.
He told me everything is shared around his household, and every day families go out looking for small jobs to make ends meet.
Fortunately the Christian Aid partner organisation Groupe de Recherche et d’Applications Techniques (GRAT) has been able to help out with medicines and financial assistance.
Brahima said: “When war broke out people started coming who knew you. One group would come, and when one person knows you, people keep following.
“I had six households here. In the morning everyone gathers here and we try and find out how to help. GRAT have helped us with medicine and financial help.
“Any time we call for assistance, they answer our call. They give us seeds, fertiliser, wheelbarrows and equipment.”
Proud farmer Soranga Gambi, 53, lives nearby. He has 12 children and three wives.
“We are still being haunted by the fact that the Islamists might get down to us,” he admits.
Those IDPs who came after the extremists got to Konna were sharing everything.
“Some came here totally empty handed while some were students who came to find school placements.
“We stayed in these difficulties until the organisation came to our help.
"We receive seeds and fertilisers, and if it wasn’t for GRAT it could have been a lot worse. What we had was not enough – it could have been a catastrophe.
“Now we have trained people to farm and have managed to increase our production activities. The equipment and training has contributed and we have made almost a 25 per cent increase.”