Thousands of elderly women accused of witchcraft in Burkina Faso have had to flee their village
For more than three years, the French organization Petits Freres des Pauvres has been supporting the St Lazare home in Koupéla in Burkina Faso. This home takes in elderly women, accused without the slightest proof of being witches or “soul eaters”, these old women no longer have a family to defend and take care of them. They have fled their village and without family protection, they are promised physical, moral, social and psychological decay.
In Burkina Faso, witchcraft arbitrarily has a female face. Those accused of being witches’ are widows who are often accused of having killed their husbands, of being responsible for the death of children… when a brutal or unexplained death occurs, the person who ‘ate the soul’ of the deceased must be found.
The Burkinabé state and associations are aware of this problem but the problems are so numerous in the country that the exclusion of the elderly is at the bottom of the country’s list of emergencies.
Today, the St Lazare home takes in 35 elderly women who were destined to live on the streets and beg for survival. The aim of the association that runs the home is to provide decent living conditions – shelter, food, health and above all a little affection for these women. The evils of old age accumulate, blindness, pain, loss of memory and autonomy, but the solidarity between the women allows each of them to find their place in this “new family”.
With the support of the French organization Petits Freres des Pauvres, OCADES (Caritas of Burkina Faso) has set up a small team of volunteers who come to animate small workshops of manual activities, cook with the women and help them in their daily life.
In addition to helping these women, the association’s leaders want to raise society’s awareness of this age-old custom that destroys the lives of many women. To do this, they run radio programs, forum theatre sessions in the villages and raise awareness in schools.
Burkinabé society is modernizing, but the weight of customs is heavy, and it is difficult to change mentalities in the most remote villages. The French organization supports this project because it responds to its three social missions: Accompany, Act collectively and Alert/testimony.