But the thing that struck me the most, and that is with me still, were the stories of the mothers. The women who have to explain to their children why there won’t be any food for them that day. Even so, I saw light in their eyes and determination to find a way to feed their children. To be a woman or a mother in Niger is to know severe heartbreak and worry. A mother gives birth knowing there’s a good chance they’ll never celebrate their child’s fifth birthday. One in four children will die before hitting that milestone. The birth process itself is fraught with danger. Women marry young and die during childbirth.
Despite theses statistics, it is their strength, not just their heartbreak that made an impression. I will take that with me when I return home. As I share some of their stories I hope you can do the same. Visit us at World Vision to learn more.
Photo credits: World Vision/Lauren Fisher
Ramata with her 3-year-old daughter. Despite the food crisis, she’s able to keep her little one healthy through a vegetable garden she maintains with World Vision’s help. The little girl’s favorite food: dambou, a mixture of millet and cabbage. “If she could, she would eat it all,” Ramata said.
Ramata in her garden. She gets up at 3 every morning to water her crops before the well runs dry for the day.
Baraka, a mother of five. You can’t help but notice her for her grin and sense of humor. Each day she comes to the Food for Work program to earn beans, sorghum and oil to feed her children. She digs three shallow holes in the dusty earth each day. The goal is that when it rains, these holes will collect water and make the soil richer. But in 100 degree heat, it is a backbreaking job. “It’s hard work,” she said, wiping her brow and sighing.
17-year-old Aissata with her first-born son Hassane. On this day she’s at the clinic because her little boy is very sick, he won’t even take the small amount of food offered to him. Hassane is 20 months old but weighs just 16 pounds. He’s severely malnourished. We later learn the family is suffering in the food crisis. Their harvest failed and many days there’s no money to buy grain. On those days the family doesn’t eat.
Hassane’s grandmother is the one who convinced his mother to bring him to the clinic. She’s the family’s main support right now. Most of the men in the village have gone to Nigeria in search of work or food.
This mother shows us her twins, who are one year old and severely malnourished. She confides that she is unable to produce breast milk because she is malnourished herself. But, she was too embarrassed to tell anyone and tried desperately to feed them anything they would accept. Unfortunately their condition now makes it clear that it hasn’t been enough.
Zalika is what is called a ‘femme relais’ in World Vision. She is trained in children’s and maternal health. When asked how many babies she’s delivered in her village of 19,000, she just shakes her head and laughs. Zalika knows how to weigh children in the village, help with deliveries and even goes home with mothers for the first week of the child’s life. There she emphasizes exclusive breast feeding and good hygiene for the new moms. “I notice two things,” she tells us. “One, the child will avoid many of the common sicknesses, and two, the child grows much bigger than those who aren’t fed breast milk exclusively.”
Zeinabou with her 3-month-old grandson Amadou. She watches him each day while his mother tries to find work in the city. “She must go out and seek work for food, there is no one else to do it,” she said.
Zeinabou is one of the hundreds of families in makeshift camps in Niamey. They’ve left their villages and come to the city in search of work and food in these lean times.
8-year-old Fatima, the next generation of women and mothers in Niger. Her mother is out working to provide food for the family. Meanwhile Fatima is unable to attend school. Less than 6 percent of girls in Niger attend secondary school.
Another member of the next generation of women, is 13-year-old Koubra. She is lucky enough to attend a school World Vision built, even despite sometimes going to school hungry in the food crisis. “I like calculations in school, but I also like the other subjects because I want to gain knowledge and become intelligent,” she said. With her mother’s help she can hopefully remain in school and fulfill the dream that makes her smile when she tells people, “Someday, I want to be an aid worker.”
Little Hassane after a few weeks of nourishment from Plumpy’nut. He’s so much healthier and has already gained 1 kilo! His mother told us she was so grateful that he’s doing better.