Friday, February 19, 2010

The coup d`├ętat in Niger – Feb 18, 2010

I figured that it would be appropriate to write today about the events of yesterday. Many of you sent notes, or called or skyped us yesterday as you heard about events unfolding here in Niamey. So we will recount for you what happened as far as we experienced. It was definitely an interesting day, one of which we had never experienced before, and hope to never again!

In the morning at 8am, we started to get delivery of almost 50 tons of millet. If you have read the posts in the last few weeks you will know all about our Grain Aid Program and the millet we are giving to the poor. Well yesterday was the day we took delivery of all the millet for that program and stocked two of our three storage facilities. The first one got stocked easily in the first two loads, and then they truck started making runs to our largest storage place to drop off over 40 tons there. I was there for the first two truck loads, took some pictures and checked it all out. We were very excited to see all the hard work of planning and working for the project being turned into something tangible in all those sacks of millet!! Then I left the storage place (Kutana and Paul stayed there) and went to pick up the kids. This was just before noon. I picked up Arielle at noon, went by a little local restaurant to pick up rice and nems for the boys at the storage place to eat while they worked there all day, then went and grabbed Bennett at his school. I pick him up at 12:45. News reports say the attacks started at noon, but there was no artillery and attacks or gunfire heard at all at this point (12:45) and his school is only a km away from the Presidential Palace where it all went down. I was driving home with the kids and lunch when I got a worried call from Paul wondering where I was. He told me that at the storage place within the last 5 minutes that has started to hear heavy artillery and gunfire and explosions. This would have been at about 12:50. I went to the storage facility to pick up Paul and drop off their lunches (it is just past our house- about 3km from the President`s) Paul wasn't there as he had run 500m to our Director`s house to fill him in on what was going and activate our emergency measures for situations such as these. We started calling all our teammates and telling everyone to get home and go on lockdown. Some of our team-mates or their children were not at home and were at meeting or school, but everyone went into lockdown where they were.

At the grain storage place when I got there, the guys were listening to the radio and you could hear heavy artillery, mortar rounds, gunfire and loud bangs. It was eerie hearing it and knowing what was going on. Since we were only half way through the delivery of our grain we told them they could stop their work and continue another day. However, the crew talked it over and decided it really posed no risk for them or their route, so they would continue to deliver as long as their depot stayed open to give them the grain! We told them we could not stay, so we left the keys with our Project Assistant Kutana and the guard there and left. We went and picked up Rebecca Brown at her house and brought her to ours and went into lockdown at home. We filled up all our water containers, got info out to our families and hunkered down and played Settlers of Catan and stayed on the web and radio to try and find out news! We were quite surprised and please to see that local services such as phone, water, electricity and internet were not affected. Everyone had warned us they would be cut in the event of a coup. However, they stayed on all day! So we kept in touch with many of you and read the news reports while sparse news started to trickle in. For the next few hours we could hear heavy gunfire and booms, then it would be silent for 20 minutes or so (well at least no heavy arms we could hear) and then the noises would come again. We were in no danger at home. At 3:45 we heard the last big booms and then we heard nothing more that evening. At around 5:30 or so we heard military helicopters making continuous circles overhead. Paul got a good picture of some of them.

Throughout the evening we stayed indoors together and tried to get what news we could. It was very slow to be reported with lots of conflicting information. There were still two sides reporting- one that the President and his Cabinet had been taken captive by the Army, and one that the attempt had been unsuccessful and the President had escaped. Around 6pm the National Radio station started playing military music and signalling a change of command in the country. Official news agencies didn’t start reporting it confirmed until sometime in the night while we slept. Today we are still staying inside, having a “coup” day off as it were, and waiting to see what happens in town. Not sure how a city bounces back, maybe life just goes on? We are told there are lots of military out on the street and the new group in charge, called the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy (CSRD). They are telling everyone to stay calm and align with them while they work to restore democracy in the country. The ex-President Tandja pulled a political coup in August when he illegally extended his term indefinitely, and now this full  military coup took that away from him and they are saying they are committed to working with International groups to restore democracy to the country.

A good full article can be found here:

BBC News- Coup in Niger

So that was all that we experienced. It was somewhat emotional and a bit un-nerving to hear the artillery and big guns going off and to be called into a state of emergency as a team. We were well prepared for this eventuality in Niger, but you never know exactly when it will happen. Thank you to so many of you who prayed and contacted us. Please join with us now in praying for a peaceful Niger, with leaders who are Godly and who will do what is best for the people and not be corrupt. The people of Niger are desperately poor and we are going into a famine that will last the next 7 months. They need all the help and prayers they can get.

One blessing is that the coup had very low casualties. We have heard anywhere from 3-10 people died, which I think is quite low for a military coup by force. Please pray for the families of those who died. Also, there is a man who often visits with our guards and sits outside our house. He works as a guard at the Presidential palace. He got off work at 12:30. He had just got home when he heard the attacks begin and he immediately knew what it was. We are thankful he was spared as he would have been right in the line of fire. He even came over last night to tell us he was safe.



As an aside, while this was happening all day, the grain kept being delivered. The group of guys in the pictures below worked until about 6pm, through all the noises and chaos and in spite of us telling them to go home, to deliver all 474 sacks of millet to our two storage facilities in town.

These guys were so strong. Each of these sacks weighs 220 pounds (100 kg) and they moved 474 of them! They would pop them onto their heads and carry them in by themselves. It was amazing to watch. And they did all of this in 40 degree Celsius weather! (that is about 104 Fahrenheit) One guy was even wearing a toque! Crazy!

This one guy in particular was a powerhouse. Look at him lift this!

Paul wanted to give it a try and they helped him manoeuvre one onto his head. Paul is a strong guy, and he couldn’t carry it. Today he needs a neck massage and feels like he has whiplash just from trying to balance it on  his head!

So all day long, they drove back and forth and picked up and dropped off millet, filling our storage rooms and getting the job done.  We are thankful for our local workers who also stayed at their own insistence to make sure it was done and lock up when it was all over. Even in times of a coup d’etat, they never skipped a beat and saved the day for our grain delivery!

And off they went for another load….

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A wedding through their eyes

A week or so ago I went to the wedding of one of the other girls in my hut class. Fatimatou is in her early twenties and this is not her first marriage. It still is a shock to see how young the girls are married off, and no surprise at all when those early marriages fail and they run home.

Rebecca and I and the kids headed over one Sunday morning and spent a good chunk of the day hanging out, eating, dancing, chatting in Tamasheq and enjoying the company of the group. After fulfilling our obligations to visit with the bride to be (who is hidden away and doesn’t talk while they braid her hair) and the older women, we went off the to school room that they had taken over for the party for the young people. We knew a lot of the younger people and had a great time. I brought my little point and shoot camera and took a few pictures, but a bunch of the girls kept taking my camera. So I showed some of them how to use it and gave up the control. I was really interested to see what kind of pictures they would take. So all the following pictures were taken by these young girls. Enjoy!

Bennett and Arielle getting in on the dancing

  All the kids hanging around the edges of the classroom  


Our meal. Everyone had big platters of macaroni with a bit of red sauce and a few precious pieces of meat. This was their feast.


Rebecca getting in on the dancing as well

Bennett hanging out with the rest of the kids


Then I went outside the window where we had great light and took a few of the children too



Also- an update on baby Abdoul-Nassr. Baby and Mom are at home now and the baby is doing well. The mother still has no appetite and isn’t eating or drinking much- thus she still has very little milk. Please pray she would regain her strength and get good milk production.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Grain Aid Program PART THREE

If you have not read parts one and two check out these links first!

 Grain Aid Program Part One

 Grain Aid Program Part Two


So now that you know all about the need here in Niger, where we are giving out food, what we are giving out and how it will roll out, let me tell you a little bit about the “complementary programs” and how you can be involved!


Complementary education! What’s it all about?

We know that we will have a chunk of time with the heads of the urban households each month when they arrive for their food. Their culture is one where they will not likely just arrive, pick up their food and quickly take off. We can expect lots of time to chat, drink tea and talk. We want to maximize on this time with each person to offer some education topics that will be helpful for them and their families!

I will give you an example. The first month our education theme is going to be hygiene related. We are working with a local Tuareg and our staff to plan some short, simple talks about the importance of hand washing!

HandsHygiene_Logo_1 1

We are going to briefly talk about how disease and germs can be spread by unclean hands, and that hand washing will reduce incidences of diarrhoea and other preventable illnesses that strike many of their families. We are also going to offer all the materials for them to make their own handy-dandy hand washing stations called the “Tippi-tap” !


*Photo by Jon Ng

This is an example of what they look like (this one is out in our Tuareg village). It consists of two metal poles with hooks that suspend an empty container (usually a 5L oil jug). It is filled with water that gets warmed by the sun. When they want to wash their hands they tip it on the axis and get water from a hole in the lid. The can use the soap that dangles below and VOILA! clean hands!!  So for the April distribution, we are planning on teaching about hygiene and making tippi-taps and distributing the materials to build them. Then we will follow up to see if they are set up right at their homes and get the chance to meet and greet their families too!

So each month we will have a different theme. Ideas ruminating are malaria prevention (and we could hand out treated mosquito nets), the importance of educating their children, nutrition, and other development topics.

Through all of this time we spend, we hope to be building strong relationships based on mutual trust and respect as we work together to meet the needs of the community. This is truly a team effort!


So how can you get involved?

Well, i thought you would never ask!

First of all, many of you already are! Your donations to C&MA’s Global Advance Fund is what keeps our whole team out here working!

Second- we can never tell you how much your prayers and encouragement keep us going over here! You allow us to stay here, far from our families and churches, and feel encouraged, loved and supported. Your emails and notes mean a lot to us!

Donations- Does anyone out there happen to have a small handheld used digital camera they would like to donate? Did you upgrade and have your old one kicking around? It doesn't need to be new or super high pixels. I am looking for a working condition small camera (with at least 256MB memory card) that my project staff could carry around to help in monitoring and evaluation. Especially with security travel restrictions in place for our team, we need to rely more and more on our National partners to follow up on projects for us, so a little camera would sure be handy! Please let me know if you happen to have one and would either ship it out here, or get it to Calgary in the next few weeks where we have people coming out shortly. Thanks!

FInally- You can always get involved financially. The millet and oil for the program have been procured through funding from the Canadian Food Grains Bank, of which the C&MA is a partner. The Milk that we are distributing is being paid for by the “IMPACT NIGER” Work Special. The training tools, tippi-tap supplies, possible donkey cart for deliveries (already got the donkey- just need the cart!) and other program costs are all coming out of the “MCIVER NIGER WORK SPECIAL” fund. If you would like to contribute to either of those funds, you can do so through any Alliance church in Canada by marking the appropriate Work Special fund (noted above in capital letters). This allows us to buy all the supplies and keep projects like this running!


So that’s it ! I hope this three part series was a good intro for all of you into our program. Trust me – you will lots more about it in the next 8 months as it rolls out!



Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Grain Aid Program PART TWO

So here we are, talking again about our team Grain Aid Program.

If you missed part one yesterday, check out this link-


So what are our objectives?

1- Ensure availability! Even when the markets run out and grain is hard to find, we will ensure a stock for our 3 communities.

2- Ensure access! Even when prices spike well above normal (following normal rules of supply and demand- since there is so little supply this year-demand will cause prices to spike) our 3 communities will be able to purchase cheap grain. Each urban family will get one 100kg sack of millet at a highly reduced price, 4 boxes of milk at reduced prices and 10L of free oil (which has high nutrition and fat content that they need!). This will free up their money to purchase other household necessities and hopefully add in other vegetables and food items as we help them to meet their basic needs. The villages will get large sums of grain (1600kg per month) and they will distribute it out themselves to their needy families on a kg by kg basis.

3- Build those relationships and train them! We are partnering with local community groups to roll out these programs. We are involving them at every step and teaching them how to run the programs, work with beneficiaries, and how to work together well as committees. they have the desire to help their people, but often lack the skills to know how to effectively do that. Also, because our ministry and work here is built on relationships, the amount of time we will be able to spend with “our people” during these next 8 months will be wonderful for language acquisition, solidifying relationships and making new friends, and sharing life with them. As recipients come and go once a week at our distributions, we look forward to times of sharing, hanging out, sharing tea, and praying for any needs they may have!


How in the world will we roll this out?

For the village locations- our staff will visit either weekly or bi-weekly to deliver the grain stocks for that month. During this time we can visit families, talk with the chief, do little mini-surveys to find out the impact of the program and follow up with any problems. This is an excellent opportunity to be present and spend time in these two village locations. Please pray for Kristi especially as she will be doing a lot of driving!


For the Urban distribution, we have secured a warehouse in a location that is central to the recipients. Check out a few pictures of it (not yet set up!)

4 rooms that look like this (no electricity is hooked up but our distributions are in the day anyhow!)


A big front courtyard area. We will set up a shaded hangar where we will spend the day, check stock lists, take money and offer training. It looks pretty messy right now, but we have big things planned!


Our Urban distribution centre will be open every Wednesday starting March 31st. Every family has a certain amount they can claim each month, and they might come and pick it up all at once, or else they might come get a part of it each week as they have the time and funds for the subsidized food. They will bring their own containers to pick up the free oil and we are working on a plan to help them transport the 50kg or 100kg sacks of grain back to their homes. That is a lot to carry on their backs! We have an idea brewing using community volunteers and support with donkey carts.


Stayed tuned for tomorrow as we talk more about what kind of training topics we will offer the people in the urban centre and ways that you can personally be involved!!



Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Grain Aid program! – Part ONE

As promised, I am here to tell you about our team’s exciting Grain Aid program!

Sorry I don’t have much for pictures to show you, but we are in the midst of setting it up. I know that during the months to come as we have distributions, go visit beneficiaries and roll out training, there will be many photos to share!


What is it all about? Why are we giving out food? (The Rationale)

Niger is the least developed country in the world, ranking last out of 182 countries worldwide in terms of overall development according to the 2009 United Nations Human Development Index. Niger’s harsh climate, poverty, drought and desertification have helped to create an undernourished population that cannot feed itself. By February 2010, it is anticipated that many poor households in Niger will be labelled “highly food insecure,” causing a worrying nutritional situation as off-season products will be absent from their diets and their subsistence grains become unavailable. Villagers are soon entering into the critical period known as the lean season — the months when food stocks are at their lowest. It is also the moment when farm workers need more caloric energy in order to cultivate their fields, since most of the agrarian labour in Niger is performed manually.

Niger is well known for the international outcry during the food security crisis in 2005. Crops that year suffered from late rains, a brutal dry season and an uncommonly high amount of locust damage in some areas. Cereal prices began rising in January 2005, leaving millions unable to buy the quantities of grain they needed. Crop conditions this year look very similar to crop conditions before the 2005 famine. In fact, prices are already rising above what they were in 2005. Our program is attempting to put in place a safety net by buying early at reduced prices and holding these stocks for when the need is highest, and ensuring their availability for program participants.


The food security outlook from Jan-June 2010. Green is food secure, yellow is food insecure (lack of food) and orange is highly food insecure (significant food shortages)ne_medium_fp


Where are we doing the distributions?

We are targeting three locations:

Kodjeri is an isolated village, 20 km from the nearest market with difficult road access. It is near the Burkina Faso border. The village is spread out with huts and fields interspersed. Its population of about 600 is primarily Fulani. The people are primarily animal herders (cattle, sheep and goats) and subsistence farmers. Their primary crops are millet and sourgom. They would have been ok for food this year except that they had a devastating fire that wiped out a large portion of their stocks. This is a village where we already work with the Fulani people.

Kongu is a village region of approximately 10 square kilometres, located 10 km North of Niamey.  The region is populated largely by a Fulani family group of approximately 400 people.  Until 2008, the majority of these family units lived in Niamey. However, the summer of 2008, they were forced out and deemed to be squatters.  Those who were unable to move by the deadline were forcibly removed and their huts and belongings were burned.  Due to poor rainfall in 2009, there is widespread crop failure in the area they now live.  Given the current food prices and if there were no increase in price of the other staples – they estimate that their millet stock should last until March 2010, possibly April.  Then they will be out of food and forced to eat leaves, sell their belongings, or move elsewhere with family who may have the means to help them.

The Urban poor:

Our urban distribution location is in the north-western Niamey community of Koura Kano. Urban families are often overlooked and often do not receive aid when food shortages arrive. This can be even more detrimental to them due to the fact that they often do not own land or livestock, and thus have limited coping mechanisms and all their food must be purchased. According to our own 2009 baseline survey, urban workers in Niamey only have 21% of the economic capacity of their village counterparts who own animals and land and an astounding 20% reported that they didn’t have enough food to feed their family well even one day out of the week, that they were barely scraping by. With critical food shortages quickly approaching, the price of food will be driven up and millet may even become unavailable as supply disappears. Already unable to meet their basic needs, a subsidized grain program would help the most vulnerable families to survive by offsetting the inflated prices and scarcity of food.


Stay tuned for more tomorrow to hear about the objectives, what we are giving them and how it is all going to roll out!! Our team has done a lot of great work on this project- go team!




And just because you all love pictures so much- here is a picture of the well mould that Paul finished and it is already shipped off the Teppe village! They will use this to pour cement moulds for their hand-dug wells so that they don’t cave in. Doesn’t it look great!



Sunday, February 07, 2010

A prayer for little Abdoul-Nassr

This past week one of our guards (Mohammed) had a new baby boy. Well actually it was his wife who did all the work, but you know what I mean!

Normally in the maternity wards here in Niger you are in and out in the same day! However, the mother started to have problems with excessive bleeding and blood pressure. So they have kept her in the hospital. Her milk also came in very late and is still in insufficient quantities. Please pray she would make a full recovery and her milk supply would be strong. Breastfeeding is so important here for the health of newborns- there really are no alternatives here that they could afford. She did not want her picture taken in the Maternity, and I can’t say I blame her. I didn’t exactly want my picture taken after giving birth either! haha!

But we did take some pictures of her new little boy Abdoul-Nassr. I am not quite sure if this is the spelling they are using, but it is one I have seen and I will guess at it for now.


The maternity ward in itself was a sight to behold. I was quite surprised that the buildings looked fairly new and were in good repair. This is after all the National main maternity ward. The rooms were quite small and there were two people to a room. About the same size as small hospital rooms in Canada actually. However, the difference was in the care. You see, it is not a team of nurses or doctors that actually take care of the women except for their brief daily visit. It is their families. If they need medicine- they get a prescription and the family must go to the pharmacy and buy it. If the families do not bring food, they often won’t eat. Mohammed even slept outside the maternity ward on a pad at night so that if his wife needed anything, an orderly would come get him and he would be the one to take care of her. So when we went into the room with his wife and one other woman, we were not all the surprised to see the room was full. With the visitors we had brought with us who wanted to see her and the baby, we were 17 people in that tiny room at one point. The families of both women had brought water, bowls of food and other items. The bed linens looked unclean and the walls and floors clearly hadn’t been washed in a while. Part of me really wanted to pull out a wide angle lens and take a shot of all the women crammed into such a tiny dirty space that was a “hospital” room. But I didn’t so you will just have to imagine it.

Abdoul-Nassr was getting stronger that day (only a few days ago) and in spite of the fact that his mother had very little milk, he seemed to be getting by. If I understand the Tamasheq right, one lady was saying that another woman who had lots of milk would help those who didn’t. I guess that is sort of like our old school wet nurses right? Whatever it takes folks!


This morning I spoke with Mohammed and he said that his wife was getting better. He also said that now the baby was sick. He told me, that this one week old little baby – had MALARIA. I didn’t even know this was possible?? Please pray for the health of this child. That such a fragile body would fight the malaria or whatever it is and be strong. 1 in every 5 children in Niger die before they reach the age of 5. Pray with us that Abdoul-Nassr will not be one of those statistics!!

We will keep you updated.

Paul, Mohammed and Abdoul-Nassr


Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Bits of life

Since we have been so busy finishing off a big project proposal these days and Paul is working hard on a water well forms project, I thought I would at least post a few pics of life to show what we are up to!

Paul’s language class room and tool shop room

The metal forms for a water well project that Paul is building


Visiting local friends and families



Attending Hut class. We are just about to finish our first booklet and start numbers and math next!


My “war room” where I have spent a huge amount of time this past month working on writing a proposal for the Famine Grain Aid program. It just got approved yesterday so I will write more soon and tell you all about it!


The kids enjoyed the joint birthday party of two of their closest friends!


And some fun little pictures!

I was SHOCKED to wander into one of the piddly little grocery stores here that caters to expatriates and find this. Pure Maple Syrup- even a product of Canada! WOW! It was quite pricey (about $13 for 250ml), but what a find! It is odd how sometimes something bizarre or “North American” suddenly appears on the shelves for a month or two, and then it is gone again forever. So we jump on those chances when we can. I even found a box of Cheerios this past week. How funny that things like that excite us now. Haha. Shows how sad our grocery stores are I guess!

And finally- welcome to our appliance store! These are all brand new fridges for sale. On the side of the road. In the dirt.

Talk to you later!