Friday, April 23, 2010

The Nomads of Niger – Shawn Vickar Guest Blog


Paul and I and the kids are away on vacation at the moment. We are getting a much needed time of refreshing! You can follow us on facebook and see pics if you are so inclined.

In the meantime I had asked Shawn Vickars to write a guest blog for you all and to share his impressions and thoughts on his time in Niger with us a few weeks ago. Enjoy the read. Thanks Shawn!


During the end of March through Easter Sunday in April, our family (Gin and myself, our children Eden, and Kiam, and my parents Lesley and Shelley) spent two full weeks in and around Niamey with Paul and Chantelle and their team. Let me tell you, this was truly an eye-opening experience.

I remember the last sermon I preached before heading out to the Alliance Assembly and then to Niger was a message on stewardship. It began with some thoughts from 1 Timothy 6: 17-18 which says, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.”

First, I remember commenting in my message on the fact that as Canadians, Calgarians, and Westerners…we are rich. All of us belong to a part of the world and people in the world whom God has blessed. We are a privileged people, and consequently, we are those that God calls rich in this world, and therefore he calls to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. Let me tell you: before I left for Niger – that is, when I preached that sermon – I knew that we were blessed people, a privileged people; a rich people. Anything I had read, anything I’d thought about, my life experiences themselves had affirmed that this was true.

Nevertheless, nothing could have prepared me for the kind of realization and conviction that I now have about this truth. Whereas I believed it before, now I have seen it and know it in a completely different way. Having visited Niamey and the surrounding areas, having walked the dirt paths of the villages, having seen the malnourished or the exploited Talibae children who are sent to beg on the streets by their local religious leader – I believe it in a completely different manner.

I truly believe we are the rich in the world…and because of that…Jesus is calling for a response from His church to be the solution in parts of the globe like Niger where there is so much need and so little help.

A day following the launch of the grain aid distribution program, Gini and I went with a translator to visit one of the families that had participated in the program and received grain, oil, and powdered milk.

* visiting with a local elder who was part of the grain aid program

We spent some time seeking to understand their needs and their way of life in Niger, how things are changing and how they long to get ahead, how they strive to feed their children and provide an opportunity for their children just to get an education. We learned that through the team that Paul and Chantelle are a part of, this food distribution and education program was the first time anyone from the “outside” had ever helped this family. I’ll never forget that. What blew me away was the reality that there are people in our world, living in conditions that we Westerners would never imagine or perhaps even believe, and that they have never even been extended a helping hand.

* visiting a home. This family lives in two straw huts on an open lot with many animals running around. They pull one electrical wire from a neighbours house to run a small light bulb or fan occasionally for the night.

How amazing is it that Rockyview Alliance Church would send me as their pastor to Niger to see the McIver’s and their ministry firsthand? How amazing is it that the Lord provided the way for my entire family to come with? How amazing is it that Paul and Chantelle would open their homes, their lives and their ministry to us for two full weeks? It was all so incredible, as have been the continuing lessons, conversations and implications that we have brought home with us personally, and for our church at Rockyview.

*Gini helping the women wash and sift through the rice to remove bugs and stones before cooking it over an open fire.

In the end, when I consider that family that we spent time with – and realize that they represent countless other families who have never received a helping hand – how amazing is it that Jesus has called each of us who belong to His church to be those hands…His hands to a hungry and helpless world.

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' 

40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

-Matthew 25:37-40



* visiting children who are a part of the education programs

Monday, April 19, 2010

Bennett takes the camera

Hi all. We are busy packing here, planning last minute things for the health teaching that will continue while we are gone, and finishing errands and cleaning! So we are a bit busy. Tonight we fly out from Niamey to Aligers, Algeria and then onto Dubai ,UAE. Please pray that this very long flight (24+ hours from our house to their house) will go smoothly and we will get as much as rest as we can, especially for the kids. I am sure I will update you on our vacation as we go too! We are really looking forward to this vacation away to refresh and reinvigorate as a family.

I will leave you with some pictures from Bennett. His Auntie Teresa got him his own rubber camera, which comes with some games, pictures and little preloaded images like crowns, necklaces, frames etc that you can put into your pictures. He has been having a blast taking a hundred or more photos already. (He must be his mother’s son for sure!)  However, he hasn’t quite mastered the idea of standing still, so they are a little blurry! But this is his world in his eyes! Enjoy!


Mom showing him how it worked…


Every boy wants his daddy’s tool chest


His friend Antoine comes to visit


Taking it outside the see our guard and his friends

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Playing with lego and a few more friends. Lego and friends- what more could a 5 year old want!

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And the best of all, love the little heart frame he picked out to take this picture of his unsuspecting sister, who is drinking her water thermos. DC0139

He is bringing his camera to Dubai – so we will send you some more later!  

Friday, April 16, 2010

Teaching for a healthier future


Over these past few months our team has been working to prep health and hygiene lessons in Tamasheq to present to various groups of people. Each month as we receive people for grain aid distribution, we are also offering health and hygiene education sessions, often handing out tools to help with their physical health. This first month the topic was hygiene, hand washing and explaining the concept of germs that make them sick. To link with this teaching we handed out 60 hand-washing stations so far and are in the works to construct many more!

First we taught the hygiene lessons to the men as they arrived. The information was well received and we have been invited to many of their homes to teach their wives and children as well.

One thing we heard when speaking with some of the families was they they didn’t know what was making them sick, or why they had diarrhoea. They had some ideas like bad water or bad food, but also they thought it could be bad spirits, a result of a immoral action or other things. Many of the Tuaregs in the city moved in to the city within the past 10-20 years. When they lived out in the desert they were spread out, there was less contamination and they say there was less illness. Here in the city they are often crammed together, they don’t move around like before as nomads and thus all their “dirty areas” build up and stay close. Close quarters brings more contamination as well. They admitted readily that they had not been able to understand or assimilate some of the changes that living in the city brought.


Prepping the Tippi-tap washing stations.

Boxes of soap to give out. We are planning to distribute bars of soap to the families every month that this food aid distribution runs.

One of our local partners showing other men how to put the water jug in and use it.


Then we took the same teaching material, plus some kid friendly games about hygiene and fun acted out sketches to the kids hut class, where we taught 20-ish children about hand washing.


Using 10 pictures all mixed up to create a story. The story is about one boy who drinks dirty water from a marsh and gets diarrhoea. The story tells how he contaminates others, and other people get sick. The kids had to pick out which picture went where in the storyline and we talked about how they could stop the transmission as well.

Then we marked their hands with Crayola kid’s markers with “Germs!” We hid the marks between their fingers, under their fingernails etc and then they went one by one to the hand-washing stations to wash away the “germs”


Look at all those clean hands!!


After class, they even all went out and washed their hands all over again! Let’s pray that true behaviour change slowly happens and improved hygiene becomes a normal part of their lives.

The week after the kid’s class I went to two different women’s group (hut class girls and the community women’s group) to give the same training.   All the women were great listener’s and asked questions.


They also enjoyed the same game with putting the pictures in order to tell the story of diarrhoea transmission.




We also marked the women’s hands with marker and fake “germs” and they also tried out the hand washing stations.


I love his little foot sticking out the side!


At the end of the class we handed out soap. In addition to what we bought for the aid distribution center, we had 5 large boxes of soap donated through Lutheran World Relief and each box had an assortment of several hundred bars of soap. We hope to hand all these out over the next few months. It was funny to see bars of Zest, Dove, Ivory, no-name and a bunch of tiny hotel soaps all mixed together.


The kids also got in on the loot and took the tiny hotel soaps.


Me with most of the ladies the second class. Thanks for the soap!

Please pray that our efforts to introduce health teaching every month for the next 7 months would pay off not only in bringing better health and hygiene to our national friends and a better quality of life, but also to opening doors to even more relationships for us.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Little boys will be ninjas, no matter where they are from.

We just got home from having supper at our friend’s house. In our bedroom, my thermometer tells me it is 36.8 degrees. Wow. Driving home from hut class this afternoon my steering wheel was so hot I considered putting oven mitts in the car for the rest of hot season (good idea Beth!). Yikes!

SO hot season has truly hit with full force. 

So besides all this talk of hot, which will last months now, I thought I would make you smile with pictures of Bennett and his buddy Souliman, and the kids playing. Souliman is the little boy who has terribly bad eczema on his feet, so bad that they crack and bleed and look scaly like a lizard. So we happily keep them stocked with imported “Georges” cream which works wonders and we are happy to report his feet look the best we have seen them in a long time! Bennett and Arielle ran around with 4 other little children (none of them sharing a common language with ours) and had a blast. The got involved in some pretty serious WWF Goat Wrestling which was pretty hilarious to watch. I got video, but sadly can’t upload it. So instead you will have to enjoy some pics!

This is our friends house. Not the mammoth cement house being built in the background, but the small grass shack with black plastic for a roof. See their metal bed with wooden sheet for a mattress next to the door? What a dichotomy.

Bennett and Souliman hamming it up

and giving us their best spontaneous ninja poses! (this was taken seconds before Souliman peeled away to spin and kick and make terrific warrior noises!)


Arielle gets in on the goat wrestling


These two little ones were having their own conversation. Their body language totally says it all. The little boy saying something like “Hey…are you going to put that bowl back in there with the others?” And Raichatou (the little girl) saying “What, do you think I was born yesterday or something? Come on!” Another funny observation. Back home if the little kids run around half naked, it is usually with a pair of underwear and nothing else. Here, it is always a t-shirt and nothing else!

Paul got in on the fun and provided a one man circus by flipping all the kids over and spinning them. They loved it!

One of my favourite little girls, Raichatou. Her parents call her “trouble!” Which was my nickname as a kid too! Isn’t she precious!


So I hope wherever this finds  you, it is cooler than here! Take care!



Saturday, April 10, 2010

Visitors from home !

Recently for two weeks we had the pleasure of having visitors from home! As part of an initiative to have people visit the “fields” of the Alliance after a large bi-annual conference in Turkey, our team received 12 people here in Niger. 6 of those people were tied to us and our church in Calgary! Our Pastor Shawn, his wife Gini and his two small children AND his parents (a three generation group!) came to spend two weeks with us here in Niger. (check out the giraffe in the background!)

Family Websize

I have asked Shawn to write a guest blog here on his perceptions and experiences of Niger, so hopefully in the next few weeks you will see that here. But for now I thought I would post a few pictures of their trip and some of the highlights of what we did with them!

Shopping for African necklaces with Gini

We took them several times to our outdoor markets where we buy lots of our food and household items. They were amazed that you could buy veggies, carpets, backpacks,  shoes, underwear, tea, plastic basins, cloth and everything in between all in one aisle!

*picture not taken by me. I’d love to give credit..but I don’t remember who did take it.

We put Shawn to work building tippi-taps with Paul

Gini came to hut class several times. (You can see her in the back here)

Everyone came to visit the first day of our Grain Aid distribution.


Gini looking so stylish!


There were always kids around us. They love seeing other little children, so our “white” kids always drew attention from other children. But it was never in a negative way, they just wanted to play!




We hosted a Tuareg music and cultural evening for all our Canadian visitors. It was at the home of a National just out of town. There was a rice and sauce meal, millet/milk cold porridge drink and dates to eat. There was a traditional drum played and a good group of local Tuareg guitarists. I think all of our visitors had a great time, getting up and dancing, trying the drums, playing with the kids and sharing culture. Many of our Canadian visitors spoke French so they were able to interact directly with our National friends, which was a wonderful way to connect and talk and learn.


The kids kept asking to have their pictures taken and then would look at it with glee on the display screen after.


Shawn got a turban given to him by this man Saidi. Shawn gave him his hat in return.


We went to the giraffe reserve. It never ceases to amaze me there. And our visitors always find it equally amazing! It was a very dusty day so it was hard to get crisp pictures, but I managed to be standing by ready when a group of them took off running and got a whole series of them running across the savannah.


Here is Kiam checking out his first ever giraffe, sitting calmly 30 feet in front of him. “Dad – I know it’s just a giraffe but he’s scary!”


We also went to the sand dunes, one of our favourite places to take visitors.


I had fun taking some photos of Shawn and Gini. For some reason I really loved this one :) Gini might kill me, but I wanted to show it anyhow. I didn’t even edit it in Photoshop! I like to call it “Divine Conception” !


As I talked about in my previous post about the great care package they brought, their visit was a huge encouragement to us. We are isolated here, and it means so much to have family or friends come to see us and share in what we are doing. Thank you so much to the entire Vickar family for coming to Niger!