Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Niger Vocational Training Centre


I know this blog is late going up. For months I have hinted at the opening of a large project here in Niamey but we have been swamped with details and some uncertain dates, so I have yet to explain it all to you!

And now on Monday the centre will open its doors!


part of our logo for the centre- a space where all things grow!

So give me the short answer Chantelle – what is it?

Our team in Niger is beginning a vocational training centre to train the Nomadic Tuareg and Fulani people important skills such as sewing, tailoring, welding and other trades skills, while also focusing on mentoring, life skills, literacy and health lessons to create a holistic picture of health and a knowledge base for the participants.


Why does Niger need a program like this?

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. Desertification and droughts have forced the nomadic people groups we are targeting to move into major urban centres and change their way of life. They can no longer live and feed their families just having herds of animals and small crops like before. One of the largest needs of this people group is to develop new skill sets. They don’t know how to do anything except care for their animals or work the land. For the urban area where our centre is located, these jobs are not an option. In the Tuareg population alone, there are 100,000 new people who have moved into the city to find a better life, only to find they are unemployable as anything other than house guards. The training centre would provide solid skills and education to allow these people to care for their families and their communities and to enter into the local economy successfully.

The Tuareg and Fulani people groups are already marginalized in the urban setting. They have been forced to move into urban areas as their own sources of livelihood have literally dried up or died. If they do not find a way to procure new skills and knowledge, their health and families will continue to suffer.


How is the program going to start?

Our two year pilot program is focusing on girls at risk. We have 60 girls registered! These girls, between the ages of 12 and 18, will be taught classes on sewing, embroidery, literacy, French language, math, basic business concepts and bookkeeping, health, nutrition and hygiene. We are also going to specifically have times when we look at their vision of a good and Godly woman, the type of women they want to become, and what we can do to achieve these goals and grow as a person and in self-esteem. They are culturally at high risk for early marriage, early childbirth, abuse and prostitution. Providing them with skills and jobs will increase their own sense of self worth and capacity to make decisions for their own lives. It will also increase their value in the eyes of their families who will not marry them off as desperately.

At the end of the two years they will earn their own sewing machine and write a National exam which will give them a certificate of completion for their skills. They will be able to go out with the new skills to make money. They will also be able to save money for their households by sewing and repairing their clothing and sewing together the traditional fabric roofs they use for their living structures. Another immediate result is to get these girls off the street in some cases and out of risk of early marriage and early childbirth for at least two years. We are partnering with the parent of each girl that they will hold off on marriage until the program is complete so that the girl can continue to grow, learn and focus on this time of study.

During this time, Paul is also beginning to work with a small group of young Tuareg men to teach them trades skills. Already, they have made 60 desks, 30 chairs, long tables and blackboards. They are really coming together as a cohesive unit and are proud of the things they are learning. Without these guys our Centre wouldn’t be up and running!

Sidimou desks

This program is really a team venture. We have leadership support of course and working with the girls to teach and build into their lives will be Cecilia, Rebecca and Chantelle and currently Paul is working with the apprentices. We hope to see the Marineau’s involved when they return from furlough too! We are so excited to see this place up and running and all the opportunities it presents.

So…what can You do? Well, I’m glad you asked!

There is one big answer to that. PRAY! We are looking for prayer partners. We have 60 girls already registered for the program with a waiting list, and we haven’t even opened the doors yet! (60 is the max we are taking) We want to get EACH girl partnered with at least one prayer warrior. You can pray from anywhere in the world! The only thing we ask is for you to support and lift up a girl for the time she is in the program with us. We will be doing interviews and taking pictures next week and then we will put together a profile on each girl and send it to their prayer partner in mid-November. In addition to regular email updates on the project, we will also email the prayer partner if anything significant comes up in the life of the girl!

Would you like to partner with one of these girls and support her through this two year program? If so, please send us your:


Email Address

Real Address

Church affiliation (if you have one)

and whether or not you would like to be auto-subscribed to the blog for the centre.

Email all of this to:


my mural!

So there you have it- the information I have been hinting about! We are super swamped getting all the last details up and running, little things like water running, chairs built, blackboards up and curriculum all laid out for at least a month of classes. We sure could use your prayers for stamina and for no snags!

We look forward to partnering with you in this project! Feel free to email me questions or anything!


For all the Niger team,


Monday, October 25, 2010

“Problems” we created

Every program has an effect. Every effort you put out has some type of return, expected or not. Often we try to predict and plan for these effects. We aspire for them to all be positive, but are also aware that we cannot control everything and sometimes our best efforts bring about other issues that we hadn’t considered. As we work longer in development we learn from each project and learn to better predict these changes and needs.

Our school feeding program in Tagentassou, as you read in my previous blog, is a huge success out in this rural village of Niger. We have doubled school population and all these children are being fed and their parents are sending them to school. Yay!

However- there are some new issues now. Before- this was a two room schoolhouse with two teachers and two classes offered. When the program expanded right off the bat for year one they finished the construction (with government support) for the third classroom and got a third teacher hired to help with the influx of students and they taught three classes. All three classes are in primary school. It is sort of like teaching Grade 1, 3 and 5 each year. Well- now there are even MORE students in school. Last year they built a straw school room outside and got a few extra desks. These desks are all FULL, the straw structure is FULL. And yet there are still more kids coming.

They petitioned the government to send out a fourth teacher and much to their joy this teacher has arrived. But where does she teach? The Director showed us where the community was weaving mats and putting together some money to be able to construct another straw structure like you see below. The mats are now beginning to pile up as they plan for another structure.


Do you see this picture below? This is the grade three/four split class. It is overflowing with children, more than 80 of them, all below one straw structure with three to a desk and many more sitting on the ground in the middle of the group. As the sun moves in the sky some of those desks end up in the sun and blazing hot so those kids go join the group in the middle.


The villagers are providing another straw structure and the government has provided another teacher. What they need are books. For the first time EVER this school is going to offer 4 separate grade classes. For this new grade (the equivalent of Grade 4 I believe) they have no books at all. No student books, no teachers guides or anything. This is new for them. They need 4 teachers guides for 4 subjects and 40 copies each (ideally although they are very used to sharing books) for 3 subjects of Math, reading and writing. Total costs for all the books is around $500.

Do you see these books below on one desk? 4 kids share this bench and these are their books. In reality I should say these are their half books. These are normal lined page notebooks that have been cut in half horizontally, so each child has one short booklet to use to write for their classes.


The next concern is where do the children sit? The school needs another 20 or so of these locally made long bench desks, which sit 3 children each. Last year when we built them some they cost $50 per desk. Paul thinks he can build them cheaper with his group of apprentices, but it is time he lacks! Besides, we also do want to support the local economy. Where else in the world can you get a desk for three kids for $50?


Finally a third need we came to realize over the summer was for better hygiene and water facilities. Until recently, all the kids in the school would still wander off into the bush outside the school to go to the toilet. Not only did this take time out of their studies, it is clearly unsanitary. So thankfully we were able to get some hygiene funding as part of our Food Aid grant from Canadian Food Grains Bank and CIDA and we are currently in the process of building a 4 stall latrine for the school. YAY!

20101018-October_2281 20101018-October_2283


We were also able to run some lines from their well through an existing garden pump to bring a water tap right up in front of the school. The kids use this to pull their drinking water and wash their hands, and the women now have close access to water for cooking. A small thing with a big impact!



More children is wonderful, but we still want to try to help them get a quality instruction and of course materials do play at least some part in that education!

If you are interested in partnering with us to help meet some of these needs, please let me know. Funds can be directed to the “Niger- McIver Work Special” for those of you who know how to do that. Please email with any questions at

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Food Aid and Food “Security”


SO I finally have my computer back from the “computer expert”. He said nothing was wrong, he couldn’t see a problem, etc. Yah right. Well at least I can prove to Dell that I tried their “recommended dealer” first and am just praying my computer will hold out. This heat is awful on it.

Anyhow- back to the story.

Last Monday we decided to go and visit our school feeding program. We had our National Director of Compassion and Justice in town for meetings and she also sits on the board of the Canadian Food Grains Bank on our behalf, and they are one of the major funders of this school program. We really felt we needed to get out there and see for ourselves the work, the delivery, school inscription,etc. So off we went!

Now most of you are aware that there is a deteriorating security situation in Niger. Most groups follow this map from the French Embassy to delineate zones for travel. The green zone (teeny tiny on the left) is considered safe and normal. Orange is travel only for “serious need” and with security precautions in place. I can’t go into our protocol here online but suffice it to say we have procedures and rules in place. Red is no go. Well our village is in the orange zone. Not a long ways into the orange zone, but orange none the less. That’s a big part of the reason it is now uncommon for us to go there, rather than every week like the Marineaus used to. We miss the village! (and the Marineaus too!)


One thing I will say is that we required a security escort. We actually even got stopped right on the main road into a town and told by the police that all aid workers in this area now required an escort. We knew this and were planning on getting one, but they never used to stop you and insist before.

So we went and picked up our escort. We expected one or two military guys to get into the vehicle and head out with us. That has been our experience before. However, this time they informed us we needed a minimum of 6 guys and their own vehicle! So off we went with 5 soldiers and a captain and a big blue truck leading the way!


While driving down the road we had a flat tire in Tim’s truck. It was surreal to stop and change the tire as per normal but have the military guys fan out all around us. We felt perfectly safe the entire day. Sometimes I thought- is this for real? Why do we rate an escort like this? Is this how Angelina Jolie feels when SHE does humanitarian work? LOL!

Arrival in the village was awesome. They only heard we were coming an hour before hand (again a security precaution) and we were thrilled to arrive just as the lunch meal was ready and to sit and enjoy the children. Many from the village walked over to greet us as well. The huge grin on Maimouna’s face when I pulled up was priceless to my heart!

This program is designed around food. We provide 2 hot meals per day for the children. The response and results have been wonderful! We have seen school inscription double, school success increase and the inscription of girls more than double!


The kids sit in circles of ten and share a giant platter of food. In the mornings they share two to a bowl of porridge, and there is usually enough left over for a 10:00 am snack.   20101018-October_2228  20101018-October_2236




School just began a few weeks ago and there was 130 students present this day. (Up from 79 one year ago). Many more students are expected to pour in in the next few weeks as the harvest ends and their parents don’t need them in the fields anymore. We are hoping to hit 200! Dare to believe!

We spoke to the teachers and students together and told them how proud we were of their success and how happy we are to partner with them. How excited we were by how they were working together as a village to improve the education of their children.

The students, staff and us three visitors. Can you spot us?





After the noon meal the kids scattered home and to friends house for the afternoon siesta break. We took advantage of this time to visit their fields to get a look at how their crops fared this year and to seek out the chief who was working out of town 5km in his own field.

Reports from the village say that they had a really good harvest this year. Their millet and sorghum crops were good enough that they as a village were all able to pitch in extra bundles of millet to give to people who were either elderly or who had trouble with their crops. They expect to have enough food in their granaries to make it through the dry season! Praise God! Many parts of the country did not fare so well!




Hide and seek in the fields 20101018-October_2305

We also enjoyed our own meal sitting with the teachers and discussing the school and the village. All around the platter, eating with our hands!

20101018-IMG_1001 20101018-IMG_1002

We visited some friends in the village and were really thrilled to hear how well they are doing!





We talked stock and food management with the school staff and were happy to see how well it was being run and how confident and excited they were to manage and run this program since we couldn’t be present very often. Great empowerment!

The supply room stocked with rice, corn,millet, sugar, flour, oil, spices, dried vegetables and many other items – enough for 2 months of feeding!


Then at 3pm we headed back to the school to see the kids in class as they came back for afternoon session. During this period of time we became aware of some unique challenges they are now facing, and I will share those with you in my next blog.

It was great to see the students learning, hear them reciting numbers, reading passages, etc. What a great change to see so many girls too! The school is now almost 50%-50% for their gender split.





Finally it was time to get back to the city before the sun went down. Amidst many handshakes, smiles and shouts of thanks, we left, military escort leading the way once again. And as a special gift for Joanne- passed through herds of camels wandering around on their own!



A wonderful day in the village. I praise God everyday for this awesome group of people and their desire to work hard to improve their lives and it is an honour to partner with them!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sneak Peak

I am posting you a little picture. I will explain more in a few days! These guys were our "escort" for the day.

I will blog about that experience in a few days when my main computer gets back from the "Computer fixer" since the heat and dust is frying it. It is a Dell that is one year old and thankfully I bought the full warranty! And supposedly Dell says they even have a "recommended agent" here in Niger! Be still my beating heart!
After dropping off my computer last Monday, i gotta say- I really don't hold out much hope that this guy knows what he is doing. His "shop" looks like a run down motel 8 room with bigger bugs. His phone calls have simply been along the lines of "I'm not sure what you mean or I don't know what is wrong with it". But that's the way I roll baby, taking risks :P Its either that or put my computer in the freezer everynight. And that humidity couldn't be good for it either....

See you in a few days for the story and more photos!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A week away

This past week our whole team was away at a hotel for meetings. We had a speaker come in from Canada to spend time with us and many things to process. While the week was still very busy, it was a great to be able to have time to learn about growth and direction and to reaffirm our work here.

I have added some pictures from a recent trip our family took out to the dunes. We didn't go there this week, but they represent time away and beauty, which we also got to take advantage of this week.

There are times when getting away is important. I said the week was very busy. The kids still had school too. But we were away from the normal. There were not people knocking on our gate, no employees around, we enjoyed air conditioning, we had a tv to watch the rescue of the Chilean miners on which was fascinating, and we had meals in restaurants in the evening. It was good to be away from normal. One thing I have learned living in Niger is the SELF care is very different from being SELFish. We have to care for ourselves and make sure that happens or we will burn out.

Paul and the kids enjoying sand boarding and crazy carpeting down the sand dunes

We talked about training ourselves. In not just the educational and vocational ways either. We talked about taking our relationships with God more seriously, and ourselves a lot less seriously. I loved the comment
You are as close to God right now as you want to be
He is not the one drawing away. He is not too busy or unwilling. We are as close as we want to be. Like most relationships, it is a product of the time we commit to it. The more time we spend seeking, reading, praying, etc the closer we will grow. Yet it is only us who sets that limit or barriers in our way.

We talked about 4 different things that keep us from growing. In a nutshell they are:

1) Comparing loves. What do we love more than Him? Money, our family, our friends, our Pride, our comfy homes, easy access to amenities, our job, our own self imaage of what we should be? What do we put before Him?

2) Competing failures. Are we chained to our past and failures and constantly telling ourselves we can't do it or will fail again and thus afraid to go and try?

3) Compromising Mission. What pulls us away from our calling?

4) Comparing paths. How often do we compare our journey with that of others? Our fortune or misfortune against others? Our carnal nature makes us want to either have the ease that others are experiencing or for them to have the same difficulty that we deal with. Comparing with others is a slippery slope my friends.

And we also got the chance to talk specifically about our development work with our National Director of Compassion. I will ponder more on it in a later post, but one thing we were all reminded of was that our development work is not to OPEN a door through which to share God's love or his stories. We should never view it as a means to another end or another goal. This work IS His love, it IS His story. All by itself. It is ENOUGH for us to show His love even if we can never vocalize more. Not that we will never try or succeed to share vocally, but that is not our end goal. LOVE is enough.

As the sun rises for another day, I am hoping you all get the chance to take some time for SELF care. Draw nearer to your source of strength, put on His armour, and prepare for battle.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Tuareg wedding – final portraits

One final instalment. A short but sweet of some of my favourite shots of people. Hope you enjoyed the series!

There was this little girl named Fatimatou at the wedding. She was simply stunning and had the most fantastic outfit. She liked to sit next to me while I took some photos and look at the back of the screen where she could see them. Then of course we took a few of her. I love them! One of these is definitely going to end up on my display wall on canvas.



ElWitr has the most stunning, piercing blue eyes. And she refuses to smile for photos but puts on a severe stare everytime. Her little boy has her same eyes, but thankfully likes to smile :)


Arielle and her new friend.  Arielle looks like she has porcelain skin here and you can just see that she is getting freckles!


Famu and Raichatou. These two sisters go everywhere together and even had matching outfits. Both girls are registered for our training program starting in 3 weeks. The dark blue veil they are wearing is called “Allashow” and it is the traditional fabric of the Tuaregs. In all the movies the dark indigo turbans you see the Tuaregs wearing is this fabric. On important days they rub their faces and hands a little bit with this fabric and the dye comes off a bit, leaving them a little blue.


Fatimatou and her older sister Ramatou.


One more of Fatimatou


Bennett and Arielle all dressed up to go out!


Kids at play


And finallyl, back to the beautiful bride! Her wedding day shot and then a few days later at her house looking much more relaxed and happy. I bought her this veil when I was in Dubai last April and she was very pleased with it. Her favourite color! We are pleased to tell you all she is happily set up in her new little cement two room house and seems to be doing well.

Aminata is one of our teacher/translators for our training program, so you will see more about her in the future!


Thanks for sharing this journey of a Tuareg wedding!