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!)

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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!

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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!

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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

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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?

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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!

Millet

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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!

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

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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