Friday, April 06, 2012

Works of art- projects in progress!

Lately, a large group of people have all been working together in different ways to create numerous, beautiful projects to support our Girls at Risk school.

Chantelle is going on her one year home assignment next year and her role will be switching to a year of speaking engagements and advocacy for what we are going here in Niger. God has provided four awesome ladies to keep loving the girls and teaching and running the school and we are so thankful for this!! Her and Kristi (who is also going on home assignment and who works with women in the villages here) are planning several large multi-church events where we look at not only the plight of women in developing nations, but women’s issues at home and a variety of ways to address the plight of women around the World.

Some of our large events are going to have super awesome silent auction and meal/desert nights! There will be MANY things from Niger, lots even made by the girls themselves!

Here is Amina hard at work at a crocheted scarf. Girls who are finished all their required crochet projects for the class curriculum are now busy making fun striped scarves in tons of colors for us!


We will also be auctioning of their baby knit sets. All hand made with love!


The Girls have also sewn up a lot of clothes for little girls


And the hard work has not stopped with the girls! There is an awesome group of women here in Niger who are really supportive of our school as well. They have donated their time to putting together some pretty awesome, african fabric based pillow cases and placemat and napkin sets for us too! We are also working on wall hangings and a few other surprises!


Kristi hard at work on her new machine sewing row after row of funky african fabric strips!


A workbee day saw a bunch of women show up to bless us with their sewing skills. Many hands make fast work!



Check out these decorative pillow cases!


And let’s not forget our girls beading group. We are trying to have as large a stock of their beaded bracelets and necklaces as possible to take home with us. I might fill one whole suitcase at this rate!




The girls bead all the strands together for the necklaces and Kerrianne helps them put the final touches on them to make sure the clasps are secure and classy.



All this to say there is a lot of work going on, by a lot of dedicate young ladies and women. We are so thankful!

If you know of anyone who would be willing to donate their time to do the final quilting step (back home in Canada and we would provide the front art and back piece) we would appreciate it! We are hoping to have 6-8 wall hangings that are roughly 2 feet by 3 feet and 2-3 twin size quilts. If you are interested, please email us at

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Up in flames

This is my friend Fatima. She has a small wooden table and stall in the local market of Yantala nearby. I go there almost every week, and when I am in need of veggies, I go to her table first. While her French is limited and my Zarma is almost non-existent, we have the funnest, smiley-est, high energy conversations. There is wild gesturing, hand shaking and even hugging. She is pure joy. I love how she works hard everyday in the market to support her kids. She is putting them through school on the strength of this little wooden table of veggies. I love the stories of strong women like Fati.Fati can’t get enough of hugging my kids Smile

This is the little storefront where I usually buy my flour and sugar in small 1 kg bags.

This is one of the aisles out front that I walk down almost every week. You can buy almost anything you need in this big market that is locally available. I buy my fabric here too. Kristi has her tailor here.


In the inside of the big market cement building it is jam packed with stalls. Here is my friend Fatima from the Girls School buying meat from a butcher. You can see all the other little shacks in the background. They have thin tin walls and roofs and wood supports and shelves and they are crammed, mostly with food items.


One more picture of Fati from a few months ago when I was there with Fatima. (So complicated when thousands of people share the same name!)



This is Fati’s stall today. There was a massive fire at the market a few days ago and everything she had is gone. Her table and awning and her little stock of veggies is gone. Her customers are gone with no more market to draw them.


This looks across an open area towards the market (her stall was just next to the opening on the left). This used to be jam packed with little huts and stores and selling everything you could imagine. Cloth sellers, cookware, soap, food, spoons, plastic mats, buckets, yarn, etc. Now all that is left is piles of the tin stacked up. The rest of their structures and all the contents are gone.


The inside of the market place. This is the same building from the meat butcher picture above. Devastating.


I wandered around a little bit carefully with a seller showing me what was destroyed. I have been to this market so often I could trace out what seller used to be where. I know who is gone, and who by God’s grace is still standing. Three or four rows of the market were spared and the outer ring shops, but 2/3 of the market is burnt to the ground.


This is our friend Mohammed who has a big shop (well big by Niger standards) along the road. Thankfully his main shop escaped the fire. But in the middle of the market he had two side by side stalls where he stored a lot of his grain and oil. It was tin walls and wood. Those two squares you can see on the ground in front of him are where his shop stood. It is all gone.


And you know what makes it even worse, so much was lost to looting. The fire broke out under suspicious circumstances at 2 in the morning and looters were all over the place. You see the blue door in the background left that is bent? The fire jumped past this building, but looters pried open the door and smashed the bricks to get in.

Our friend here was working with another friend at 2am to try to move some of their stock of rice and oil across the street so the fire wouldn’t reach it, and as they moved the sacks over, looters came and took some of it. Now Mohammed is not as poor off as my friend Fatima and her veggie stand, but he took a major hit with huge amounts of stock lost in the fire interior storage room , and a lot more taken by looters. Apparently looters broke into stores all over the place and it was chaotic and almost everyone lost from the looters. I walked by a shop this afternoon that normally sold all kinds of perfumes and sprays and such items. His walls were 3/4 empty and yet he had not been burned. He sadly said looters had broken in and taken most of it.

It makes me so angry! A fire I can understand, but  taking advantage of the situation to steal from other poor people who are working hard to make a living? I spoke with the police and they told me their working theory was that the fire was intentionally set by thieves to create chaos and mass stealing opportunity. Is this what it has come to? I know the refugee crunch from Mali and Libya is putting a lot of pressure on people. There is also a famine in Niger. According to the Police, this is just the type of explosive situations that desperate people create.

Will you pray with us for people like Fatima who lost everything they had, who were barely eeking out an existence even before this? Pray this would be a time we could be like Jesus with skin on to them. Help us to know the best way to comfort and support them.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Ghana Part 1–the training trip

A few weeks ago I jetted off to Ghana (well I say jetted but really the airplane was as small as my couch) with Cecilia and Kristi. Kristi was going for a few meetings and then vacation, but Cecilia and I were going back to school! Thanks to the Carsey Institute and a MasterCard Foundation scholarship, we were taking part in an intensive one week course on a new way of savings groups that is catching fire and working phenomenally with the poor.

We flew to Ghana courtesy of our friends at SIM AIR Niger. The plane was very small and I have to admit it made me nervous. I have furniture larger than the inside of this plane!


Cecilia and I sat in the back and Kristi up front with the pilot. The flight took 3.5 hours and parts of it were pretty rough and we were all looking and feeling a little green. I was so happy to touch down in Accra!


Since we arrived on a Saturday and school wasn’t until Monday, we had a day to explore and shop! One of the big things I wanted to do in Accra was check out TK Beads. You can check them out at: TK Beads .

This very unique business hand makes beads using mostly recycled materials. We use these beads as the centre pieces for the 8 strand bracelets that the girls in our Girls at Risk school in Niger make, but they are pricey to get here in Niger, so I wanted to go straight to the source!

We got a tour of the facility from the owner/founder herself! As we walked through Cecilia and I were both thinking how successful something like this could be in Niger, but also how much work to set up!

They collect and buy all this recycled glass. it is broken bottle, broken window panes, beer bottles and whatever they can get their hands on. Kudos for their recycling!


Then there are some very strong young men who use metal plates welded to a pole who bang and bang on the glass until it is ground into powder! Crazy! Check out the powder in this photo- it is glass!


Then they add dye and pour it into these little moulds, with a thin stick in the middle that will form the centre hole. This is cooked 45 minutes in a natural clay oven at super hot temperatures.


When the beads come out they are cooled and then each one is hand painted with beautiful designs. Then they go back into the fire to harden on the designs.


And all this works turns out hundreds of designs and colors which are sold bulk and also as pre-made jewellery. Cecilia and I had a blast and bought around 15 pounds of beads to bring back to the beading group. Who were THRILLED!



I found a little YouTube video on TK beads too- so those of you in North America with good internet should totally check it out:

YouTube video about TK Beads

So after this and a little bit more shopping, it was time for Cecilia and I to head to the University campus where we would be in class all week. It was really intensive and we were in class from 830am to 530pm with barely a bathroom break! Our brains hurt at the end of the day!

Most of the week, our time looked like THIS


Our class had 14 different countries represented, 11 of which were from Africa! It was such a fun group of people to work with. As an added bonus, the Alliance Compassion Director from Canada (and good friend!) Joanne also flew out from Canada to take the course with us. We value any face time we can get with this fantastic lady!

One of the days, we took our classroom to the road and went 1.5 hours away to a village location to see these savings groups in action! Ghana is so beautiful and lush compared to Niger that I really enjoyed driving through the countryside.

Want something deluxy?


We arrived in the village just while their two local groups were starting. These groups have a maximum of 30 people taking part, a large part of which are women, who meet weekly to save their money. There is NO money that is infused from outside sources. The participants run the group and save weekly within a set program. They can also borrow against the community pot and repay their loans within 3 months maximum at 10% interest rate, which also goes into the common pot. It is leveraging their own money to give them access to loans to start small businesses, pay for school fees, invest in agriculture improvements, etc.


And it works! These groups are popping up all over Africa. And the return is on average 20-30% growth of their savings, plus the security of having access to loans (something that is hard for the poor) to be able to smooth over consumption flows and family needs.

The poor have money to save, even if it is only a little bit each week, but they traditionally have no way to save it, so it just gets eaten up every day. Which leaves them in the lurch when they need to pay for something that costs a little more money. Enter Village Savings and Loans groups!


These groups really support each other. They dance, clap and celebrate success and loan repayments. By the way, loan repayment percentages run into the high 95+% of all loans taken. According to the group, it is very rare that a loan is not repayed!


The participants bring their money (this banknote below is the equivalent of $6.18 and is her savings for that week) and their “passbook” which marks their total savings.


It was amazing to hear their success stories. This group, with their loans and interest, managed to save thousands of dollars last year! And this year they are 2/3 through the cycle and they have already surpassed that total! At the end of the year, they divide up the pot and each person receives back money equal to the number of “savings shares” that they purchased over the year. And to give you an example of how it works, if they buy “one share” at $1 each, with interest and loans, that $1 turns into $1.20 at the end of the year for each share! So if they can buy a  maximum of 5 shares a week ($5) over 30 weeks, their $150 saved can turn into $180 repayment at the end of the year, coupled with their capacity to borrow and pay schooling, emergencies, etc!


This lady took a loan from the group fund and started this small shop just  on the side of the road. She sells shoes (on the door) and bread and basic food items. She is the only store like this in the village and she says she has made good money and can send her kids to school now, without taking a loan for it! It has changed her life!


It was pretty great to see the theory in action and hear first hand how this group is transforming the prosperity of the village. Cecilia and I are taking this knowledge and exploring it for us in our women’s groups here in Niamey.

And of course the people. Here are a few snapshots of some beautiful faces and places we saw!




For more photos you can check out my Facebook album on Ghana at: Ghana Photo album

Well that’s the end of the road for now! Stay tuned for Part 2 in my Ghana series when I return there at the end of April, with Paul and the kids too, for a week of meetings and work followed by 3 days vacation!