Thursday, May 17, 2012

Village Agriculture aid

Last week I went out to a nearby village where my co-worker Kristi is working with a widely dispersed Fulani village. We have helped this village in the past with grain aid and so far have not been overly impressed with their own work to better their lives, but we are not ones to give up too soon! So Kristi and our leadership decided to do some training with agricultural agents and the local farmers on how to improve their crop success using new planting methods and improved seed and fertilizer and then to provide a small input of these items to those who attended all the training days.

When you drive out there you cross a lot of barren, sandy land with rarely a green shrub or wispy tree in sight. We parked at the chief’s hut with a straw shelter built right next to it.

Kongu-2

This is the land that the people have to work with. Hot and full of sand with very little annual rainfall. You can see the dried stalks from a few bits of last year’s millet stalks.

Kongu-4

The farmers came from within a 15 km radius walking, on bicycle, donkey cart, moto or a taxi.

Kongu-9

The delivery truck arrived and offloaded the sacks of improved seed and fertilizer.

Kongu-6

Kongu-5

Here is Kristi working the crowd and directing people and calling names of the list 5 at a time. 5 people would share 40kg of fertilizer.

Kongu-12

5kg bags of improved millet seed and a tiny packet of insecticide were given to each farmer who had taken the training.

Kongu-8

Charles came out for the day too and had a tough job of repacking some of the bags of fertilizer into the right portion size where there were not enough people to easily share a big sack. It was hot, sweaty work in the sun!

Kongu-13

As the items stacked up a donkey cart with children came over a rise on the hill. 6 of the cutest kids were bringing it to carry home the load of seeds and fertilizer for families in their area.

Kongu-14

Kongu-15

 

As always, I am drawn to their sweet faces!

Kongu-16

Kongu-17

Will  you join us in praying that this agricultural teaching will really be well implemented in the fields and that the rains will be favourable this year? With two famine years in the past three harvests, they really need it!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Marriage

One of the saddest things we have come to realize over the past 4 years working with the Tuareg people group is that marriage is seen as a temporary, discardable agreement that carries little value for them.

In the four years since we have arrived, all three of our house guards have divorced their wives and remarried to someone new. In two of the cases it was just a lack of wanting to work through miscommunications, to care for one another, to dispel rumours (the Tuaregs are known for spreading rumours and dissent) and to try to make their marriage work. They discard it like yesterdays newspaper. The other one married a 14 year old, and 4 years and two sons later when she went to visit her parents out in the village she refused to return (keeping the children with her too). For 18 months he tried to get her to come back and she refused, wanting to stay at home with her parents and away from a city and her husband.

Child marriage is a big problem in this culture. A really high percentage of child marriages end in divorce because the girl isn’t physically or emotionally mature enough yet to be a wife and to have those kinds of responsibilities. In my work at the Girls at Risk school we fight this battle often and have many discussions with parents.

This chart shows the percentage of women (currently ages 20-24) who married before the age of 18. You see the darkest blue, that is Niger and it is ranked the worst in the world for child marriages.

marriage_map

When marriages collapse in this culture it is of course always the children who suffer. (Let’s be real- this is likely the case all over the world right!) All three of these marriages had two or more children involved and the children all live with their mother now. Niger law apparently says that the mother will be the primary parent until a child reaches the age of 9, when it is then up for discussion. This doesn’t always occur if the couple remain amicable and split childcare, but if it goes before the courts this is what they uphold. Sadly enough, the women don’t work and then men rarely pay any type of childcare monies, so the children are worse off than before. The ex-wife of one of my guards lives right next to my kids school. One day I saw their oldest daughter, who is 6, running in the street, dodging cars and totally filthy. I took her home. I spoke with her father and he sadly said he couldn’t do anything since his ex-wife threatened to take him to court if he came to the girls, and yet she doesn’t pay any attention to them either. Their young baby looks malnourished and sick.

This is two of the young girls who are now living with their Mom. Leila (on the left- age 4 in this photo) is the one I pulled from traffic.

Ramadan12

Now each of these men have taken new wives and say they are just starting over. How can they forget the children they already had? One hid the fact that he remarried so quick to another young girl (who is at least 18 we are told) and is saying he is trying to hide his poverty from her family so that they won’t make fun of him. What response can we have to such worry and strain? How can you start a marriage built on lies? It is so heartbreaking as we work closely with these three men and desire to see them be godly Fathers and Husbands.

IMG_4849

It is rare in this culture to meet a married couple who have been together a long time. I know of two exceptions to this. One couple is the parents of two of our girls from the school who we hang out with often. This couple, who are in their mid 40s and late 30s respectively, have 8 living children and one who passed away when she was 4. This is not a blended family of previous marriages, all the children are their own, ranging in ages 1-23. It is such a joy to see them talk and help each other out. They still aren’t together as much as we would see in North America since this culture separates the sexes in most areas of life, but you can see the way they care for each other. It gives me hope that some marriages and commitments can still stand the test of time, even in a culture where marriages that last are not seen as a value.

As I have mentioned before, many of the girls in our school also struggle with child marriage. We have lost too many to marriage, some before they were even 16. Each time I have cried and wished there was more I could do.

Will you join us in praying that God will redeem marriage here in Niger, and in North America too!

 

 

The two girls on the outside both left school after the first year when they were married.

20110116-DSC01885

Raichatou- aged 15, getting ready for her first wedding. Since then she has divorced, been engaged again, and then left at the altar. She wants so desperately a fairytale life of love and marriage. Please pray for her.Raichatouwedding79

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Trashy Bags in Ghana

This past 10 days our whole family was in Ghana for meetings and planning and 2 days of vacation thrown in for good measure! Blog coming soon about that. But first, a blog about an inspiring place we visited while we were there!
This place is called “Trashy Bags” and it was started by a gentleman from the UK named Stuart Gold and a Ghanian partner. It is a unique enterprise that collects the hundreds of thousands of discarded water, yogurt and ice cream baggies that plague Africa. You can check them out at www.trashybags.org
IMG_4511
First all the bags are collected. Many women and men have seen value in picking up this trash and recycling it to this factory where they are paid for it. It is cleaning up neighbourhoods! The bags are triple washed and disinfected then dried in the sun. One thing I loved about the factory is that workers could bring their children with them!
IMG_4502
The the sewers begin to piece the products together. This women is sewing together strips 2 at a time.
IMG_4506
Eventually there are sheets of the baggies a certain size depending on what the product is going to be.
IMG_4509
Then a cardboard template is used to cut the piece to size. This was for the outside of a mini-laptop case.
IMG_4505
This man works at cutting out the colorful batik fabric that often makes up the liner of many of their products.
IMG_4504
After this the many sewing ladies (they have 60 employees in total!) work to create unique bags, backpacks, shopping bags, cosmetics bags, laptop cases and much more. So fun!
IMG_4507IMG_4508
As a final step, this young lady sits amid a pile of completed bags. She is quality control and she checks each bag and zipper before she ok’s it to go to market!
IMG_4503
We were given our tour by Elvis. I kid you not, that is his name! He is obviously highly educated and also passionate about what he does. For a good 20 minutes he just stood and told us all about ecological problems, business models, corruption in Africa and many other things. If only we could find people like him in Niger!
IMG_4510
We visited (and shopped in!) their showroom upstairs. Check out some of their products. Arielle got a bright yellow and pink backpack made from old yogurt baggies that she is excited to use next year in Canada!
IMG_4499IMG_4497
IMG_4500
Overall we loved to visit this factory and it was really encouraging to see an African solution and business working so well. They have tapped into markets in the UK and Australia as well. I thought how great it would be to do something like this in Niger, and how it could employ our girls and help clean up the trash here, but I came to the realization that while it could work and be awesome, it is to big for me to handle and start. A great idea and one I would love to support and cheer on a National to start, but not a current part of a Ministry and Impact Plan for us McIvers.
Want to buy a trashy bag for yourself? Well…it just so happens we will have some of their products are our speaking/auction events next year. When I know all the dates and locations I will put out the word so stay tuned!