Tuesday, October 07, 2014

And so it begins…

Today was the first day of school for our new cycle of young ladies at the “Girls at Risk” school program here in Niamey, Niger. If you would like to know more about our school you can check it out at www.nvoc.ca

We were so excited to see each and every girl who had registered show up and ready to start. We have 11 girls on a waiting list and more today showed up to try to register. Sadly we do not have the physical space to be able to hold all the girls who would like to enter, but we are thankful for each one we do have!

Last week we had our community open house where we verified all the registrations, expanded our waiting list and fielded lots of questions from parents. We are so thankful over the years for the support we have gotten from the parents in the community!

Then today we started. All of our new girls came and we spent the morning doing entrance interviews, Math and French placement tests and health statistics like their weight and height (to track their progress with our medical clinic and nutrition program). It took a long time and it was hot and sweaty, but we broke it up with snacks, cold juice and lots of laughter!

I am so excited to meet these young ladies. We will be working this year with 25 new girls between the ages of 11.5 and 18. I am excited to see how much they want to learn and how eager they are and I can just imagine all that God will do in their lives and how they will blossom. We also will work with 10 graduates from our previous program as apprenticeship and leadership training.

We started the morning off in prayer with the Girls. We know it is important they see us as people of prayer who care for them and will pray for them and journey with them. I look forward to every week as we will ask for prayer requests and pray for the issues and people dear to their hearts.

Speaking of prayer, we will soon be sending out prayer partnerships. If you would like to be included in our list of partners and be assigned a young lady to lift up in prayer, please let us know.

And so it begins. A new group of 25 girls and a returning apprentice level of 10 returning grads. Each and every one a gift to us. We are blessed indeed.

4 of our returning graduates, all excited to be back!

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Miriama (returning grad) and her baby Fatima. So excited to see how these young ladies have grown into wonderful mothers with healthy children!

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We have Kerri-Jo Fehr, from Fort St. John, BC (Canada) joining us as an intern this year. Here she is with Raichatou.

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Our youngest students! A new dynamic with some of our staff and returning grads having babies around! On some days there will be 6 babies present!NVOC-2096

Weighing and measuring the girls.

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Amina giving the French placement exams.

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After giving out a quilted thick blanket to each girl as cold season is coming, the girls listen to basic rules and instructions from our sewing staff.

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The new girls class for 2014! Thanks for praying for them!!

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

From birth to a new name

Here in Niger there are very specific events that follow a birth. My last post here talked about the process of birthing here in Niger and some of the unique places and situations that happen.

Exactly one week after the baby is born, there will be the naming ceremony called a bapteme. This is not a baptism like we are familiar with in North America, but more like a naming and presentation ceremony. Until this day, the baby's name is kept a secret from all but the parents and close family members.

Because of my close relationship with the mother and the fact that the father walked away from the marriage, I had the honour to be asked to be part of the naming process for the new baby girl.

I had told Miriama about how in our culture back home you can buy books full of names and their meanings. She asked me to pick some culturally appropriate names with good meanings that she would like for her little girl. Another friends of ours told Miriama that she thought she should name her little girl Sarah, after the story of Sarah in the Bible. When I submitted my list, the local variation of Sarah was also on this short list. Miriama said we both felt this was the right name and she approved, and thus she decided to name her daughter AZAHARA.

The works for the party starts the afternoon before. We went to help out and enjoyed the quiet time of working alongside our friends. We were given a huge platter of garlic flowers to shell. My poor fingers were smelly garlic nubs after that!

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The sheep hung out with us for the evening, not realising his fate to be our main course the next day! I didn't take any pictures of his slaughter, but early the next morning a specialized meat butcher came to their courtyard and slaughtered and cut up the animal to go into the large pots immediately after the prayers were finished.

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The party chairs were delivered. With weddings and baby ceremonies being strong cultural obligations and big parties here, there is a booming business for those who rent cheap plastic chairs and somewhat questionable tarp tent roofs!

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All the early preparation was happening right here in this kitchen. Pots and buckets and fire and platters and food, all tucked into this open air kitchen space. Late into the evening, even when all light was gone and we were using a flashlight we continued to cook. In the dark under the flashlight we had the kids tying up baggies of popcorn to give to women the next morning when they came, after the traditional dates and kola nuts had been handed out to the men. (Check out Arielle enjoying her mortar and pestle role in the background!)

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Bagging popcorn by flashlight

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During this time we also got to enjoy the first real bath for the baby (before this it was just wipes they had used while the umbilical cord dried up). So fun to see Grandma taking the active role and showing her daughter how to bathe the baby. Loved seeing this bonding moment!

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The next day dawned clear and beautiful. Because it was still during the period of Ramadan and most people were fasting, there was very little food present during they day. Only nursing Moms, the elderly, the children and the sick would be eating. So the noon meal was very light with few people. The large crowds were expected at sunset. But even the lack of food did not dampen the festive atmosphere around the large cooking area!

There is a prickly tree in their courtyard that has a large shade footprint and is nice for sitting under. Its thorns also steal my veil off my head quite often. All the community women come and chop up food, stir and gather around huge pots of rice and meat and sauce. They stir and sweat and LAUGH laugh laugh! There is so much conversation in several different languages that it is hard to follow, but I also enjoy sitting and watching this distinct cultural experience.

blog-5As the afternoon wore on and the food smells became tantalizing, more and more people showed up. Those cheap plastic colourful chairs became full of people. The local young men pulled out their guitars and started to play. Thankfully guitar music is highly appreciated by Tuaregs and thus these young men actually had some great music for us to enjoy!

And of course the young children played. I barely saw Bennett all day as he played soccer all day long with the other boys. He was sweaty, dirty and completely happy! Arielle was thrilled to sit with the women and cook and she liked to have her chance to use the heavy wooden stick in the mortar and pestle.

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The view of Bennett while sitting in the hut with Mom and baby at one point.

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And then finally it was time to eat. As dusk drew near and the sun hovered on the horizon they got the food ready to be eaten right after the evening prayers when they break their fast. I don't have pictures of the meal itself because we ate it in the dark Smile And in true McIver fashion, Bennett was running in the dark after the soccer ball and ran smack into a lady carrying a platter of hot meat and veggie sauce. It ended up all over him.

Cutting up chunks of bread baguettes to be dipped in to the meat and sauce.

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The star of the show- baby Azahara. I see her every week and cannot believe how she is growing and chubby and healthy and happy. I am so thankful she has a wonderful Mom and community around her. We had the opportunity to pray over her and invoke Gods protection and calling on her life. May the Lord be gracious to her and an ever present source of comfort and joy to her.

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Friday, August 01, 2014

Giving birth in Niger– risky business!

*note- all pictures were just taken with my camera phone as I did not want to bring my big camera into this setting, so sorry for the low resolution!

My dear Tuareg friend Miriama was pregnant. I remember when I came back from home assignment this past December that she was newly pregnant and processing all the changes that would mean in her life. As this precious baby grew inside of her we had many long talks about being a Mom, what birth was like, cultural practices for Tuaregs about babies, who gets to name them etc. It was my first time being really close to the expecting mamma so I could ask all my questions about how things went here in a Niger cultural setting and she could ask all of her questions to me.

Just before we went away for 2 weeks vacation this end of June we talked about when she would give birth in mid-August. She really wanted me to be able to come into the clinic with her and deliver with her. I told her about birthing classes that we can take in North America and she asked if when I came back from vacation I could prepare and teach her birthing classes. I was a little intimidated by the idea but know it is a real need here! Young women have no idea what childbirth is about. No one talks about it and they are scared and misinformed and nervous. They WANT to know about it, but either won’t ask culturally or else have on where to ask. So her strange and outspoken but bestie Canadian friend was the perfect person right?

I came back from vacation late at night on Tuesday July 15th. On Thursday the 17th at noon I got a frantic call from Miriama’s sister that she had been tested at the clinic and shown to have severe pre-eclampsia and they were headed to the central city maternity hospital for an emergency c-section. Wow! That definitely took all my plans for the next week and threw them right out the window! The idea of a 35-36 week preemie in Niger was terrifying, a country where even full term babies fight incredible odds to survive. There are some simple facilities and baby incubators for preemies, but no where near the range of options we are familiar with elsewhere in the World.

I called Paul home to take over the kids and as soon as he walked in the door I rushed out to the hospital. When I got there they had Miriama in an emergency triage room, along with about 30 other women. This small space only had a dozen beds so they women were all lined up sitting on the floor as well. And there were no doctors. The few nurses took care of any absolute necessities but kept waiting for the doctors to come. I sat with her sister just outside the emergency room (we were not allowed in- armed military at the doors) and we waited. And waited. At one point Miriama came out to pass on a message to another Tuareg family waiting and when she returned to the waiting room, someone had stolen the $1 plastic sheet she had had to buy for her “clean delivery” kit. Unbelievable. Her sister told me that since it was Ramadan and everyone was fasting all day it was not uncommon for people (doctors) to not come to work until after they had broken their fast at dusk and eaten. I can’t say for sure if this was the reason, but sure enough, after dusk and eating time, the doctors filtered in. They decided to giver her some medication to try to reverse or stabilize the pre-eclampsia overnight. So she was hooked up to an iv overnight, while sitting on the floor on a plastic sheet. I went home around 8pm and her sister and another friend set up their plastic mats and a few blankets outside on the courtyard under the trees to stay the night and watch over Miriama if anything was needed. Here, if you need a new medicine, they call out to your waiting family member and give them a piece of paper with the medicine name written on it. You go to the pharmacy yourself and buy this medicine and then return with it to the ward where they will administer it. So you dare not be left without a support person standing by.

The next day just after noon I arrived back at the maternity ward to spell off her sister so she could go home and shower and rest and change while I was on call as Miriama’s support person.

I sat outside under the trees in the courtyard with a group of other Tuareg women who were there visiting other people. 2 other women from the Tuareg community were also in this same hospital at the time. It was actually a good time of visiting, practicing language, asking questions, watching culture and just being with them. But the place we were sitting did not feel like any other waiting room I had ever been in.

There were dozens of little groups of women scattered around a treed courtyard, with their bright plastic mats set up on the dirt and their little pails of food, water, clothing, etc beside them. The mosquitos circled overheard and at least 4-5 different languages could be heard. Because the majority of them were fasting you heard the constant noise of spitting as they would not even swallow their saliva and many were lethargic and lounging and waiting for news, or pharmacy calls, for their loved ones. If you don’t get your name called to come and get information, don’t even bother trying to get it yourself. Not only are there armed military guards at the door who are quite serious about their job of keeping you out, the nurses were quite abrupt and kept telling me I just had to wait for the doctor and they didn’t know anything. I know medical care is very different in this culture and I found it hard to accept that the family was not involved in their care and there was no information available.

Sitting with the groups of women in the “waiting courtyard”

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The second day Ella came with me as I am still a nursing Mama and can’t be away for that long! All the ladies loved her and she went from person to person and smiled and cooed at them all.

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While I was waiting and chatting, Miriama’s name was called (thus actually calling her support person- me). I went and saw Miriama and she said the medicine did not work and they were going to go do a c-section. Right now. And here was the list of stuff I needed to go buy from the pharmacy! So I ran and bought the items, gave them to Miriama along with her “clean delivery items” and walked with her to the operating room. At the door I asked the attendant if I could come in with her. I hoped, but knew it likely would not be allowed. Sure enough, No. ( Another teammate was also there who would have taken Ella for a while so I had hoped to go in). I held her hand, with fear in my heart that something could go wrong and quickly prayed with her. She looked scared but also resigned. She walked in and I had to go sit back down with the ladies. They called me a few other times over the next few hours. Once to take a bag with all her clothes in it. Another time to bring the yards of clean cloth we had ready for her. Another time to go buy a clean razor to cut the cord and then one more time to bring a diaper and first outfit for the baby. By this time Miriama’s sister and other friend were also there and we sat anxiously awaiting the news. Finally the one nurse told us it was over, it was a GIRL and that despite being a preemie, she weighed 2.45 kilos and had good lung function! (Okay she didn’t actually offer all that information but I sure asked!) Praise God!! She did not even need to be put into an incubator! We were so relieved after hours of not knowing what was happening, being told they were “working on” the baby and feeling helpless.

We waited more hours to see how things went. As dusk came and the official “fasting day” was over, I saw all the women in the courtyard prepare. About 30 minutes before they could eat or drink the tea pots and charcoal cookers came out. The pungent smell of burning charcoal and bitter tea filled the air. Many women mixed a sweet drink made of yogurt, sugar and millet flour to be drunk right when they broke the fast. When the time came, you could hear the mosques around the city calling it out on the loud speakers. Women around me raised their hands to praise Allah and then they picked up their drinks and drank deeply and enjoyed liquids for a while. Then they went and did their ritual washings and would lay down mats right wherever they found an empty spot and do their prayers. Then they came back to their mats and meals were pulled out of buckets and everyone ate together. This evening a couple of my previous NVOC student girls happened to be there as well visiting family members and it was a sweet time to visit with them and their families under the trees and dim bulbs with the aroma of all kinds of food being cooked all around us. As dusk fell the women who were staying the night pulled out mosquito nets and hung them from trees and rods or walls and put blankets out on their mats and settled in.

We did not see the baby that day. I left to go home in the evening. I saw Miriama only through the window of the recovery room where she told me she was okay and that she knew it was a girl. She did not see her own baby that day either.

The next day we returned bright and early to the Maternity. This time Arielle and Ella both came with me, as well as a couple of teammates. I was told by her sister that Miriama had seen the baby but she was not with her yet. No one else was allowed to see the baby until the baby was with the Mother. There were more armed military at the doors to the “Neonatal” wing. This is likely in response to the recent arrests over baby stealing and baby selling that had been happening in the country and NO ONE was getting through those doors. We had more hours of sitting outside with the Tuareg families and visiting their loved ones as well.

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We were told in the afternoon that she was ready to be moved to her own room, and that they would then bring the baby to her. Of course 20 minutes turned into 2 hours. We got Miriama her own room. It was $40 for a private room for the entire 4 or so days they expected her to be there. With a half functioning air conditioner, no meals and no medication included in the price. Still- quite the deal I snapped up!!

While waiting for Miriama to arrive, we sat on a mat in her room and waited for her. Apparently very culturally appropriate although I am not sure I would want a waiting party if it had been me to just have a c-section and not even be reunited with my baby yet!!

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Miriama was finally wheeled in and we rejoiced with her, but were also told it would be several more hours until they would bring the baby as they were still “working on her”. I hate those words. Miriama said she had seen the baby in the night and that so far in the 24 hours or so she had been able to nurse and see her twice. Heartbreaking. The time came and I had to go home, still not seeing the baby!

Of course I returned the next day again and this time our precious little girl was finally there with her Mom. They had brought her in late the night before and of she course kept Miriama and her sister and friend up all night, but i am thankful in this culture you are never alone and always have a support person or two with you. Miriama’s mother came while I was there and met her first grandchild for the first time. Precious moments.

Miriama’s mother (second from right) meeting her Granddaughter

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This precious little girl, who was 4 weeks preemie, looked so healthy, with only minor jaundice, that I praised God for His protection of this little family I love. How beautiful she was!

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Momma and her baby

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Ella doing a “safety check” on the new mosquito dome bed for the baby

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We visited again the next few days and were encouraged to see the baby doing so well and that nursing had started. We talked about names for the little girl. The name is not announced publically until the baby “bapteme” (akin to a dedication ceremony and party) a week after the birth. Stayed tuned for another blog about the dedication party and baby name!

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All of a sudden my own baby girl, who is lightweight at only 3rd percentile for her age, looks like a giant compared to this new baby!!

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We are so thankful that Miriama and her baby girl made it through this surprise early birth and c-section so well. Hallelujah! I am also feeling so blessed to be called on in this time to be her support person, to be present and go through all of this by her side. Blessed indeed. Thanks for your continued prayers for Miriama and her baby!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Men’s apprentice training program update

During the past few months we have been working hard to get our Men’s apprentice training program off the ground. Recently we cleared two major hurdles. We finally got our container out of customs. This container was packed with items for both our Men’s and Women’s second chance schools, and we are thrilled we finally got through all the paperwork and hassle to have it released. Phew!

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We are very happy to have the men's program truck out of the container and it is getting ready to be insured and to clear customs shortly.
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The second hurdle was finding a piece of land. This is tricky. We are not allowed to buy land here in Niger. There are also not a lot of empty lots in areas with good electricity (a must for a welding shop) that people want to rent out. After many months of looking we struck an agreement with our friends at the Baptist Mission to rent a piece of their property. They have a huge piece of land that already has good electricity and a good water supply and there were several large open, unused spaces. We are so thankful they are willing to partner with us in this way as we look to train and disciple young men from the community.


Beginning to level the land and build the access road into the area.
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So now Paul is going full steam ahead trying to get the shop all set up. First up he needs to bring in fill and level the land. To help with this him and Sidimou (our day guard/welding apprentice) are building a bulldozer blade for the front of the new men's program truck! This will save us lots of money hiring local dozers to sit around for when we need them.

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After the land is level and prepped we will bring in our shipping containers, unload the tools and work stations and pull up a heavy tarp roof over the work space. There is lots to do and we are thankful for your prayers as we work to get this all done! We are also thankful for another young man who is a welder who is a new expat to Niger who is helping us out two days a week to weld. He is currently working on rebuilding the 30 foot long trailer that was cut into pieces and put into the container. This trailer will be used to haul our shipping containers into place to be used as shop buildings.

We will keep you up to date. Thanks for checking in with what Paul is up to!

Thursday, May 08, 2014

An Op-ed piece on the kidnappings in Nigeria


If you are online at all these days, or watch the News, you are undoubtedly aware that over 250 young women have been kidnapped and are being held my terrorists in Northern Nigeria.

I find I am both encouraged and discouraged at the same time by seeing the variety of responses on the internet and Facebook after this took place. I am very encouraged to see their plight receiving so much attention, people personally praying for them, and people hearing of the plight of many here in North/West Africa.

Personally, I find it a bit aggravating that some people are saying it is getting very little attention when in fact it is on the front pages of most news organizations, constantly on the radio for here and BBC, it has trending hashtags and twitter and is in the papers. Even before I started seeing people complaining it wasn’t in the news, I was in fact reading about it in the news. Just because it is not on the nightly news of their city does not mean it is not international news if you are normally attune to what is going on in the World. So let’s not be too quick to judge news organizations too quickly is all I am saying. If you are someone who usually reads or has an interest in things around the World, it has been in the news there from shortly after it happened. That’s all I am saying. Ok, got that off my chest Smile

As I said, I am thrilled that the plight of these young women is getting international attention. I am all about fighting for the rights, lives, education and freedom of young women in Africa. It’s even what I do for a living. (You can see our school in Niger for young women at www.nvoc.ca) But I am wondering why it took this specific act to wake up the rest of the World to what is going on? I wonder why these young ladies were targeted specifically and why has it pulled such heart strings of the rest of the world that all the previous terror events didn’t? I like how one writer put it-
“In a part of Nigeria where 72% of the population never attends elementary school, they were in high school. In a country where a war is being waged to oppress women from getting an education, they had left their homes and families to pursue one, living in a boarding home because for many, there was not a good school in their local village. In the small farming town of Chibok, hundreds of girls were doing the hard work of pursuing dreams that were not easy given their circumstances. “
Educating girls has been proven to be the highest return investment for solving poverty. If you look at the research you can see it has been shown that an extra year of primary school boosts a girl’s income by ten to twenty percent. An extra year of secondary school boosts a girl’s income by fifteen to twenty-five percent. When a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children. Children born to educated mothers are twice as likely to survive past age five. Educated girls are more likely to change the world. All the stats show that educating a young woman truly does make a world of difference. I have seen the effects personally and I am passionate about these efforts.

I think it is great that #BringbackourGirls is trending on twitter and there are rallies and a whole bunch of support being thrown towards this issue. Apparently other countries are offering to intervene and help like Britain and France among others. But it is also not a new issue. Here in Nigeria and Niger, Boko Haram (the terrorist group) has been an issue for years. Since 2009 it has waged war in this part of the World. They have been planting bombs, blowing up and burning down schools, and massacring villages and villagers. They target schools, forward thinking individuals and families, and Christians. They have killed thousands of people in the last few years. In fact, the kidnapping occurred the same day as an explosion which killed 75 people on the outskirts of the capital Abuja. Monday May 5th the same group attacked another city, Gamboru Ngala , “The attackers stormed the communities in the night when residents were still sleeping, setting ablaze houses and shooting residents who tried to escape from the fire.’”. Hundreds of people died.

Have most people heard of Boko Haram before the kidnapping I wonder? They have killed 2300 people since 2010. This February alone they killed over 300 people, with 59 of them being school boys from a single attack and burning down a school. They cross the border into Niger and replenish their supplies and recruit uneducated young men to join their groups, paying these young men who want money even if they don’t buy in to the ideology of Boko Haram. They also pay for information about the security movements on border officials and anti-terrorist agents and have easily evaded lukewarm efforts to really crack down on them.

I follow a lot of organizations that work on women’s issues in developing countries. Organizations like “Girl Rising”, “Girl Up” and “Smart Girls” are raising awareness about this horrific kidnapping but thankfully they are also shedding light on the deeper issues. This isn’t a unique case (only unique in numbers). It has been happening for a while. It is going to keep happening. Until the root causes are addressed, it is just a matter of time. Culturally young women are not seen as having value. They are not educated or protected. Forty per cent of Nigerian children aged 6-11 do not attend any primary school with the Northern region recording the lowest school attendance rate in the country, particularly for girls. Northern regions report up to 79% of girls not attending school. In Nigeria, the overall national percentage is 39% of girls are married off before their 18th birthday. But the prevalence of child marriage varies widely from one region to another, with figures as high as 76% in the North West region. I spend a lot of time researching child marriage and know this is a tricky issue with roots that reach deep into values, religion, and history and into their poverty and circumstances.
The trafficking of children for the purpose of domestic service, prostitution and other forms of exploitative labour is a widespread phenomenon in Nigeria. Violence, coercion and deception are used to take victims away from their families. Regretfully, Nigeria is a source, transit and destination country for trafficked women and children. Prostitution, domestic and exploitative labour continues to fuel this modern from of slavery.

One reporter apparently was trying to get some answers from major networks about why this was not getting more airtime in their opinion. The anchor said the people didn’t want to see it because it was not intense,flashy or exciting enough, and also that they could not get reporters and photos from the region, making it difficult to report in an age where people expect images and video. Then the writer makes this comment-
“That may be true, but many (that writer included) fear there is a more troubling reason for the lack of coverage: these are African girls. I feel certain that a group of American or European girls, sleeping at a boarding school and stolen by armed men in the middle of the night, would absolutely be the top story all over the World. But African girls are Other. The distance, the difference, the ongoing challenge on the continent  . . . have these things made us discount their humanity? Do we discount terrorism and death in Africa as just part of their “normal”? Are we failing to identify with these parents because of racial or cultural differences? I hope that isn’t true. I fear that it is.”
CNN had a few good points as to why these events should matter to the World.
Just imagine if 276 girls had been kidnapped in the United States. The response would be mass outrage and a forceful demand for a response. As borders become more irrelevant for terrorists, the whole world needs to take notice of the likes of Boko Haram. Nigerian militant activity has already spilled over to neighbours such as Niger and Cameroon, whose government has warned that clerics have been recruiting members in mosques in the country, said Orji Uzor Kalu, a former governor of Nigeria's Abia State.
"In this era of accelerating globalization, it appears Boko Haram hopes to align itself with extremist forces in Niger, Mali and potentially in the Middle East, which raises the specter of coordination on the stockpiling of munitions, intelligence gathering and future assaults," Kalu said.
Girls matter. Everywhere. Child slavery, forced early marriage, burning schools, blowing up bus stations and burning down schools. It ALL matters. It took this kidnapping to bring it to the attention of many around the World, but I pray that even after the resolution of the situation with these kidnapped young ladies, that the World will not just quickly forget about the whole thing. The war is far from being won, and it will continue to happen over and over again unless we address the bigger picture. Let’s not lose this new found interest just as quickly as it came.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Death and funerals

In the last couple weeks we have talked about death at our house. We had a favourite street seller in town named Adan. He was confined to a wheelchair but he hung out on the street where he sold local postcards and made children's toys and crib mobiles out of twisted round wire to make it look like animals, trucks, etc. He was always happy and grinning from ear to ear. When we returned from home assignment in Canada this Fall we found out he had died. Details are sketchy but the story goes something like he fell over in his wheelchair and laid in a ditch for a few days before someone saw him but he was already dead, or at least almost dead but died in the hospital with very poor care, depends which version you listen to.  A very sad way to die.



Bennett wondered why he could not have gone to a good hospital, which led to a long discussion about healthcare and insurance and death among the poor. We also drive by funeral processions regularly and the kids were also asking questions. Death is so much a regular part of life here that it does not receive the same attention and scale of grief we see in North America. It is quieter. It is expected. They say it is “God’s Will" (Insh’Allah) and are resigned to it. They watch it happen and many of them feel they have very little they can do about it. The roads are dangerous, disease and sickness take awful tolls.
Niger has horrific mortality rates. They are among the worst in the world for Infant Mortality rates and Child aged 1-5 mortality rates. Their adult life expectancy is only 58 years , compared to 81 years for Canadian adults. We live close to the large Muslim cemetery and everyday if you drive by at the right time you will see convoys of people and vehicles heading to the cemetery.
In our community of the poor urban Tuaregs, they have a problem getting vehicles to carry the body and mourners to the cemetery. Our team has an older pickup truck and Paul and Tim have in the past become the drivers to help care for the community in this way. The men all go to the burial and the women all stay at home. Women do not go to the cemetery. So I had no idea really what happened there. My friend Scott Guptill attended a funeral out East in the country a few years ago and took these photos below, which explains what happens at burials here.
A little bit of cultural insight into death ritual in Niger. Photos all courtesy of Scott Guptill. Other info/insights courtesy of Paul.
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First the body is washed by friends and family. Other friends go to the cemetery and dig the burial hole themselves. It is wrapped in white cloth, then wrapped blankets (sometimes) and then in new woven mats. It is laid in a truck, surrounded by as many people who can cram into the truck bed with it, and driven to the cemetery, followed by their friends in other vehicles or motos. Only men. You pull over to the side when you see the “body truck” coming. The body is then carried by friends into the cemetery. In most cases, this happens all on the same day the person died.
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The body is taken out of the woven mats and laid into a narrow hole. They are laid in there on their side with their faces pointing towards Mecca. It is the covered with sticks as shown. I believe this is partially to keep animals from getting easy access.
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The woven mats are laid over top of the sticks
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Straw is then laid out over top of the woven mats.
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All the men around will then help to fill in the hole with sand, making sure to well saturate the straw with sand as well.
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After the burial is complete there are certain sets of Muslim prayers that are said. You can see the big crowds of men who attend the whole process.
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After the prayers the men all file out and visit with each other. An important opportunity to reconnect and see many contacts in the community. A small group will stay and wet down the sand (to help it settle) and but up branches over top sometimes to also help keep animals out of the grave. This is most common if they are not buried in a wall enclosed courtyard.
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In this culture, death is one of the important community occasions that people feel obligated to attend. Not attending a funeral without a really good reason is seen as very disrespectful to the community and family. Even if you were not in town, you will make sure to visit the families and pay your respects to anyone who died in your absence.
After the funeral, most of the family and close friends will go back to the family home of the deceased where the women have been waiting. They will have sacrificed an animal (goat or sheep usually) and will have prepared a big meal to feed everyone. They will go into debt and take loans to make sure this happens. People will come and go all day long. One thing you will very rarely see is tears. I have sat with the women when a child had died and outwardly I was more upset than the mother, although I am sure her heart was broken on the inside and I have no doubt it signalled dark days in their lives. I struggle to remain “calm and collected” sometimes when my own heart is broken for them. Outward signs of grief and tears and wailing are mostly discouraged in this culture.
Death is seen as so inevitable and to the outsider it seems almost like they don’t care. But I know that is not true. Many of the things they do in their religion is to try to make themselves “good enough” or the follow the rules enough, to gain entrance into their idea of heaven.
Please continue to pray for these people. God meets us all in times of grief and as we evaluate our own mortality. May He speak to their hearts and make His path clear to them.