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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