Most days are the same for women in rural Niger. The work appears never-ending.
Santou’s life is no different.
She wakes up and prays.
Sweeps the house and courtyard.
Washes the children and their clothes.
Makes millet porridge for them, including Zouberou, 8.
Fetches water and tends the garden.
Pounds more millet.
Makes more porridge.
Fetches more water.
The idea of rest puts a smile on her face, but those stolen moments of calm are rare.
“If you aren’t suffering, you will see that you are happy. Like if you don’t have anything to pound and you can come sit down, or if you have already prepared the porridge and you can come sit down,” Santou explains.
Her taxing daily routine highlights the challenges of life in the Sahel, a semi-arid region that stretches below the Sahara Desert.
Like Santou, most people here depend on subsistence farming, mainly growing the staple grain millet. But increasingly frequent droughts are drying up the land, making every day a struggle to meet the most basic needs.
Even more than rest, Santou dreams of food.
“Health is the only thing that you are praying for God to bring you. I want to know there will be enough food for the year,” she says. “If you can get that, you’re going to laugh and be happy.”
Finding enough food always seems to be precarious. But Santou is a determined woman — obstacles have only made her work harder to find ways around them, to make life move forward.
When the millet harvests started getting smaller, she planted a garden with tomatoes, cabbage, onions and lettuce. She added to her family’s diet, and when it grew well, she sold the extra to buy more grain.
Then another enemy appeared —not drought, but bugs.
“A pest came and ruined my tomatoes. You work hard watering the plants until they should bear fruit, and then something comes along to ruin everything. We needed a new kind of work to do, to not rely on only the tomatoes and the plants.”
So she saved little by little and bought a goat. Santou knew that the animal could be the start of a different life, providing milk even during the dry seasons — enough to keep her children fed and to make money by selling yogurt and cheese.
What could happen next? A flood.
It’s the bitter irony in a land wracked by drought — the ground is so dry and poorly managed that when the rains finally do come, the ground can’t absorb it and the water has nowhere to go.
“If the water comes up, it carries everything with it. People tried to stop it until they tired. There was nothing anyone could do,” Santou remembers. “Even the houses over there, the water took them.” Her goat was lost.
And Santou was lost, too — for once, she wasn’t sure what to do next. All of her savings were invested in her goat. How would she start over without any money?
That’s where Mercy Corps came in — after hearing about the flood, our team visited Santou’s village and assessed the damage. They helped families repair their homes, they taught people to prepare the land before the rainy season so prevent another flood, and they brought Santou and many other women new goats.
“If Mercy Corps hadn’t come after I worked so hard to get that one goat, I don’t know what I would have done,” she says. Read our original story about Santou from 2012
“I’ve had these goats for almost three years now," she adds. "My goats are healthy. We are thankful.”
Caring for her goats isn’t necessarily less work — every morning, Santou walks for nearly an hour taking them into the bush to graze, and then has to round them up again at the end of the day.
But she is resting easier knowing that she has a sustainable and growing source of food and income — in fact, she’s already turned the pair of goats into a herd of five.
If the worst happens, like a desperate food shortage, these goats are a safety net: “Now if I don’t have enough to feed my children, I can sell one of my goats to buy food for them,” Santou explains.
She’s looking beyond the obstacles now — to a future where she can cope with whatever comes her way, to care for her daughter and grandson, Massaoudou, and her five other children.
“If these goats keep reproducing, then I will have enough food for many years,” she says. “If you have what you need, then you can smile.”
Hear from Santou herself in this short video.
You can help another woman like Santou lift herself out of poverty.
Give the gift of hope. Your generous gift helps women and families like Santou's become less vulnerable and helps improve their health and access to nutritious food. Thank you!
For most of her life Nana Balki has struggled against poverty and hunger.
The 28-year old mother of seven and her family subsist entirely on her husband’s farming. But the land has suffered from years of droughts and floods, and insects have damaged crops, causing persistent food shortages for Nana and her family.
Nana tells Mercy Corps, “We get very little rain and when we do get rain…there are no seeds to plant.”
Because of drought, food prices have skyrocketed, and access to clean water is minimal. Unable to store crops or purchase food, families like Nana’s are forced to go hungry.
To make matters worse, restrictive gender roles, early marriages and childbirth, and limited nutritional knowledge have intensified the region’s hunger and malnutrition.
But thanks to your generous support, Nana and women like her are acquiring the resources and knowledge to provide their families with healthy meals through periods of drought and flooding.
Nana joined a mother care group run by local health workers and Mercy Corps staff in her village. In this group, Nana receives training about healthy nutrition and childcare practices –information that she shares with other women in her group and her village. Nana has also received emergency food supplements to meet some of the immediate food needs of her family, as well as climate-appropriate seeds and improved farming training to grow more diverse crops in community gardens so that families can rely on their own grown food in the future.
The emergency food supplements meet an immediate need, but the community gardens will allow the women and their families to prepare nutritious meals even during periods of drought.
With the training Nana receives in the mother care groups she teaches other women how to prepare healthy meals for their young children and infants and how to care for them when they are sick.
“There is no greater benefit than learning how to take care of our babies’ nutrition and health,” she says. “The knowledge is a great benefit. The knowledge is in our village and gets spread to even more people in other areas.”
Your help has given these women, their families, and their villages the hope for a healthy and secure future. “The big garden that Mercy Corps helped us start is giving us hope,” says Nana, “but it is only beginning right now. Next year it will give us a lot of food.”
Without your generous contributions, Mercy Corps would be unable to provide communities, like Nana’s, with the knowledge and resources to improve their lives. Thank you for your support.
You can continue to make a difference by:
A couple of months ago I had the opportunity to travel to Niger with Mercy Corps, and I wanted to send you an update on the situation people are facing there right now and the support they are receiving because of your generosity.
I spent two days visiting villages in Ouallam, a region in western Niger that was at the epicenter of the food crisis in 2012. Unfortunately, drought returned again this past fall, and the vast fields of millet, their staple crop, barely grew. It is brown and dry and empty as far as you can see. In Tolkoboye Fondobon village, the women told me that most households only have enough food to eat one meal a day until the next harvest in September.
But they were also eager to show me their new sources of hope and pride — the goats they received from Mercy Corps and the savings they have accumulated in the village savings and loans groups we helped them form. Both of these assets will allow the women to buy food in the market when they need it most this lean season. It's the first time in many of their lives that they've had the resources to help their families themselves.
These women struggle just to eat every day, but they are so strong. I spent some time with one woman named Santou. I was so happy to see that the two goats that Mercy Corps gave her over a year ago have now turned into five. Though she worries about the bad harvest, she is focused on her animals and what they can provide with her hard work — an income that is not dependent on the unpredictable rain.
That's what I saw over and over throughout my visit — communities asking for the opportunity to work hard to help themselves. And a team who is dedicated to finding the solutions that work best in these harsh conditions. I hope you will accept my sincerest thanks for your support on behalf of families in the Sahel. This is another difficult time in Niger, but without you, Mercy Corps would not be able to help families through it.
Hawa and her 6-year-old daughter, Ramatou, are bracing themselves for what’s to come: the grinding pain of hunger and the weakness and vulnerability to sickness and disease that come along with it. Drought has ruined their crops. The lean season between harvests is always difficult, but the millet they rely on for nutritious porridge and pancakes barely grew last year. The family has already eaten what little they were able to salvage from the meager harvest. Many days there is only a bowl of wilted lettuce for Hawa to feed her little girl — and it will be six long months before any crops grow again. Hawa says, "Every day, we will have to just eat less if we don't find food. We are very hungry, that's why we are asking for help."
In the West African nation of Niger where they live, their situation is all too familiar. Sixty-six percent of the population faces severe food shortages. Over 13 percent of children under five are acutely malnourished. To save lives, please act now.Join us by donating today to prevent hunger from claiming countless lives — and destroying families’ hopes for a healthy future. You have already brought lifesaving relief. Thank you! Your donations have saved lives by providing stronger seeds suitable for drier conditions that yield new crops like beans and peanuts and help families eat a diverse, nutritious diet. Your support helped deliver goats that became a vital source of income and milk, and helped launch village saving and loan groups that ensured women have a financial safety net to buy the food they need. With your help, Hawa started a business selling peanut oil and has been growing her herd of goats. But now she’s worried. The persistent droughts have destroyed the crops she depends on; she has nothing to sell and little to keep her goats healthy. Not only does she wonder every minute where her daughter’s next meal will come from, but she also fears that her hard work to better their lives will be lost.
That's why Hawa and millions in Niger need help again. "If we are in good health and if we have enough to eat, then I am happy. We're very grateful to Mercy Corps. They helped us before so we could be stronger." Together, we can continue to put lifesaving resources like improved seeds and food into the hands of hardworking women like Hawa.
When you join us with a gift of $35, $75 or $150 you’ll help give families the stability they need to survive until the next harvest. Whether it’s emergency food aid to nurse a malnourished child back to health, or improved wells to help the land recover from drought — you can save lives in Niger, and everywhere that hunger plagues families on a daily basis. In times of crisis, when hunger, war and poverty threaten so many people around the world, your support couldn’t be more important.
Dan O’NeillMercy Corps Founder
2013 - What a year it has been!
As the year comes to a close, it is important to acknowledge the amazing work that you have accomplished in one of the world’s toughest places.
Because of you, more than 176,000 people got the resources they needed to keep their livestock healthy, protect their harvests and feed their families during ongoing food shortages in the Sahel. You made families more resilient to future droughts and gave them the tools and farming strategies that will help them weather erratic rainfall.
And it is not too late to make more of an impact in 2013. You help women and children become less vulnerable to unpredictable weather and help improve the health of their livestock, to ensure they have the means to support themselves in the long-term.
On behalf of the families who you help thrive in one of the world’s toughest places - thank you.
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