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!
Just over a year ago, Typhoon Haiyan, swept across the Philippines leaving chaos and destruction in its path. More than 6,000 people lost their lives and 4.1 million people were uprooted from their homes.When you learned about how this storm had impacted communities and families, you donated to support emergency response relief and recovery efforts - Thank you! Your generosity has made a real impact on the lives of Filipino families.In the first weeks after Typhoon Haiyan, Mercy Corps coordinated with with partners and provided food, water and emergency supplies such as blankets, soap, and shelter materials to more than 18,000 people. Mercy Corps' emergency response focused on communities that had received little or no aid and those living in remote areas. In addition, Mercy Corps established two child-safe spaces to help children process fear and trauma. In addition, with your support the organization worked with partners to improve water and sanitation services for 5,000 people living on remote islands – building toilets and hand-washing facilities in schools, repairing community wells and providing water filters.
Mercy Corps knows that even as emergency response teams were helping survivors meet their immediate needs, they must also begin the work of longer-term recovery and rebuilding. It became clear that survivors had an accute need for money so early 2014 Mercy Corps launched an emergency cash assistance program. The assistance provided families the resources to begin their own recovery process, depending on their needs and priorities – to buy food, repair their homes, and restart their businesses.
One of the first individuals to sign up for the cash assistance program was Florida Go, pictured below. Florida and her husband Realino Go were lucky to emerge from the devastating storm alive, but like millions of others, found their world destroyed. Their only source of income — the humble candymaking business they ran out of their kitchen — was wiped away. With cash assistance they were able to get their business back up and running. Watch their inspiring story here.
In partnership with BanKO, a microfinance bank in the Philippines, recovery teams made electronic cash transfers through mobile phones to 25,500 families, like the Gos. For many families, the mobile accounts are the first formal bank accounts they have ever had access to, and the accounts allow them to store, spend and save their money. Many recipients have used the funds to rebuild after the storm and some families have managed to accrue some savings, a small but important safety net for future crises.
Thank you again for bringing help and hope to Typhoon Haiyan survivors!
Saida’s dream of becoming a teacher was shattered when she was only 17.
She was forced into marriage, became pregnant with triplets, and gave birth to four children all before she had even turned 20.
Instead of pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher, Saida spent her days cooking, cleaning, and caring for her children.
Saida’s story is not unique in Somalia, where barriers like early marriage, household responsibilities, and restrictive gender roles make staying in school nearly impossible for girls and women.
Somalia has some of the lowest enrollment and retention rates in the world for girls and young women. Only 23 percent of girls are fortunate enough to attend primary school, and even fewer attend secondary school – an appalling 96 percent of girls between the ages 14 and 17 are out of school.
Walking alone to-and-from school is a risk in itself. And upon arriving at school, female students have access to few, if any, girl-friendly spaces. Some schools don’t even have private latrines for girls.
With few female teachers, girls in Somalia have no role models or female advocates championing their education.
Thanks to your generous contributions, young women like Saida, are able to break free of this vicious cycle, pursue their dreams, unlock their economic potential, and empower other girls and young women to do the same.
Saida is one of 50 women currently attending a two-year-long teacher training at Amoud University in Borama, Somalia. Through the training program, Saida has developed a new sense of confidence. She engages in group discussions and frequently raises her hand to ask questions.
“When you are learning to become a teacher, you need to be confident in yourself,” she said. “Then when you’re in your classroom, you need to build the confidence in your students and encourage all to participate in class.”
With her own dreams unleashed, Saida hopes to pave the way for a better future for girls and young women in Somalia.
“I want to act as a role model for my community,” said Saida. “I want to be a teacher to empower the next generation of girls.”
Programs like this, which rely heavily on your support, set in motion long-lasting changes within communities and across the country.
Saida and the other trainees have committed to return to their hometowns to teach at their local schools for three years, providing girls in their communities with role models who will increase their confidence, help develop their skills, and advocate on their behalf.
The benefits of an educated female populace extend across entire communities – not just to girls and women. When women earn income, they invest 90 percent of it into their children and households for more nutritious food, school fees, and health care. Furthermore, a 10-percent increase in female enrollment is linked to a three-percent increase in GDP.
Your generous donations are bringing hope to girls and young women across Somalia and improving the quality of life for Somalia’s youngest generation – both male and female.
Change is not possible without your help. Thank you for helping set in motion long-lasting and far-reaching positive change in Somalia.
You can continue to make a difference by: