Saving Lives in Niger, Mali & Sahel Region

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Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps
Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

Earlier this month, Mercy Corps celebrated 10 years of work in Niger in the heart of the Sahel - where our work to save lives is poised for continued growth. Reflecting on the aid we have provided over that time we would like to acknowledge your support and call out just a few accomplishments: 

  • Responding to the food crisis in Niger in 2005, Mercy Corps established four emergency programs working with the community to provide assistance to 28,000 beneficiaries by 2011 and over 250,000 today


  • Developing business training and financial inclusion; growing goat herds; fostering gender integration; and facilitating farmer field schools are generating positive results which include:
    • Increased support/knowledge for cooperatives like dairy as well greater seed capital for women to grow their small businesses – both of which helped communities cope with food crisis’ (increasing savings and income and allowed beneficiaries to help others in need)
    • Two years after an increased goat distributions many herders have more than five goats, fueling an increase in commerce and income in addition to improved diets through milk availability and consumption.
    • Development of farmer field schooling are improving farming techniques in primarily agriculturally dependent communities; generating greater gender coordination as participation levels rise among woman; and malnutrition reductions of 80% (Sawki)
    • Regularly scheduled child screenings (under 5) have led to underweight levels of 42.9% in 2013 to 22% in 2015.
  • In neighboring Mali, Mercy Corps has been reducing malnutrition through the Irtoun program which supplies emergency food vouchers in exchange for work doing agricultural improvement projects like building irrigation systems, among other projects. As a result, in Asongo, farmers and gardening groups have access to seeds for crops that will fare well in the markets and help improve household nutrition. So far the groups have purchased 25 tons of seed for their crops.


While Mercy Corps will continue work to save lives in Niger, Mali, and the Sahel region, we will no longer report work through this project page on GlobalGiving. We encourage you to continue to change lives and donate through Global Giving and our Help Turn Crisis into Opportunity project. You can also follow our progress in Niger, Mali, and other countries in the Sahel.

We are sincerely grateful for your generous donations and for supporting Mercy Corps’ effort to help people survive and communities thrive in Niger, Mali, and the Sahel!

Every day there seems to be a different country in the news with a new tragic headline.

Last year, we saw an unprecedented number of humanitarian crises around the world, and thanks to supporters like you, we've been on the ground helping people survive and continue working toward a better future despite unimaginable circumstances.

As the humanitarian crisis continues across the Sahel in Nigeria and Sudan we are looking ahead at the following challenges we must address in 2015 — and what new ways we can make a lifesaving and lasting difference for millions of people facing displacement, hunger, violence and disease.

South Sudan

Photo: Lindsay Hamsik/Mercy Corps

The Situation: The world’ youngest nation has been battered by civil war since political violence erupted in the capital of Juba in December 2013. The conflict soon spread across the country, destabilizing markets and forcing more than one million people to flee their homes. Many ran into the bush with nothing on their backs but their children.

This is only the latest conflict, after decades of another civil war that ultimately led to South Sudan's independence in 2011. For a couple years it looked as though this most underdeveloped country in the world would have a chance at peaceful growth, but “The roots of the conflict are well in place and haven’t been dealt with,” says Redmond.

Now, the entire country is in the grips of a massive hunger crisis — the U.N. warned recently that more than 2.5 million people are at risk of famine. In a country where most people have been dependent on subsistence farming, families are unable to grow food after being forced to leave their own land behind, and markets are barren because traders do not want to risk being attacked en route.

How We're Helping: “We’re trying to focus on food security and look at markets. That’s what needs to happen because food security is an ongoing problem,” says Redmond. But the challenges are steep. “How do we do it within a conflict? How do we do it on a big enough scale to matter?”

Mercy Corps is working in remote villages in South Sudan to help displaced people grow more food to feed their families. We’re also providing cash assistance to the most vulnerable people so that they can purchase food in local markets.

Our work helping traders maintain their businesses is helping keep South Sudan’s markets alive, and our team in South Sudan is continually looking for new ways to help the people of this young country survive and recover in the delicate and constantly changing environment.

READ THE LATEST: Escape to safety — one staff member's journey 



Photo: Fatima K. Mohammed for Mercy Corps

The Situation: Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and is, in many ways, a model of prosperous development in Africa. But stark economic inequalities remain — roughly 70-percent of the population lives in poverty, and women and girls have especially-limited access to education and resources.

Ethnic and religious conflict is still seen in pockets across the country, and now, the rise of extremist violence by Boko Haram in the north of the country is putting millions of people at risk and threatening neighboring countries. Nearly one million people are now displaced in Nigeria, creating new humanitarian needs. “That’s a serious one to watch,” says Redmond.

How We're Helping: Our emergency response teams are on the ground and assessing the areas of most urgent need and how best to respond.

Despite the potential for more serious conflict, Mercy Corps’ ongoing programs to support young women's education and job training continue. Their safety and security is our top priority in the insecure environment, but we believe we cannot give up on addressing the root causes of inequality and poverty here.

By helping girls stay in school longer, and providing tutoring and economic and business skills lessons, they will be empowered to make better decisions for their families and contribute to the peaceful development of their communities.

  • Photos: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

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!



Nana with two of her children
Nana with two of her children

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:

  • Donating to change a life today. Your generous gift helps women and children become less vulnerable to unpredictable weather and help improve their health and access to nutritious food. Please consider becoming a monthly donor to save even more lives. Every dollar helps. Thank you!
Nana meets with her Mother Care Group
Nana meets with her Mother Care Group
Santou with her goats
Santou with her goats

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. 


With Gratitude,

Liz Hummer

You can continue to make a difference by:

Santou collecting water
Santou collecting water


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