World Vision’s Lauren Fisher is on the ground in Niger, where prolonged drought has resulted in weak harvests and a food crisis similar to what the Horn of Africa has suffered over the past year. Follow Lauren here on our blog or @WorldVisionNews (#wvlauren) for live, on-the-ground reports from the field.
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It’s 3 p.m., and the school is alive with clapping, singing, and plenty of desperate hand-raising. We’re spending our afternoon with the children of the Toungouzou village at their school, built by World Vision.
It looks like most schools you’ve been in, complete with the light scent of chalk dust, the boards filled with maps and songs. The children, ranging in age from 6 to about 13, are excited to see the cameras and to have some new people to admire their recently learned skills. A beautiful young girl in red dress and scarf comes up to the front to show us the song she’s learned. She beams shyly at our applause. We find out later that she’s 12 years old and hopes to be a doctor someday.
But along with the hopes and dreams in this classroom, the reality of the food crisis in Niger is here as well. There are several empty spots in the classroom where pupils once sat.“The food crisis really affected our area. Some families do not have enough to eat,” says Amirou Yacouba, headmaster of the school. “Three to four families have left the village with their children following them, leaving the school to go and seek food in the city of Zinder.”
It’s a theme we see throughout the village — people leaving their homes just to survive. We speak with Alia Abdou, a mother of 10 and grandmother of three. She proudly wears a headscarf and dress, all made out of fabric bearing World Vision Niger’s logo.
She expresses her gratitude about all of the work she’s seen done — the handing out of seeds in past dry years, the drilling of a borehole close to the village — but she also wants to make sure we don’t miss the reality. She gestures to the village elders, all at least 50 years old, and tells us that they are the only men in town. All of the young men have left, desperate to find work to feed their families.
“Now there are some families, they do not even have a little to eat in their home,” says Abdou. “And those who are expecting to send them something, they, too, are not getting anything.”
She says the reason they’re not getting anything is because of the insecurity in Nigeria. Usually, the young men in her village go across the border for work. These days, she says there’s so much fighting that there’s no work to be found.
“With the crisis that happened there, they are not able to work. Even the little money they got, they are still spending there. Those who are left in the village, they do not have any work to do,” Abdou said. “Sometimes they will go around and seek firewood to go and sell to get a little for their family.”
Meanwhile, she says the women wait. In the past, they made ornate fans or ground up special oils, but now, no one has the money to buy any of these special items. When we asked for her thoughts on the children’s future, she says it makes her sad. She hopes maybe someday soon the school will provide meals to keep the children’s bellies full.
Big dreams of the future — and the harsh reality of the day-to-day life — all collide in a mix of old and young in this small village, as they try to get through this latest food crisis.
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