How would you respond if you heard a 13-year-old girl say that on some days, she simply doesn't eat? World Vision's Lauren Fisher, covering the drought and food crisis in Niger and across West Africa, writes her third blog post recounting stories of visits with people and communities affected by this emergency. Follow Lauren here on our blog or @WorldVisionNews (#wvlauren) for live, on-the-ground reports from the field.
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“Someday, I want to be an NGO [non-governmental organization] worker.”
Shy 13-year-old Koubra Mamane’s answer surprises me. A bit hesitant in her speech, and a bit skeptical of the whole interview, she reminds me of your typical teenage girl. She tells us she loves mathematics and has to help her mom around the house. She shows us her school books carefully stowed in a bright yellow and red purse.
“I like calculations in school, but I also like the other subjects because I want to become intelligent and gain knowledge,” she adds.
But her dreams of the future wouldn’t be the only answer that gives me pause. In fact, the next one has been stuck in my head ever since it came out of her mouth. We ask Koubra about the food shortages in her village. She says that when there is no money, her family cannot buy food.
Those days, she and her family do not eat.
“Sometimes we get food, [and] some days, we don’t have food,” Koubra tells us in a tone that makes it all too clear that this happens frequently. “If you are hungry, you feel that your body is weak. And it’s not the same thing if you’ve eaten.”
A mother holds her twins outside a World Vision clinic in Niger. Both of her children are malnourished; she told World Vision that the poor harvest meant they sometimes go days without food.
Koubra's family is not alone. All over West Africa, the signs show that this is no ordinary lean season. The government in Niger estimates that around 9 million people are at risk from the food crisis.
It’s a problem compounded by Niger’s inherent poverty and high malnutrition rates. Most communities we’ve visited are already seeing the signs -- whether it’s men leaving to find work in other cities, or parents deciding on which days they have to see their kids go to bed hungry.
“Some have little, and some do not have anything," says village chief Hachimou Inoussa. "That is the reason we’re asking for help.”
I’ve seen these facts and figures on paper, the measures indicating a bad harvest. I thought it had sunk in. I was wrong. Today, for the first time, I get it. It took a 13-year-old girl, much like my younger cousins or even my little sister just a few years ago, calmly telling me she does not eat some days.
We spend a little more time with her and the village before heading home. It’s hard to leave, even though I know World Vision is stepping up to help. A little earlier in that same village, we interviewed the head of the cereal bank. In fact, one of the banks has been set up especially for women and children.
As we leave, I see Koubra go back to her regular day, entertaining her little sister, the camera and interview soon forgotten. I hope the food finds its way to her. I hope it’s a very long time until she has to say the words “some days we don’t have food.”
Read related posts: Food crisis leaves holes in a community and One small cry: Hassane's fight against malnutrition
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