All of our students and staff celebrating the end of another wonderful year!

Last week we celebrated another big day at our school for Girls. The end of year! Yet another year has passed of working with these beautiful young women, forces of nature in their community for change, knowledge and hard work, leading a new path for their families to a stronger future! We are so proud of each of them!

And every party has to start with food planning of course! We purposefully planned the party just before Ramadan started so we could celebrate with a big meal of the girls choosing. They wanted fried chicken, fries, baguette and bissap juice.

Early in the morning we all gathered to peel 30 kilograms of potatoes, 10 kilograms of onions and prep the meat and sauce. Everyone pitched in and chatted and cut and cleaned for lunch prep.

Cutting onions and taking selfies

Willienke and Chantelle cutting fries

Lunch is served!

Oumou asked me to take this picture. She loved the fried chicken!

Sitting and enjoying the meal with friends

We also set up a photo booth backdrop to take portraits of all the young ladies as they were all dressed up. Each year we have matching outfits done in our team uniform fabric, a common practice here for special events to show “belonging” and a special connection and celebration. The girls went all out this year and even used their creativity to make matching shoes, earrings, necklaces and clutches! We will print their portraits and get them delivered to the girls, a keepsake they will treasure. They rarely have printed photos of themselves. We love seeing the joy, close bonds and confidence in these photos!

Friends for life

Friends who have been through a lot together for the past 3 years. A bond forever

First year girls who are just starting to realize the gifts of a safe, all girls school facility to grow and learn.

Nafissa made her own matching earrings and necklace for her outfit.

Not to be left out from the party, the children of our staff, who are also often present at the school, got in on the fun! I love how these children, representing 3 countries and 4 different maternal languages, have become great friends over the years. What a blessing to each one of them, experiencing the inclusive, large Kingdom of God and His people!

Little people mirroring a world without problems of race and color.

After the meal the girls started their own dance party with a stereo system one of their brother’s brought over. I love to see them rejoice, dance, laugh, make up moves, fall over, giggle and do it all over again. It was amazing to stand back and watch. Girls who were so shy at the beginning of the year came forward to dance with joy. One girl from a very poor family had never been to a party like this and she was glowing and laughing. A day she will not forgot. They celebrated all their hard work this year and how far they had come as friends!

Dance party!

After the dance party we settled them all down for a presentation ceremony. We recognized the efforts of all our staff and presented 9 certificates to girls who had achieved excellence in certain areas of academic growth or character growth this year. They received a certificate and got to choose a necklace and earring set from a tray we had purchased of assorted jewelry.

Bintou receiving the award for “most improved” third year girl.

Ramatou receiving the award for best first year academic success.

The last part of the party was a blur of photos. Everyone taking photos with their friends, their teachers, etc. One of the biggest successes of this program is the way we focus on building relationships and teaching them to love, support and encourage each other. These ladies have come so far and true bonds of friendship and mutual respect have been borne out of that effort and time.

Chantelle with three sisters, all of whom completed 3 years in our program and who are now launching a sewing tailor shop together as a business!

We have 4 expat staff and 8 national staff, all of whom love these girls and our school. We are thankful beyond measure for these ladies and their effort to see our students, previously at risk girls, grow and shine and establish strong, successful lives.

Laura and some of the girls

The vocational skills teachers and our expat staff. Cooks and nurse and translator not shown in this picture. What a great staff we have!

Girls are fun loving and silly all around the World!

That’s a wrap on the school year!

Thank you for all your support this year! We appreciate each donation, each text, each prayer, each visit. You are a special part of this project and we look forward to sharing how these girls grow and the new directions this school will take in the future as we come alongside them start businesses and access markets to use the skills they have learned and take care of their families long term! God is good!

 

 

 

 

This March we had the joy of hosting a team of ladies from Alberta, Canada. These ladies came to the Girls School to work alongside our staff and girls and to teach the girls a few new projects. As always, they focus on quality and straight lines and ways to increase both the productivity and quality of the products that the school produces. Every year the girls look forward to this trip of visitors that we run once a year. There is lots of laughter, dancing, charades to get over language differences and genuine love and joy is born between them. I love to see the way this heart connection is forged across the World! On this team were Tamara (it was her third visit to us here in Niger), her teen daughter Danielle for her first visit, Jacky returning for her second visit and Wanda as a first time visitor as well.

Jacky made little pouches with sewing notions inside and embroidered their names on each bag.

Danielle learned that teen girls have many things in common all around the World. Here they are teaching her a new dancing game.

This year at our school we have two different levels of Girls. We have a first year class who are just learning hand sewing basics and embroidery and had barely started working on the sewing machines, and another group of third year girls who are very proficient on the machines and will graduate in June. The first projects we did with both groups of girls and they were simple tablecloths with napkin sets and keychain lanyards.

This was Ramatou’s first week using her new sewing machine. Exciting to see her glee and enjoyment of this new machine!

Overseeing the napkins and tablecloths. Nice simple straight lines and ironing and basic skill development for the newer girls.

For the second stage of the sewing projects we gave the first year group of girls the week off and focused on more advanced skills and quality for our girls who are in third year and will graduate soon. We made scrappy patchwork lined pouches (which are adorable!) and patchwork angled table runners. Teaching the importance of even seam allowance might seem trivial, but it sure makes a difference once you start to see all those strips sewn together and try to cut them into shapes! We also loved seeing how the girls really loved the mixing and matching of bright African fabric into useful items. Some of them even went home one night and came back the next day having used their own fabric and machine to whip themselves up similar bags!

Wanda doing some stitch ripping to help out one of the students.

Samira and Fatiya really got the hang of cutting the strips to layout our scrappy angled table runners and they loved this color combo!

 

The finished product of our smaller size scrappy pouches. Lines and a strip of jean across the bottom gives a nice modern touch!

The larger size pouches with decorative stitching and heavier batting for lining so it keeps it shape. I love these!

And of the weekends we also fully enjoyed some of the fun adventures to be found in and around Niamey, visiting the last West African herd of wild giraffes, visiting the Parc W wildlife reserve and going hippo spotting on the river.

An amazing sight of a large group of hippos, sunning on sandbars in the Niger River.

Every year we are thankful for our visitors and for the time and effort they put into encouraging and teaching both our staff and students. A wonderful partnership of like minded individuals across the World!

Showing off some of the products they made during this three week special skills course with our visitors. We are proud of the effort of each one of them!

When Paul was starting up the mens shop, there were many people who discouraged him, saying that trying to teach Tuaregs to weld would never work. They said they wouldn’t learn, that they were too proud for a labour oriented job, and that they were too uneducated. But we knew otherwise. Our hearts yearned to see these Tuareg men, many of them young fathers, learn a skill that could give them pride and honor and provide for their families for years to come.

A major project has just been completed by the shop and we couldn’t be prouder of all the hard work and growth that these guys have achieved. The pictures speak for themselves, showing the beginnings in a dusty field and broken down VW bus to an amazing, fun playground that patients at CURE International Chilren’s Hospital will enjoy for many years! Not only was a major project realized, but the apprentices have grown immensely in their skills, grown in their love for each other and in their team work!

I am happy to attach here the original words written by the project head from the hospital, Julie Korn.


Our Playground is Finished!

Our playground is finished!

We have recently finished work on the playground for our hospital here in Niger, and it looks great. The kids at the hospital had to learn how to use some of the equipment (I don’t think any of them had ever been on a slide before, and some of them even looked pretty suspiciously at the steps!), but now they love it and are already spending as much time at the playground as possible.

The idea for this playground came from our sister hospital Beit CURE Malawi – a few years ago they opened up a playground with a renovated/renewed ambulance, and when I saw the pictures I knew that we needed to do something similar here in Niger. After all, we are a children’s hospital and children need a place to play. At that time, I had an intern here from Gordon College, Zoey Meyer-Jens, learning about art therapy, and we worked together on the project proposal. We even went together to the junkyard and scoped out an old Mercedes van and brought it back to the hospital to be the playground “ambulance.”

After coming up with a design, I was able to work together with Paul McIver and Charles Corbin and Paul’s team of Nigerien welders (from Niger Vocational Training School) to bring the playground to life! They worked long and hard on this project, and essentially had to custom-make everything in the playground except the van (and even the van had to basically be totally rebuilt). In the end, the results speak for themselves! The playground is a beautiful addition to our hospital that will provide our patients with room to play, to have fun, to use their imaginations and to express themselves.

In addition to support from CURE International, this project was funded by Amy King, a friend of Maureen Sloan who has been a passionate advocate and source of encouragement to CURE Niger since our hospital opened. This project has also funded by the Gordon in Orvieto program, directed by my brother-in-law Matt Doll. The students of the program did multiple art exhibits, and the proceeds were given towards this playground.

Thanks to everyone who took part in providing these kids with a place to play!

“The streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.” Zechariah 8:5

 

 

A dusty field with a broken down rusty bus is the starting point.

 

The cement pilings have been dug and poured and the anchors for the shade sail are ready to go! Shade it required in Niger’s heat!

The kids at play in the old bus. A lot of work went into taking out all the rusty edges and making it safe. Added benches, and other fun features and a new floor and way to climb on top.

Kids, in various stages of surgery and recovery and casts, enjoy playing in the new bus

If you would like to see more pictures, check out Julie’s original blog at : https://joshjulieblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/09/our-playground-is-finished/


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*please forgive the lateness of this blog!*

The school year at NVOC has officially come to a close as we celebrated the hard work of the girls on the last day of school. We hosted an open house for the community, displaying the various sewing projects that the girls have made. Many moms came, letting their daughters lead them to the dresses that they had sewed, and these mamas looked on their children with pride. We sold many items that the girls had made as well. Beautiful skirts and dresses. This was a beautiful thing to witness.

On the black board were the health topics taught this year: pregnancy and childbirth, vaccinations, understanding your menstrual cycle, child marriage, breastfeeding, being an honorable woman, and what it means to make goals and persevere. These were only a few of the lessons that we covered, and it has been exciting to see the girls reflect upon them in class and apply them in their lives.

Outside in the courtyard, we had the chance to celebrate these bright young women by awarding eight students with a certificate of merit. These certificates championed girls who had regular attendance, were most improved in their subjects, had demonstrated great perseverance, and had brought joy to the class. Each girl has worked hard, but these eight ladies really shined, and it was an opportunity for not only the NVOC staff to congratulate them, but also for their peers to cheer them on. It was fun to watch the girls, because for almost every award that was described, they would immediately know who was about to receive it and would begin encouraging her. One girl received the attendance award because she had not missed a single day, and her peers knew of her dedication. They all cheered when she stood up and this attitude continued throughout the morning. The beauty of friendship and encouragement was in the air.

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But this final day has not come without struggle. These cheery, adolescent girls do not have the innocent and carefree lives that we imagine children should have. This year we have seen girls deal with sickness and injuries, potentially abusive situations, abject poverty, and difficult interpersonal conflicts. In some situations, they have confided in the staff at NVOC and we have walked with them through these hardships. In others, they have decided to turn away and did not desire help. It has broken our hearts to witness and walk through these moments with the girls, and unfortunately, this is the reality of life in the world’s least developed country. Yet amidst these struggles, we have seen rays of hope.

These hardships have birthed tremendous growth in the girls, and part of our year-end celebration was to recognize this. Yes, they have grown academically and vocationally, but the most brilliant growth we have seen is in their character. One young lady badly hurt her leg this year, but she continued to take the (now slow) walk to school every day because she was committed. She is one of the most hard-working girls in the class and her dedication has been recognized. Two other ladies that should be mentioned are the mamas of the group. They both have a child under two, yet they attend school nearly every day (with their daughters!) and are engaging and growing. They have persevered through the difficulties of single-parenthood, but not without support. Their peers take turns throughout the school days looking after their children, so that their friends can have a break. There is a sense of family at NVOC that has grown through these hardships, and it has made the girls stronger, more unified, and even more beautiful.

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These are the reasons it has been a joy to teach at NVOC. As an intern, I only got to be a part of a small portion of the NVOC story, but what a sweet privilege and joy it has been.

Would you be praying for the girls? For their safety this summer in their health, relationships, and homes. Please also be praying for wisdom in the NVOC staff as they consider what the next year will look like. Finally, please pray for the hearts of these beautiful ladies, that this year would carry them well into their summers, and that their worth as young women wouldn’t stop in the classroom, but would begin to be valued in all areas of their lives!

Written by Laura Trabadello

by Mikaela Ramdial

holding babies

Last month our team had the opportunity to attend an amazing conference that is offered once every three years that focuses on women’s development across the World.

At the conference, I learned that according to the ONE Foundation’s research on the 20 toughest places to be born a girl, Niger is top of the list. This means that out of the entire world, Nigerien women have the least chances in life compared to their brothers. The numbers in that data actually represent real girls, including the students at NVOC. On one hand, I know the girls here to not only be resilient but to also be dreamers.

One reason why Niger is rated so high is that the rate of girls’ education is 16 months less than the boys. It can be difficult to keep a girl in school: there are expectations on her to stay home and run the household. If there is any extra work at the house, she must stay behind and help. Also, as child marriage is frequent (76% of girls are married off under the age of 18!), a girl will leave school to take care of her husband’s home. In spite of all of the obstacles, girls still want to go to school.

Fatiya and Nazifatou

Take Fatiya for instance. She became pregnant out of wedlock and she was deeply shamed for it by the community. Now she brings little Nazifatou to school each day even despite the same and the challenge it is to learn with a baby on her lap. But she has a dream of opening a boutique full of beauty products where she would sell clothes and her sisters would braid hair or do henna. She just needs the money and the education. The girls in this family are very poor and they struggle to attend every day of school but they have goals for their future and they plan to accomplish them. They were born into deep limits yet they are working past them.

Another indicator on the report is how dangerous it is for women in Niger to give birth. One in 20 women dies giving birth here. This is close to our hearts at NVOC because there are currently 3 graduate students who are pregnant and one for sure is at risk for high blood pressure and has had several late term miscarriages. They face real risks to have a family. One of the graduates gave birth to twins in November and she nearly died of heart failure. This also means that if she becomes pregnant again, she will almost certainly not make it. But in a culture where having children is a woman’s most valuable asset and where infertility can be grounds for divorce; it is a hard reality to know that she won’t survive another pregnancy. Indeed, her husband left right when her twins were born and it became obvious she was very sick. And yet she says that she still believes in a happy marriage and hopes that God still has that in store for her. Despite her culture and her health, she still hopes for marriage and happiness for her small family.

twins

Our girls at NVOC may have been born into the toughest place to be a girl but they are not to be victimized. They still have plans and aspirations. They are waiting to seize any opportunity they get to better the lives of their families and participate in their communities. Girls here just need to be empowered to do all that they want to do.

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Sewing, Menstrual Cycles, and Relationships

By Laura Trabadello

 What would you say is one of the greatest challenges that a young girl faces in an underdeveloped country? Aside from sickness, responsibilities in the home, and early marriage, what would hold her back from going to school?

Read on for a look into a new project at NVOC, and the ways we are addressing the need for better quality feminine hygiene products in this country.

In Nigerien culture, discussing a woman’s period is shameful. It is seldom discussed  even in the home with female relatives, forcing young girls to navigate this transitional phase on their own. Religiously speaking, at least in this Islamic context, a woman’s period makes her unclean. This means that she is unable to pray or enter a mosque during this time of the month. In a practical sense, a woman’s period can hinder her from going about her regular life because of the physical ramifications— she may not be able to leave the home for this week due to limited sustainable resources for dealing with her period. At NVOC, we are trying to address these cultural, religious, and practical reasons—desiring to reverse the pause that takes place in the lives of Nigerien women for a week in every month.

During our health lessons this year, we have taken the time to teach on the menstrual cycle, empowering the students with knowledge about their bodies. We are frank in our lessons on this subject, which is purposefully meant to be counter-cultural, and it reinforces the idea that NVOC is a safe place—where judgment and shame do not lead our conversations and relationships. Many of the girls have shared that the first time they learned about their period was at NVOC, and it has helped them to be aware of this normal part of life as a woman. They are thankful to be able to learn about it. We also continue to pray in class with the girls, regardless of the time of the month. We thank God for what he has given us and ask for his continued provision and model to the girls that they can access God at all times, whether or not they have their period!

While these cultural and religious perspectives make addressing menstruation more challenging, it is important to begin here—demonstrating that NVOC is not only a centre for educating women, but also for empowering and encouraging them.

But what about the practical ramifications? What sustainable and community-endorsed options could help remove the shame that hinders girls from going to school during their periods?

Four years ago, sanitary pad kits from an organization called Days for Girls were given as a gift to the first cycle of NVOC girls, and the idea of creating a sustainable in-country equivalent sparked in Chantelle McIver’s mind (co-director of NVOC). After all, sewing is one of the vocational skills offered here.

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As Chantelle dreamed of the possibility, she discovered that most of the materials could be found in-country or a good equivalent, and the project itself seemed attractive to the national NVOC staff as a small microenterprise venture. The idea took off and brought us to about a month ago, when a team of ladies from Alberta came to work on sewing these kits with the NVOC students.

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Tamara, Jacky and Donna brought different strengths and skills with them, yet they were unified in their heart for the girls: they desired that these young ladies be empowered by this project—and their efforts showed this desire. From teaching the sewing steps, to interacting across language barriers, to learning about the culture of Niger, this team was all in. As NVOC teachers, we translated for the Alberta team and helped to guide the project. It was fun to see the students catching the vision and engaging in each step. On the first few days of the project, they could not be dragged away from their sewing machines—even for lunch!

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Both the current cycle of girls and the graduates from last cycle were present for the two-week project blitz. The graduates were given the more intricate tasks, such as cutting, assembling, and sewing the sanitary pad shields, while the younger, more novice sewers were taught these intricate steps gradually. While the novice sewers took more time to learn the steps, they were so committed to learning and executing their tasks well. An added challenge (and added joy) were the graduates’ young children, who come to NVOC while their mamas work. Often times, the women on the Alberta team, or us NVOC staff, would take a child in our arms to let their mom’s work, which made for some very fun moments in the week.

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Through it all, the NVOC students and graduates strived for excellence in their workmanship, which really showed after seeing what they had accomplished at the end of our two weeks! As a team, the girls sewed 650 liners, about 300 shields, and over 100 bags. Our goal was to make enough for 100 kits, and we will be putting them together with the girls over the next few weeks. We will also begin to teach how they can be introducing these sustainable hygiene kits into their communities, using an illustrated and culturally relevant booklet that was created for this project (and that will be translated into Hausa, Zarma, and French).

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The hard work was accomplished, yet that was not the only important step made forward over the two weeks. As is the priority in Nigerien culture, and something we strive for at NVOC, relationships grew. A few of the graduates had previously met some of the team from Alberta, so their reunion was sweet and their friendships grew throughout their stay. Each woman on the team seemed to make a special connection with at least one or two of the girls, and they shared laughter and sewing tips with one another. The NVOC students also had fun teaching the women how to use their hand crank sewing machines; they even showed us interns how to sew on them! We appreciated their patience and senses of humor as they taught us. At the end of the two weeks, the students, graduates, and Nigerien NVOC staff expressed how much they enjoyed working as a big group. The national teachers felt it advanced relationships and helped to build trust with the NVOC expatriate staff. It was encouraging to hear this and sense this growth in friendship. Working hard together every day for two weeks brought about more than we could have hoped for.

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On the last day of those two weeks, we celebrated these friendships and the amazing work that was done with cake and a few “thank you” speeches and little gifts. It was a fun way to wrap up the short-term team’s stay. Now as we approach our last two months of the school year, the goal is to finish up the illustrated booklets and begin to empower the girls to take these kits into their communities. The national NVOC staff and the graduates are optimistic about introducing a new product into their communities that could help to make a difference in the everyday lives of women. We are praying for wisdom in these next steps and look forward to seeing what fruit may come of this women’s project.

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Making Bissap Juice – a blog by Mikaela Ramdial

Most of the day at NVOC is spent in class sewing away or studying Math and French. But there are breaks and during those breaks girls will often bring out buckets of homemade chocolate, hard candies, spiced crickets or other treats to sell to their classmates and make a bit of extra cash.  This entrepreneurial attitude is the catalyst to taking the vocational skills they learn at the school and generating the income they need for their families. What’s more, a micro-business can be sustainable because it allows a girl to work independently without additional help from a richer contributor. As soon as they know how to make a product, they can sell it themselves from their own home in their own communities. The trick is finding products that they can make themselves, that will make a good profit and that sell well.

To encourage their enthusiasm to sell goodies we asked Hassi, the Nigerien lady who cooks for the hot lunch program, to teach the girls how to make Bissap juice. Bissap is made from stewed hibiscus flowers that are then strained to produce a dark red juice. Then sugar, mint, ginger and pineapple flavoring is added to make a strong but tasty drink that they love here. Hassi says she makes hers without watering it down so that people will come to buy her juice knowing that it is of the utmost quality. So she took the afternoon to show them how to pick out the bad parts of the hibiscus leaves, how to keep everything clean while cooking and how to package the juice into different quantities for sale. Hassi knows exactly what she is doing from experience and the students listen attentively when she gives instructions. Not only is she skilled but she is very respected by the girls and she lives out her faith in patience and in love. The school is blessed to have her there.

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Sifting and cleaning the dried hibiscus flower petals

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The fresh mint smells so good!

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The girls cleaning and prepping the leaves and picking out stems and branches

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Pouring boiling water with bissap leaves in it over top of a bucket filled with fresh mint. This will sit and stew for an hour to absorb all the mint possible.

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Bissap juice soaking the mint.

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The rest of the leaves fill a large metal cauldron and boil a long time until all the color and flavour comes out of the leaves before it is strained.

Knowing how to make the product is important but it is also important that the girls have the information to set their prices and make a profit. It sounds obvious but oftentimes people here will buy all the materials (including the taxi money it requires to get to the market), then they sell it and think that all the monies they take in is their profit. Yet, they forget to take into consideration all of the money they spent on materials. As a result, they think they made a lot but in reality, they didn’t make nearly the amount they could have. So Chantelle took the time to explain to them the math required to add up all of the costs and how to decide on a fair price that will still give them a decent profit. It is planning and calculating the costs that will help the girls know whether the making a specific product will be worth it. Hopefully then they can choose the best products to sell.

It turns out that the time and costs of the bissap are definitely worth the time!! Making one batch of juice could yield 150% profit for one afternoons hard work! Micro-businesses are feasible as a Moms and wives and they are lucrative if planned out right. Helping these girls with vocational skills means that they can leave the nest and really have a means to take their entrepreneurial spirits and earn some income. Woo! Go NVOC girls!

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The juice is now complete with flowers, mint, ginger, flavouring and sugar added and boiled together.

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The girls made 4 different sizes to sell and worked great together.

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These little baggies (about 250ml) of the juice are a big hit in the community. Not only are they affordable, they are just the right size for a quick snack, and in the freezer they make delicious slushie treats!

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Juice for sale!!

Focusing on girls in the World’s most impoverished country

– by Mikaela Ramdial

Here at Niger Vocational School, girls are our focus. In a country that is rated last on the United Nation’s index of developed countries and is overflowing with poverty, one might ask why we choose to invest into primarily the young girls in the community. Why don’t we work more in healthcare or agricultural development? The choice to work with girls is greatly inspired by the “Girl Effect” concept.  The “Girl Effect” (as relating to development) is an inspiring, World movement after a lot of research and insight from major international Aid and Development players and after being finacially backed and promoted by Nike. It has since been joined by the United Nations Women and by other large sponsors who believe that pouring into women is a key to ending the intergenerational cycle of poverty.

This theory states that there are five major assets that contribute to ending poverty from the viewpoint of women. They are EducationHealthEconomic SecuritySafety, and Voice and Rights. According to the foundation’s website “when a girl is better educated, has access to sexual and reproductive healthcare information and services, has access and control of economic assets, is safe from violence and exploitation, and has the capabilities and confidence to make positive choices, she can break the cycle of poverty”. When stated frankly like that, it sounds like a rather presumptuous claim to suggest that, simply, these five factors could end a crisis as widespread and as overwhelming as world poverty. Indeed, critics say that the girl effect relies too heavily on just women as well as it overburdens women who are already responsible for childcare and all types labor. However, giving young girls solid skills to earn a living helps them, their families and their children for the next generation. When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent for a man which means that helping women directly and positively impacts the family. Also, it is worth providing the opportunity, resources and safe place to become educated if they wanted to be. If girls are given a chance to stay in school, get access to health services, delay marriage and childbirth, it’s not only them who benefit – so do their children, families, communities, and countries.

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As we spend time beneath grass huts drinking Tuareg tea and listening to the daily lives of the women in our community, we hear the worries they experience from living in the shadow of an unstable future. Health is particularly fragile and any symptom could mean malaria in their uneducated eyes. Indeed malaria is a major killer here in Niger, responsible for 50% of the deaths in children under the age of 5. In Niger, only 15.9% of women have a comprehensive knowledge of HIV and less that 1% of young people take measures to prevent this disease. Thankfully there are many social and economic barriers that help to keep the HIV rate quiet low in Niger, but their lack of knowledge is concerning.

Also, just 29% have a skilled attendant present while giving birth and 50% give birth before the age of 18. These women deal with a lot of stress and danger to their lives just because of their lack of access to the scientific and health knowledge about their own bodies. Only 8% of Nigerien girls attend secondary school which highlights how dependant they are on the educated individuals around them. This is where the education and health assets become so integral to the improvement to women’s lives.

“When you invest in a girl in a wholistic sense, also focusing on health and hygiene, nutrition, sexual health , expressing themselves through their own ideas and thoughts, discussing religion, prayer and a sense of purpose, you help build a young woman who can stand the storm around her and make smart, educated decisions for her own life.”

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What’s more, Nigerien women deal with very heavy loads in regards to marital and familial relationships. The United Nations statistics indicate that 75% of women are married before the age of eighteen. Yes you read that right, and that makes Niger the worst offender in the World statistics on child marriage. Of that 75%, 36% are married before they even reach their fifteenth birthday. This is a crazy statistic that paints the picture of a girl’s life here. They are thrown into a marriage by their families before they even know who they are or what they think about the world around them. Indeed, divorce is rampant and many of these divorced women move back to their families with young children to care for. There are even girls at our school who have young children but are not married. Also, tragically,70% of women justify wife-beating. Being so young and without education, women are left without many choices or self-worth.

At our small vocational school in the capital city, we have 40 girls this year who are taught sewing, French, Math and Health and Hygiene and Character development. We worked with an additional 60 in the previous cycle of girls and some of them are back with us again to take advanced level classes. There is a medical clinic set up once a week in our little four-room house where they can bring in their young children and where they can ask their questions. We also work hard to create an environment where they can ask their questions without feeling shame or foolish. We are surprised at how much they do not know in relation to their responsibilities. We pray that the three years of education they have at our school would help them make more informed choices for their children and that it would increase their value in their own communities and families.

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An educated girl is more likely to earn greater income, raise a smaller family, have healthier children, participate in political processes, and send her own children to school. An educated girl also is less likely to become infected with HIV. Despite their often messy lives, the girls we work with are caring, smart, funny, giggly and hard-working. I believe that as their lives are enriched, that their influence reaches more people than we could ever help and that their knowledge betters the life of the next generation. It is not the effect on the girl that is so important but the girl’s effect on poverty as a whole that gives such worth to their education.

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For a few more reasons….read on!

There are countless reasons rescuing girls is the right thing to do. It’s also the smart thing to do. Consider the virtuous circle: An extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10% to 20%. An extra year of secondary school adds 15% to 25%. Girls who stay in school for seven or more years typically marry four years later and have two fewer children than girls who drop out. Fewer dependents per worker allows for greater economic growth. And the World Food Programme has found that when girls and women earn income, they reinvest 90% of it in their families. They buy books, medicine, bed nets. For men, that figure is more like 30% to 40%. “Investment in girls’ education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world,” Larry Summers wrote when he was chief economist at the World Bank. Of such cycles are real revolutions born.

 

 

 

Today is International Day of the Girl. It’s a day, recognized and decreed by the UN body, in response to growing problem all around the world; the neglect and devaluation of girls around the world. It’s core to what we are doing here in Niger with this school and in many of our others team programs in the country, and is a passion in our hearts as well. My hearts joy is to work alongside a large group of young girls and women to to work on addressing many fronts and issues that affect them. To mentor them and love them and visit them is also icing on the cake!

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We address issues such as;

– do they have a birth certificate and thus are they registered as a “person” in the country to receive benefits

– do they have access to education to help them make good decisions and find or create gainful employment

– do they have safe places to go to learn and be with others?

– do they have access to training to help them be better wives and new mothers, since many of them will already be married and be having babies while they are still teenagers themselves?

– do they have access to trusted people and advocates when they are in situations of danger and pressure and risk?

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As one organization aptly put it- On this day, we see many different organizations and individuals acting together to highlight, discuss, celebrate and ultimately advance girls’ lives and opportunities across the globe. The Day of the Girl is bigger than one issue, one organization, one country, and even the day itself. It is a yearly reflection of what we’ve done and what we need to keep doing to fully achieve gender equality everywhere. And if you are thinking that gender equality means anti-male development, you are dead wrong- read on!

Research is showing that addressing and reaching out to women, who more proportionately give back to their own families and communities than men, is helping to accelerate reaching other Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that affect all of the family, the community and countries at large. It helps everyone get ahead.

I did a little light reading today and found great reasons as to why we focus on Girls.

Why a Day for Girls? Here’s some reasons.

As girls, we experience inequality in every aspect of our lives. There are a billion reasons why we need the Day of the Girl, but let’s start with just a few (all are linked to their source): As you will see, this is NOT just a third world or poverty induced problem! No matter where you live, there are issues affecting oppressed and at risk girls, even in your own city.

By 2015, females will make up 64% of the world’s illiterate (adult) population. (PDF)

Only 30% of girls in the world are enrolled in secondary school. (PDF)

One in seven girls in developing countries is married off before age 15.

More than half (54%) of all rapes of females happen before age 18. (PDF)

1 in 5 high school girls has been physically or sexually abused by a dating partner.

Children as young as age 11 are forced to work as prostitutes. Some estimates have as many as 1.2 million children being trafficked every year.

54% of 3rd-5th grade girls worry about their appearance and 37% worry about their weight.

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Another kitchen

But let’s look just at Niger.

After all, you are looking at the blog of our work with Girls here in Niger 🙂 You will notice I highlighted one of the reasons above in red.

The newest report out by CARE shows that girls in Niger continue to suffer. Their recent statistics on child marriage show that once again Niger is the WORST country in the World for child marriage.

According to their article- Niger has the highest percentage of child brides in the world. And according to the U.N.’s Human Development Index, it is also the world’s least-developed country. Talk about a one-two sucker punch!! This is no coincidence. In some regions, 9 out of 10 girls marry before age 18. A harsh climate exacerbates the problem. Less rain often means more “drought brides,” as families pursue early marriage as a survival strategy, seeking one less mouth to feed and bride price money to buy food. There are also big reasons that revolve around the honor-shame worldview held by their culture. Niger also has one of the globe’s highest population growth rates — girls who drop out of school seldom have an opportunity to learn about sexual and reproductive health. I can think of many of our classes where we address these topics where the girls are thrilled (and often surprised or shocked!) to understand how things work in their own bodies. Such important information for them to have.

Women in Niger are, however, banding together to reverse some of these trends. Some projects are incorporating Village Savings and Loan Associations, leveraging their own small weekly savings to meet their greater needs at other times of the year, and to create a socail system where they can get help with shocks such as deaths and births that would otherwise wipe out their savings. There are new second chance schools, and a wider conversation happening about child marriage.  The hope is that as women gain a greater voice in their homes and communities, they can break the cycle of child marriage and poverty while giving more girls an opportunity to attend school or other sorts of trainings, and, one day, attain a better future.

 

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“Adolescent girls have the right to a safe, educated, and healthy life, not only during these critical formative years, but also as they mature into women. If effectively supported during the adolescent years, girls have the potential to change the world – both as the empowered girls of today and as tomorrow’s workers, mothers, entrepreneurs, mentors, household heads, and political leaders. An investment in realising the power of adolescent girls upholds their rights today and promises a more equitable and prosperous future, one in which half of humanity is an equal partner in solving the problems of climate change, political conflict, economic growth, disease prevention, and global sustainability.”

 

In January of 2015 there were church buildings burnt all across Niger in riots in response to the Charlie Hebdo affair.

Some of those local churches have been in the process of rebuilding their physical buildings, and others will begin soon. Paul has been contacted to construct some of these buildings with his guys at the training program. It’s a great learning opportunity and a way to give back.

The first structure rebuild is just about finished, well at least the part of the task that we are responsible for.

Here is the church building on the ground after the fires. It was a small metal and straw mat structure in the courtyard of the Pastor’s house. Most of the metal was bent and wrecked and the design for the church was changed so it was not useable this time around.

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In the shop the past few months the apprentice guys have been fabricating the entire structure and making new metal benches in place of wood pews.

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In June they started to prep the land at the site of the church- to level it out and put in concrete filled tires to support the beams of the new structure before it arrived. Because the entire structure had been pre-fabricated, it did not take long once the pieces arrived on site! It was all built to be bolted together on arrival and only took a few days out in the sun to erect the structure. The neighbors were amazed!

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Unfortunately Paul got called back unexpectedly early to Canada and the tin roof was not able to be put on until this last week of August. Now the roof is up and final little touches are being put on the church. The local church body will now likely add some straw mat walls in some places and finish getting it set up. So exciting. Will you pray that this place will be greatly used in the community?

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In the back of the courtyard there is also a well functioning water pump. This is such a great source of clean water for the community, just another way this church and it’s pastoral family are trying to love their neighbors!

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