by Mikaela Ramdial

As the intern at NVOC, I am naturally younger than the other teachers at the school. I consider this to be such a gift because it means that the girls warm to me fast as a friend in addition to a teacher. They all want me to sit with them and spend time with them. They like that I have my nails done differently each week and that I wink at them if they are being silly. It can sometimes feel like there are so many girls and I just want to get to know each and every one of them.

Making sticker and bling name tags

When the Bible says to “love one’s neighbour as himself” it feels cliché and a bit simplistic… until you are thrown into a room full of intricately created girls in a different culture, religion and language. Add their difficult and often messy lives into the situation and “loving them” feels much more complicated. I desperately want them all to feel valued and noticed. I want them all to know the gospel and to understand that the rules in their culture/Islam that either honor or shame them do not determine their worth. I wish I could prove to each girl that I am not judging her and that her personality is enough to cheer up my afternoon. But alas, one must begin at the beginning with the hellos, the giggles and the “I love your skirt today, it’s so pretty”. Relational ministry takes time because, evidently, relationships are not built in a day. And so us workers of the Kingdom are about the business of hanging out. We sit underneath grass huts and drink strong strong tea. We come to see the babies and attend the baptisms. We come specially to the school to cut out fabric, eat snacks, rock babies, look at pictures and chat over the sewing machines.

Helping braid a bride’s hair the day of the wedding

 

Getting henna done at the home of several of the students one afternoon.

The beautiful finished work!

I especially have had such joy spending my mornings doing regular class stuff with the graduate students who have come back to learn more advanced material. Most of them are my age but they are married and often have kids. I am completely ignorant of how to wield a needle and yet they don’t seem to mind having me hang out with them. Evidently, I am not really helpful but each day I learn something new about a girl or they become more comfortable around me. However, I am learning that it is less the teaching or the food or the talking that enables me to love these young women. They actually just like it when we sit with them while they do everyday things. It must be a cultural thing because I still feel like I need to be helpful or talkative for it to be worthwhile. But just “hanging out” is enough ministry for each day. Loving them suddenly turns from complicated to simple again. Just being there counts. I pray that the student would come to trust us through our daily building of relationships. I pray that if anything in their messy lives came to threaten or scare them that they would feel comfortable approaching us. I pray that we would be available and ready to pray for them and love them whenever they feel they don’t know where to go. I pray that hanging out would improve their perception of Christians and therefore God! They are beautiful and intricate and full of life and we are so blessed to spend our lives spending our time with them.

Visiting people in their homes

 

Sorry this Part two is a little late getting out!

Here is a second batch of messages that came from the girls during our last few classes when they were reflecting over this past year at the school!

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Two of the top girls in my afternoon class- Halima and Rachida- both strongly felt the same message.

They want to take what they have learned and teach it to others!

Now THAT is a great thing to hear! And we do hope to see them doing that!

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And a big “MERCI!” from their hearts to yours!

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Friday July 1st we had our year end party at the Girls at Risk school here in Niger. The Wednesday before that we had our last class and we took a lot of time playing games like Bingo and also focusing on the things we are thankful for! We looked at a large World map and talked about all the people who support this school and who pray for the girls and for their families and health and success.

The class broke into their small groups and each group got some paint and large rolls of paper. They had two assignments. One was to draw a mural with pictures of all the kinds of things they had learned this past year at the school. Then they presented to the class all the different things they learned. Some of the drawings were pretty funny! Here is one group showing Math, literacy, clothing they learned to sew, some skits on mosquito nets and clean food preparation, dancing in a circle and some other stuff.

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Here is a group from the afternoon class explaining their poster. They have our colourful tree logo, the classroom, sewing machine, clothing, anti malaria, mosquito nets, and some other skits along with their names. They were proud to show how much they had learned!

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I also made an appearance on most of their posters. Don’t I look great here teaching math! Smile

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Then their second assignment was to come up with one phrase that they wanted to express to all their supporters. They discussed as a group what they would want to tell their supporters, what was most important to them. I then took these phrases and wrote them on poster board for them and took pictures with their thoughts.

Check out these photos. Please take to heart that they are speaking to YOU! These are the things they want to tell you, the things they are thankful for and the way YOU have changed their lives with your support. There are quite a few pics so I am going to do two posts about this!

Enjoy. Be blessed!

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Today was the year end party here at the Niger "Girls at Risk” school. We purposefully left the entire party planning up to the girls themselves. They each saved 1000 cfa (about $2.50) to add to a communal savings, made a meal plan, went to the market, arranged groups of girls to do every job from sweeping, peeling food, chopping onions and washing dishes. They all showed up dressed up beautifully and all day long it was so fun.

Rabi wearing a beautifully sewn Indian-inspired wrap outfit. She was radiant! (and did a little dance when I told her so! Now that wasn’t the super shy Rabi I met just 10 months ago!)

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They made a great meal of turkey with spicy red sauce, lots of onions and bread. I was surprised there was so much meat (and basically no veggies) but they were all in full on party mode (aka lots of meat!). It is so rare for them to get lots of meat here.

 

Each group had a job to do, and really everything went perfectly! I just showed up with cookies and juice!

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Each group of girls gathered around a shared platter and dived in. Most plates were completely devoured and licked clean!

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As always, it was a joy to watch the girls interact and be with their friends. Sometimes, especially with the Zarma girls who talk so loud and aggressive, I am not sure if fights are going on, but at the end there is always lots of laughter and smiles. I can speak Tamasheq, but Zarma is still outside my reach!

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Rafiyatou taking a picture of me taking a picture of her. I love this girl! She is so full of spunk and joy!

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Paul and I are both busy these days and the kids are off school, so we both brought a “child to work”. Paul was welding at the airport and Bennett loved watching planes take off and land. Arielle came with me and was doted on by all the girls. They sat with her, played with her, even tried to teach her to crochet! She came home one very happy, but very tired little girl! (And for those of you who know Arielle personally it will not surprise you to know she smiled all day, but refused to say a single word to anyone!)

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What a day to cap off such a wonderful year. Since it was Canada Day we took this picture to show us celebrating Canada Day in style!

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I really felt like a proud Mama to this big group of special young women. I am going to miss them over the summer! We have three weeks of “special projects” coming up in August and September with some of these girls and then full session starts up again October 1st! We made it through year one, and what a wonderful year!

Even though their year is done, stay tuned for a few more blogs I have on the back burner for you!

I wanted to just write all of you a quick update on Aichatou. She went into the hospital last Wednesday night, but due to scheduling issues, she didn’t actually have the surgery until Saturday morning. I was there many days visiting and she held up well ! I think the quiet, comfy bed and fans were a nice change of pace actually!
I say “surgery” but in fact they did not have to cut anything. Using a variety of non-invasive tools they were able to expand her nasal passage and do something to keep it open. Sorry my lack of medical knowledge robs you of a more precise update!
She had a tube in her nose and it looked quite painful for a few days, but they released her yesterday and she is doing well.

Her family has already noticed the difference. She used to snore like a freight train, and now she sleeps so quiet they can hardly believe it! She think her voice has changed a bit, but have you ever listened to yourself with your nose pinched? She is hearing her own true voice for the first time in a long time!

So many thanks for your prayers. I continue to learn a lot through the ministry of taxi to the ill and family, and visitation. I spent many good hours chatting with Aichatou and her visitors. Great language and culture practice indeed!

 

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This is Aichatou, one of the young Tuareg girls in our school. Aichatou lives two days drive into the desert in a village and came into town this year to live with her brother-in-law to attend our school. She is shy and unsure of herself, but making great progress and I really enjoy her!

Back in February  she was telling me about how she gets really bad headaches and sinus pain and snores like crazy and has trouble breathing, especially when she lays down to sleep at night. CT scans (she already had them taken when she told me this) showed that her left nostril and sinus opening was completely blocked by a growth. (turns out it is benign- yay!)

She did not want to risk the National Hospital (and who can blame her!) so we went in February to CURE hospital in town. We were told that they currently could not do anything, but there was a team of specialist coming in June who could possibly take her case since they were maxio-facial specialists (mostly doing cleft lip and cleft palate work). So Monday we went for the meeting with this group, and her surgery is booked for Thursday! We are so pleased they were able to make the time for her and they say her quality of breathing should be much better after this.

The group out here doing this work is from the organization FREE TO SMILE. Check them out here: Free to smile webpage

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I will update you when she is out and once again I will be there to wait with her and pick her up etc. We know this family well and are pleased to be able to love them and serve in this way. Please pray for Aichatou. I know this particular surgery can be painful to recover from!

Imagine owning only a pair of plastic flip flops. Imagine the heat and sand of the desert, living in huts on dirt floors and walking everywhere. Can you imagine how awful your feet might look and feel? (I know I am sure going to need a pedicure when I get home!)

All this dancing is hard on your feet!

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Not every week at school needs to be full of hard work. We want to have fun as well and touch upon all levels of their life- even their feet!

So this past week, after our Math and French lessons, we talked about feet! Many of the girls suffer from cracked feet, sore spots, fungus or rashes and nasty looking feet syndrome! We talked about skin care, proper washing, how to treat fungus and when to be careful of things that could be contagious!

 

Then we split them into their small groups and passed out clippers, lime boards, pumice stones, buckets and soap! We enjoyed the shade under the hangar and had a lot of fun! Everyone got their feet all shiny clean and nails clipped, etc. Quite often they relaxed while their friend did the work – just like a spa!

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Rebecca got in on the action too!

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We love these girls from the soles of their feet to the top of their heads!

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First or all, let me say I don’t really believe in Karma. Well not the whole eastern religious, second life, return as a snake or a king, kind of thing. But I do believe that to some extent, what goes around comes around. The way you treat people is a reflection of yourself and your values. Showering love on someone and being loved in return is definitely no bad thing! I have coined it “LOVE KARMA

The Christian concept of reaping what you sow from Galatians 6:7 sort of talks about the same thing.

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Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked.

A man reaps what he sows.

Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction;

whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

 

This last two weeks, I have really felt overwhelmed with love karma. I spent several days with Ramatou and her family, visiting the hospitals, getting the actual surgery done and then follow up appointments. When I saw Ramatou wheeled out of the operating room and across the courtyard into the patient wing, I had this strange sense of strong emotion sweep over me and I got all choked up. I felt so grateful. I was so excited for her new lease on life- pain free! I hope to see her grow and be happy and walk freely and run. When she awoke from her anaesthetic she asked for me. I went into the wing (it wasn’t yet visiting hours but I was lurking around anyway) and came over to her. She was groggy. She grabbed my hand and pulled me in close to talk to me. Her first words were not poetic, they weren’t deep heart touching words or anything. She said “ Chantelle- I want a banana. Or an Apple!” and she said it with such clear longing and force that it made me smile. Then she said “Or maybe a mango, or some fruit juice – I am sooo hungry Chantelle!” I asked the nurse if she could eat yet and was told the lunch meal was about 30 minutes away and she would have to wait for that. I sat on the edge of the bed and held her hand and chatted with her and her mom while we waited. Once she dozed and her head faced her mom and suddenly she said  to her Mom- “Where is Chantelle????” Her Mom told her I was right there and she moved her head and saw me sitting on the other side and gave me this big smile and squeezed my hand. She was so funny and candid for the next few hours as we ate and then waited to be released. Her Mom kept ssshing her for being so blunt and direct with me (which did not bother me one iota but her mom would have seen as her being rude to me) and we just laughed. I told her Mom it was just the medication talking. We joked that today she was crazy, but tomorrow she would  be back to normal Ramatou. At her insistence, I promised to buy a bag of mangoes on the way home to quench her mango craving.

When we arrived back at her house, a crowd of people came running to welcome her back. They gathered around her and helped her onto a padded mat on the ground. Of course she asked right away for a mango. They will take good care of her for the next week while she heals and doesn’t do any major lifting or running or anything. The incision is only 1.5 inches long, but she still needs to be careful. A few of the older women came over to talk to me. I love the old women here who have seen so many things in their lives. Their folds of weathered skin and sunken eyes tell the story of hard times and their nomadic lifestyle. One of the old women blessed me. I mean actually blessed me. She kissed her hand and then touched it to my forehead, all the while asking for her Allah’s blessing on me and my life. She did this several times in a row and it was all I could do to keep tears from rolling down my cheeks. Everything I had given to Ramatou she gave me right back in that love, that kiss on my forehead and her blessing. Love Karma.

I asked Paul when I got home if it was wrong to love the love in return. I don’t do it for the return love and often here in this country our love can be met with spits in the face, but we keep on loving anyways. But those times when our love is returned with love, my heart is glad. I told Paul, it might seem crazy, but maybe I would do this job forever just for that love. I don`t need accolades, recognition or awards, I can live on those little bits of love karma alone. So yeah….maybe that sounds a little bit crazy 🙂 .

It was another day that I was reminded that I am so thankful to be in this place, at this time, doing this work, to be God’s hand to her. Let’s make it clear- I am just the tool. We don’t celebrate a hammer in the Master’s hand, we celebrate and are thankful to the Master himself. Let me tell you, I am one happy hammer!

 

The most I can do for my friend is simply to be his friend. I have no wealth to bestow on him. If he knows that I am happy in loving him, he will want no other reward. Is not friendship divine in this?” -Henry David Thoreau

 

If this is what love karma is…bring it on!

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Ramatou back at this school Wednesday- pain free!!

Girls’ rights are human rights!

When you help a girl to access her rights, the impact doesn’t just end there with her. When a girl is educated, nourished and protected, she shares her knowledge and skills with her family and community – a girl’s involvement in education and community can change the future of a nation.

Feed a girl – she’ll feed everyone around her.

Fact: The nutrition a girl receives as a child will affect the health of her own child when she becomes a mother. A girl with years of bad nutrition and health care can have serious problems in adolescence and into womanhood.

“Discrimination against the girl child in her access to nutrition and physical and mental health services endangers her current and future health and that of her children. An estimated 450 million adult women in developing countries are stunted as a result of childhood protein-energy malnutrition.” – The Declaration from the Beijing Women’s Conference in 1995.

Did you know we are trying to bring in a feeding program component to the girls school next year?

Keep a girl healthy – she’ll protect the health of her entire family.

Fact: Girls and boys face different health issues, not just because they are physiologically different, but because of their status in society. While physically girls are often more resilient than boys, the way they are treated from birth in comparison with their brothers often leaves them at a disadvantage.

For example, in households where boys are more highly valued that girls, boys often eat before the girls. Whatever is left over goes to the girls. Without nutritional equality, girls aren’t able to reach their full potential.

We have already seen so many ways where the health of our precious girls is failing. We are constantly looking for smart, efficient ways to bridge the gap of health care in their lives!

Educate a girl – she’ll break the cycle of poverty.

Fact: Education leads to…

a higher income
smaller, healthier families
reduced risk of HIV
more involvement in politics and decision making

“Education helps you see what is wrong with the world and gives you the confidence to question it.” – Bhanwari, 20 years old, India

Empower a girl – she’ll change the world.

Fact: Young women put back 90% of their income into their household, but men only give back 30-40%. By directing the money they earn back into the household, girls can help their families to stay healthy, secure and educated.

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Sorry this will be a short update- but lots of pictures at least! We have been very busy lately. Our last two classes were on conflict management, and then one on dental care! Seems funny to have them back and forth but we move around between health topics and moral topics quite freely Smile

The interesting thing about conflict management here is …..they don’t manage it. They don’t talk about it. They won’t sit down and discuss it with the person and everything gets shoved under the rug or they use an intermediary instead of going themselves. Wow. That is like my worst nightmare!!

Try as we could, we just couldn’t seem to get them to even consider more proactive ways of dealing with the fights that happen. And we know the girls are always disagreeing and arguing! Must be such a strong cultural thing that so far we just can’t break through! Here are some pics of the skits and girls that day.

On one other note- the young girl Ramatou I wrote about a few blogs ago is going in for surgery Wednesday- so please keep her and her family in your prayers!

 

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My advanced math class doing modified BINGO outside in the yard.

If they get a number right, before they can circle it on their sheet, they have to correctly spell it!

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Halima took a turn as the “prof” and read out the numbers and wrote them on the board.

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Then just last week we talked about dental care. Not surprising, the quality of dental care here is horrific and their teeth are not a pretty sight, especially as they get older. The Tuareg women have the extra added “problem” in that culturally a lot of the women use chewing tobacco! Thankfully we are catching the girls before the age they would start that, so we can educate them against it! I showed gory photos about mouth cancer  and nasty rotted teeth and gums and it really brought it home the damage that chewing tobacco and smoking can cause.

We used eggs to show teeth and the issue of brushing and caring for your enamel. We covered eggs in dried honey and caked on dirt and they had to use brushes and a tiny bit of water and make it spic and span clean. We did 4 experiments on eggs using water for one (to show cleanliness) vinegar on one (to show acidic damage like their sauces and Coca cola and juices) we used strong Tuareg sugared tea on one (which is a part of their daily lives) and then we smeared toothpaste on another one then submitted it to the tea test as well. The girls had a lot of fun. I returned 2 days later to show what had happened to the eggs. The water one was spic and span, the two tea ones were dark and stained, although the one with toothpaste was notably less stained, and the vinegar egg had no hard shell left and was like a bouncy ball! Crazy! Try that one at home, but handle it carefully!

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So that’s it for now! Only 5 more weeks before their summer break!

I’m going to be so sad!