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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This past week we wrapped up this year’s program with a big year end party. Every year we end in late June and start back up again in October. Many of our girls travel back to villages, other cities and even other countries, and stay during harvest time, so they enjoy a nice long break before coming back the first week of October.

This year we ended a week early because Ramadan (month of fasting) started the 17th of June. Since many people fast and are tired, we decided to have the big party and all the food the day before it started!

Each year we give out custom fabric that has our school logo and name on it. It’s a very traditional way in this culture to celebrate big events and everyone gets outfits made and shows up in different outfits and styles but all the same fabric!

First many of the girls came early to help with food prep. There were a lot of onions to peel and other veggies, meat etc! The girls had voted for a meat stew with fresh baguettes and juice for their meal.

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While some cooking was going on, there was dancing and fun going on as well. The girls laughed and did dances and games and had a wonderful time. It is so good to see them relax and have fun with their friends and celebrate all the hard work they did this year. And of course they posed with their friends!

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One young lady who had a baby a few months ago had the courage to still come to the year end party. We were so thrilled to see her and proud of how the other girls welcomed her back warmly. Here she is with her sister (who is also a student) and new daughter.

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We also set up a little photo area and took portraits of all the girls and more groups shots. It is so fun to see how at ease they are and smile as opposed to the first day of school! Here is the apprentice group with Kerri-Jo. These ladies worked so hard this year and made bags, table runners, outfits, etc. Can’t wait to see all they learn next year!

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Our expat (Anasara in the local language) team for the 2014-2015 year. SO blessed to work with these ladies!

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Some of the beautiful children who are at the school many days with their Moms!

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Future students? Daughters of our apprentices.

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Siblings. Aminata (left) helps with translation and as a nurse on clinic days, Hama (middle) works as an apprentice with Paul at the mens shop and Miriama (right) works as a cook and translator and all around friend of the school. We have known this family for many years.

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This is a group shot of almost our whole group (a few were missing), including students, apprentices and staff!  What a great, diverse, and hard working group. We are thankful for this opportunity for them to take a break over the summer and look forward to seeing them all again in October!

Happy year end!!

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Here is Niger, one of the most crippling factors in the life of many women is the lack of access and capacity. Sometimes this is due to ignorance, shame, uncertainty and fear, rather than a lack of actual physical facilities or programs.

This week we tried to break down one of those barriers in our community of young women by taking them all on a field trip to the local “CSI”. CSI stands for Centre de Santé Intégré (Integrated Health Unit). There are little health units like this is most communities in town and many larger villages as well. What is shocking is the lack of awareness that many women have to this facility right in their own community.

We walked the 1 km together down the dirt roads. While it was still scorching hot (42 degrees) we were thankful for the breeze and hazy clouds, even though it carried dirt and thus we had gritty teeth and eyes in short order!

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When we arrived we were waiting for a few minutes for the head nurse to be free to start our program. A young man was sitting on his moto in the shade of the tree and came over and asked if he could have permission to present to our Girls. He was from Doctors Without Borders and was doing community awareness training on the recent meningitis outbreak. We gave permission and he spent the next ten minutes telling the girls all about what meningitis was, how it was treated, how it was transmitted from person to person and how to avoid it. He was thrilled to hear we had just vaccinated all our girls last month and said “You are protecting the next generation- and they are all so pretty!” Haha! At any rate, it was great for the girls to hear first hand and to witness some of the government health programs being rolled out.

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We broke the girls into 4 groups. Each group was responsible for one specific section to present to the rest of the class later, even if all the groups saw every section. They had to find out what the primary services were, who was the target population, how much it cost, and anything else they thought was note worthy.

The sections:

1) We started in the Prenatal clinic where they chart and track mother’s progress as well as testing for HIV, gestational diabetes and other things. Then we also toured the birthing area! We went into the labour room where there were three women in active labour. I tried to hurry us out of that room quickly as it felt awkward to me, but apparently it did not phase the nurses and they said the women were just “working” but not ready to deliver. Tell that to the poor woman laying on the floor holding onto the metal feet of the bed while she had a contraction! (there was a bed by the way- i think she just prefered the cool tile of the floor) We quickly went into the delivery room because there was no one actively giving birth. The nurse explained the room and equipment to the girls and how neat for them to have a chance to see this room before they show up for the real deal one day! Then we went into the recovery room. We saw a baby who was only 30 minutes old! We also saw a brand new set of twins! I wanted to take photos of their sweet faces but wanted to respect the privacy of the mothers so just imagine in your heads 🙂

And the cost for delivery? Just $2.50 Cdn to get you a bed! It’s true you need to bring your own supplies like gloves, bed plastic, razor, baby bathtub etc, but still…..$2.50!!!

 

 

2) Malnutrition program. This area was also staffed with a couple young men who were happy to explain everything to our class of pretty young ladies. They learned how each child who is experiencing signs of malnutrition is measured, weighed and charted and tracked once a month for growth. They have some interventions of corn/soy blend flour and a product called “plumpy nut” (basically a peanut butter bar type thing) to help give extra calories to malnourished mothers and children.

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A medieval torture device or the weigh station? The baby is put in a sling and clipped to this hanging scale.

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Learning how the curved growth charts work for children. A captive audience!

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3) Vaccination program. Here they saw how children from 0-24 months come in for regular vaccinations that are almost free! Such a great program that so few people are aware of. The government of Niger makes the attempt to have free medications for all children under the age of 5. Sometimes the pharmacies or clinics are out of stock, but our team is partnering with this specific health centre to try to augment their stock so that they do not run out.

4) General clinic! Even though this centre focuses mostly on women and children, anyone who is sick can come and see a doctor. There was a long line up of patients so no pictures of this either.

I hope our tour of the local health unit was an encouragement to the girls. So many of the staff were women and it is great for them to see that women can be in professional situations and be active in their community. I also want them to know there are places to go in their communities other than pricey private clinics and that they can have their babies somewhere other than their hut, and they can make sure their children are growing and healthy. What a blessing!

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A “fada” is the name of a hangout place. So this spot was “Fada Bad boyz” which was decked out in pink and bright blue with benches and often in the evenings has groups of young men hanging out. But in the middle of the day it was quiet and the girls were happy to invade for a photo-op!

Women’s empowerment- sometimes it is just a field trip away!

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Life is full of hard choices. No matter where you find yourself living around the World, our lives are full of choices, and all of those choices lead us down different paths, for good or for bad, and impact our lives in different ways. Life is Niger is no different for the young women that we teach.

This week we talked about choices, values and consequences in our life skills lessons with the girls. We tried to help the girls identify what their values were, and how these values help us to navigate decisions and choices in our lives. Our values lay down our roadmap for how we move forward in life.

But what if you never think about what your values are? You never think through decisions and life just sort of “happens” to you. What if you had very little power in your life to make those decisions and other people just imposed their will on you? What if the core fabric of your culture imposed this on you and you felt very un-empowered to even imagine that you do still have some choices that remain truly yours?

Willienke took the lead on this class and did a great job.

First we broke them out into groups and gave them each a set of 12 pictures. We explained each picture, and then had them put them in order of importance in their lives if they could choose. From one being the highest value in their lives, all the way down to the last which had less value than all the others.

 

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Here were their options:

money

good health

able to have children

a marriage partner of their choosing

love in their lives

family around them

good friends

enough food to eat

clean water

joy – to be happy 

to be overweight (often a sign of wealth and enough food but less attractive)

to be skinny (more attractive in their eyes but could mean poverty and not enough to eat)

So you can see with this list the types of decisions they would make. What are their heart values? Would they rather be rich or happy? To have their own children or be surrounded by good friends? I know in real life choosing one does not mean you won’t have the other, but in class we made that the case so that they would have to really examine their opinions. After they put their list in order we looked at the top three from every group. The ones that showed up were:

clean water

money

good health

enough food to eat

to be skinny or to be fat (the group was split pretty evenly on that one!)

one group chose joy as well

Those of us who understand a hierarchy of needs can see why they would choose clean water, food, etc as their top picks. And money can buy all their food and water right? (that was their thinking at least). We went a little deeper and played a game of “this vs. that”. I would pick up two picture choices and they had to pick which one was more important to them, knowing that choosing one would mean they could not have the other one. For example- would they rather marry a poor man who loved them but they lived in squalor or a rich man who was mean to them but they could buy all they want. (Most chose love!)

Would they rather be able to have their own children, but find themselves friendless and lonely? (most chose children!)

Would they rather be skinny and beautiful and often sick or fatter and unattractive but healthy? (most choose skinny and unwell!) We talked about body types and what their culture valued in body types and even gave examples of how this is different around the World. Because our school crosses several different people groups, even amongst the girls we saw different opinions and values on body type. We always try to teach value that our bodies are created beautiful and we should honor them and protect them. How we view ourselves and our self confidence often comes from body image here just like in other cultures.

So while we did not make any life altering choices, or major breakthroughs about anything, our goal was to help them see their own value systems and to think through choices in life. Many ofthem can’t choose these things, they just happen to them, but by knowing what is most important to them they can put their effort into pursuing those things and stop being passive participants in their own lives!

 

We also brought the groups outside and played out some skits, with each group showing different values and choices in life, usually centering around young girls and early marriage or choosing to stay in school. It is always so good to see them process in their own words how choices are made and what the consequences are. We hope this class will give them more reason to consider all their choices and look for those places where they are empowered to make them!

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Health class was about to start. The girls had gathered after lunch and were sitting in class. All of a sudden screams came from the back room. “Help me! Help me!” Laura came out with a very disgusting looking wound sporting a protruding object. Some of the students were so stunned they even ran outside. Thankfully it was all staged; ketchup works well as blood. Dealing with injuries is not often done well among the girls and their families. Even small cuts fester up and become big issues because they have not been cleaned properly. If small injuries are not dealt with well, how about the large ones. When is it worth it to go to the clinic? How should one prepare the wound for a trip to the clinic? What should we not do or apply to the wound? 

After the girls settled down following Laura’s excellent role play, Chantelle asked them what they should put on a cut to clean it. Some answers were good, but others thought perfume should be applied, others gasoline and you name it. She explained to them when should you take an object out yourself and when should you seek medical help. She showed them how to protect and stabilize various types of injuries before going to the doctor. One of the most important steps is to wash with clean water, so she demonstrated.

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Washing the wound for the girls to see

The girls were divided into groups and each given an injury that they had to deal with. Some of their wrapping jobs were not aesthetically pleasing. Nonetheless they did get the idea.

Ketchup!

Cecilia squirts on the injuries

Practicing!

Practicing!

Later Willenke talked about broken bones and answered similar questions as did Chantelle. She showed them how to stabilize for the trip to the hospital depending on the type of break. Some girls thought that pulling on a broken leg is the right thing to do.

In the next class Cecilia talked about what to do about burns. What are the differences between 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree burns and how should they be dealt with differently. For 1st and 2nd degree burns they need to be washed with clean, cool water. But 3rd degree burns always need medical attention. When the burn passes the skin and turns black it is doctor’s territory. Again, she emphasized that perfume and charcoal should not be rubbed on the burn.

If it’s red, yellow, puffy and warm go to a clinic! Get it clean; keep in clean, don’t let it get dirty! A big emphasis was not to let things get out of hand. If there is an infection the girls were told to visit a doctor. Often injuries are left until the person is pretty much on their death bed and then they want medical help. We think it is important for them to understand that less pain, less expense and less time will be spent if they take something that is at its starting stages.

We hope these lessons are taken to heart. In the next months we plan to take the girls on a field trip to one of the local clinics, explaining to them some of the in’s and out’s. Much of the time going to a clinic is intimidating. Hopefully we can eliminate some of that by showing them what some of the local clinics offer.

And thank you Cecilia, Chantelle, and Willenke for teaching these classes. The girls would have had a real opportunity to provide faint care if I had taught.

 

 

We are excited to have lots of new this week at NVOC! We have friends from Canada here with us and we are all learning to make batik fabric from scratch! With all the girls, our teachers and our visitors, we are quite the group!

One fun activity was to give our Canadian friends pictures of each of our girls. This is a gift to our girls as they rarely have photos of themselves. They had to try to hand them out to the right girl without any help. There was lots of laughter and smiling and of course, the girls trying to subtly point them in the right direction!

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First, we stamped on the wax to stop the dye from coloring parts of the fabric.

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This can be done just once, or several different times, each time adding a new color or design to your fabric.

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The girls were also shown various ways of affecting the final product by sewing, gathering, tying or binding the fabric before they dyed it.

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Then you put your waxed fabric into the color dye. It was amazing to see how the color in the bowl had nothing to do with the final outcome. You could die it deep green and hang it on the line and watch it turn red!

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Then it had to dry, but not in the sun because the wax would melt. It was over 40 degrees. Here are two other printsthat we made hanging to dry after we had boiled them to remove all the wax. On both of these you can see the first step drying, and below the second step with the same fabric where we added a second stamp and color.

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Hanging to Dry

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We were so impressed with the attentiveness of the girls each day, as the heat soared in the afternoon into the 40 degree range, they still stayed and learned and stamped and enjoyed themselves. A testament to their desire to learn! We even had some graduates return to come and check out our progress.

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Check out our Facebook page to see many more pictures of our batik training days!

Most anyone reading this hardly remembers learning to read. At some point it becomes second nature and we don’t even think about what sound “gh” makes at the end of laugh. But if I stop and think about it, I remember thinking how crazy that was when I first learned to spell the word. If you can bring yourself back to those days with one word a page picture books, that is what these girls are learning now. Only, they have minds that think far beyond what yours did when you read those simple words.
Cecilia has made it through the alphabet with these girls. It is crazy to see their improvement in recognition of the letters. But the alphabet does nothing if you don’t know it’s function. So in the past few weeks it has been a pleasure to watch Cecilia teach the girls the corresponding sounds to the letters. “T- té- l-lé, té- lé, télé” this was the process for each word they sounded out.

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Cecilia sounds out the French word for TV with the class

This past class, she had the sound out words. The delight on the faces of the girls made me smile. They know they are grasping a tool for life.

“Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry…” Ephesians 4:26

How many of us have spent hours in bed thinking of how frustrated we are with someone. Most can think of a time or two when letting anger go did not come easily. Let me assure you that working in a school full of girls provides much opportunity to see anger grow and set the girls against one another. Some lash back in the form of the silent treatment, while many loud disputes and chases around the yard interrupt the normal chatter of a lunch hour. This last week I taught a lesson on how to deal with anger.

What is the result of anger? It kills. It makes bitter. It ruins relationships. A story was told of how each of the girls became angry at one another. Each time one was added to the story, they were tied in to a mess of knots and yarn. At the end they had to try and accomplish a task. It’s hard to accomplish anything when everyone is angry and everyone.

How do we deal with anger? Forgiveness is the only way to deal with anger. Dealing with an issue harshly will only stir the pot. But sometimes we aren’t even angry for a worthwhile cause. What if we’re angry at someone because of a rumor about them? What if we’re angry at someone because of a genuine accident? We need to then let it go. If they really hurt us, seeking forgiveness is the best way.

In the end we got the girls to do skits of how to deal with anger. We’re not quite sure if they caught on. There was a lot of violence in all of the skits. Maybe they wanted added drama? We’ll never know. Nonetheless, we are thankful that Cecilia gets to teach more about conflict resolution next week.

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The girls roughing it out in a skit on how not to deal with conflict.

On January 16th and 17th 2015, Niger suffered from two days of unprecedented attacks against Christians in the country. In the end there were over 70 churches burned, over 60 Pastor’s houses burned and looted, 5 schools burned, several small project sites and an orphanage. But this blog is not about those attacks, it is just to set the scene. You can google and find lots of information about the attacks in Niger if you are interested. Now peace has returned.

In the aftermath of these attacks, our staff had the opportunity to reach out to those who had been affected to lend a hand in rebuilding. Our Girls at Risk Vocational Training School is partnering with another sewing centre that was burned out and looted to get them rebuilt and back on their feet. New machines are being delivered there later this week. Our men’s apprentice training program is involved in a very hands on way to help a school that was burned and looted to be able to open it’s doors to the students again so they don’t miss out on a whole year of education.

8 classrooms were looted of anything valuable and everything else was set on fire.

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A tangled mess of burned desks. The wood is gone and the metal is in rough shape.

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Paul and the guys went to the school to survey the damage and to pick up all the desk frames that could be salvaged. These past two weeks they have been hard at work refurbishing 60 desks. They had to wash and sand them down, straighten the bent metal, repaint them, and put on new wood tops and seats.

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They are in the final stages and will attach the new wood this week and are set to deliver the desks as soon as the school yard is secure enough (new gates required etc) to be ready for them. Paul has been encouraged to report how well all the apprentices are working, including a few new day labourers he is “trying out” who are sanding all the new wood tops.  This is the perfect kind of training project where they do the same kind of job over and over again to perfect skills. Plus it’s a tangible way for them to see and experience the value of helping others when they are in need.  There have been many great conversations with them as well as a result of these attacks as they discuss religion and attacks done in the name of religion.

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In the midst of this project and several others they have recently got for some paying clients (making metal bookshelves, rebuilding a broken cement mixer among others) they are also trying to get the roof up! The temperatures are climbing and working in the sun is going to wear everyone out quicker. We have two of the trusses up already with three more to go, and then putting on the tough fabric roof material. It will make such a difference when this roof is up, I know they will all rejoice!

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Djamilla

Here’s a hardworking girl who is determined not to let her lack of education hold her back

Djamilla came to NVOC barely knowing how to say “Bonjour”. What’s more, her roots are in a neighbouring country, so her dialect of the local language is different from most of the girls at the centre. This only added to the nervous air that she held, which was quite beyond that of the rest of girls. Would she stick it out? Would she be intimidated, discouraged, or lost?

What a surprise Djamilla had in store for us! She has to be the hardest worker in the class. In the beginning, it was both comical and disheartening to see her grip the pencil. It is hard to imagine that being such a foreign task for the hand. But she stuck with it from the first class onward.  Now this young lady keeps up with the rest of the class in writing. She still has a long ways to go but her effort and progress are amongst the top in the class.

From not being able to say “Bonjour” she has progressed to saying a new phrase to me in French almost every day. It always makes me smile hearing new things from the one who didn’t even know the most basic greeting. She had so many odds stacked against her, but she is steadily working at dismanteling that stack.

I am priviledged to see her confidence go up as she sees that she has learned. The shy girl, lacking in confidence, who first showed up is quickly dissapearing. Not much can make a teacher more proud!