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Meet 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!

1-2-3 Nutrition

“Ok class, get into groups and come up with the best meal for four that you can with 2 500 cfa (approx. $5.00 cnd)” Our goal was to see what kind of nutritional value the girls’ meals would have in their best meal. Nigeriens normally eat a very carbohydrate rich meal, and among the poor carbohydrates are eaten almost exclusively. One might get a huge portion of rice but nothing else. Our goal with this series of three nutrition lessons was to show these ladies how they can prepare, for the same amount of money, something that will both satisfy their immediate hunger and the long term needs of their bodies.

2500 cfa meal

These are three possibilities of what a girl might make for supper given 2500 cfa

Chantelle started the series by teaching a lesson on different food groups. We simplified it down to three groups – protein, energy, and vitamins. Two girls were asked to come up and separate an allotment of toy food into different group. Just for an idea of their thought process when it comes to preparing a meal, the food groups they came up with were: what you would put in sauce, what you would eat by itself, and fruits and vegetables. Chantelle emphasized the importance of all three groups in the diet of any person.

The next class was taught by Cecilia. She broke down the category ‘vitamins’ and explained some minerals for the girls. She explained to them the importance of each one as well as where to get them. Vitamin A helps your eyes, vitamin C helps you not to get sick, calcium is important for the development of bones and teeth and so on and so forth. Many health problems here are simply due to a lack of vitamins and minerals

Cecilia gives the run down of what vitamins do and where you can find them

Cecilia gives the run down of what vitamins do and where you can find them

To finish the series we talked about 7 superfoods available in Niger. Since people do not have money to waste, it is important for them to know how to get big nutrition for small money.

The first superfood is not really a food. It is more, water, as the local Tuareg people say, is life. “Amman iman”. All the while it is much forgotten.  Many girls suffer headaches, and tiredness because of dehydration even when clean water is present. Anywhere, consuming enough water is an integral part of health but in Niger it is even more important when temperatures soar up to and above 50 ̊C’s. Before you think about your rice and sauce, think about water is what the girls were told. Much ailment can be avoiding simply by drinking enough water.

The rest of the locally available superfoods are as follow: Moringa leaves, baobab fruit, sardines, peanuts, bananas and beans. These are all things that most of these girls have already used in their cooking. It is not generally useful to introduce new things because people are pretty set in their ways. So simple encouragement to continue or even amplify use of certain food products is the best bet.

Wholesome Foods in Niger

Moringa leaves, peanuts, and beans which are ready to be bagged for the students to take home.

Everyone was sent home with portions of each of the superfoods talked about.

Everyone was sent home with portions of each of the superfoods talked about.

All was reviewed with a fun game which included picking people up, patting them on the back, and jumping down. The made up game was a hit even though it was made up on the spot because the original game idea got lost in translation. And finally the girls made a meal plan with the same 2500 cfa to see if they learned anything. It seems they did.

Nutrition Game

The girls are enjoying a revision game. It wassn’t quite what I planned it to be, but they had fun and learned something.

It seems that these young ladies enjoyed this series and we are praying that they take it to heart and make more of their money with their food.

We are looking forward to the next health series – dental care.

All photo credit to Chantelle M

Finding a Woman’s Value

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of teaching a lesson on the value of women to the girls at the center. Without looking far, in any society, there are many women found who are looking in the wrong places for their identities. The same basic questions of worth plagues the hearts and minds of women around the world. “Am I beautiful?”, “Do men approve of me?”, “Do I possess the ability to work?” and “Do I own enough possessions?” These questions become the criteria used to mark a price tag on each woman. This skewed view cripples societies. As a woman seeks her value from the wrong things, she breaks her marriage, family and body. How then can she battle the poverty she might be stuck in. From the depressed Canadian mother who can’t keep a Pinterest worthy home to the young girl in the third world taking any man she can in order to at least be of some function in this world, women miss out on one truth. This truth is that we are all knit together by God (on purpose) in our mothers’ wombs and thus are of irreplaceable value.

The girls started by looking at several pictures – a woman working, a woman with children, a beautiful woman, wealthy woman, and a woman with husband/boyfriend. They had to pick which one had the most value. The top three were the working woman, the wealthy woman and the woman with a husband. Surprise: each woman is of equal value, but do they let their value shine through their actions?

We looked at two basic principles of where the value of a woman lies. First, every woman is created with an infinite price tag. Second, ladies put a finite price tag on themselves by allowing their beauty, relationships and even ability to work define their value.

“Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” Proverbs 31:30. Value comes from an intricate understanding of your relationship with your creator. This understanding leads a woman to a life of actions based on knowing that her price is priceless.

My teammates and I deeply desire for these girls to grasp their value and to live it out. Here, more than anywhere before, I have realized how important it is to understand one’s innate value. Poverty or any other societal problem cannot be overcome unless there is a proper value of individuals. When a woman knows her God-given value, she can raise her family and support her family in an effective way. If she is searching for her value in men, makeup, light skin (or dark if she’s white), or family situation, she cannot focus on doing well.

I am privileged to journey with these girls in discovering their worth. Also, I am challenged in my perception of worth as I teach on the subject. Teaching something is the best way to learn it.

This weekend we had the privilege of hosting a late Christmas party with ladies that have connection with our center. It was a privilege to care for some young women who don’t get the chance to leave home much.

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Photo update

A quick update from Niger! We took a two week break at the school over the holidays and now we are embarking on new sessions and topics in all of our classes. What a delight to see all the girls back in school and ready to learn.


The highlight of my week are the moments I get to spend with these young ladies and our staff, both at the school and visiting their homes.


Just before the Christmas break we had some special visitors to our country and school who always bless us and lead us so well!


We taught a class where the girls were self identifying all the problems they felt they faced in their lives, from lack of clothing to lack of education, to health concerns, work concerns, safety etc. Then we had them vote (using rocks in a cup) for their most urgent problems they wanted to address. This will give us insight into their concerns and direction on where to go with some of our classes in the future to address those needs.


The girls have also made significant progress in their vocational skills. They are all working on knitting a complete baby outfit (booties, pants, jackets and hat) and once they know this they can easily make and sell these locally. They are also almost done their hand sewing projects and in the next few months we will be purchasing all the new machines we need for them! So excited to see them make this next step and thankful for you who bought those machines via the gift catalog!





Just before the Christmas break we told them the story of Christmas and acted it out using a nativity set. Interesting to see how they loved checking out the clay set and were asking questions. In a country that is not Christian but still celebrates it as a holiday day where everyone gets together, has parties, eats good food etc, it was neat to tell them what the day signified and the events as they unfolded that day, so long ago.



Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!

The honest truth

This past week at NVOC we talked about honesty. From the North American perspective, honesty is a strong value for us, right up there with moral levels of “right and wrong”. But in many other cultures, there are many things more important than honesty, such as saving face, protecting your reputation, gaining advantage for your family, or even the “honor” of pulling a fast one on someone. In Niger I would say we are somewhere in the middle. Honesty is not a high value for them, but it is also not unimportant either and it sure bugs them if they are on the receiving end of the dishonesty.

Cecilia took the lead this week and she opened up asking what honesty meant to them and giving examples of why it might be important in their lives. Then she told them three stories. The first one was the old classic “The boy who cried wolf”. The she told the biblical story of Ananias and Saphira. Then she told a part of the story of Joseph where he was a great man in Egypt during the famine and his brothers came to him to buy grain, not knowing who he was. We talked out each story and where the truth and lies were. Then we divided the girls into groups and they each re-enacted a story for the whole big group.

We laughed lots but we also appreciated the comments and feedback from the Girls that God sees the heart, and we cannot lie to him. Lying is showing the black in our hearts.

Enjoy the photos of some of the learning, skits, and even our “sheep” from one of the stories!

Pray with us as always that God’s word and his desire strong moral character would not be lost on these precious girls.






Food for Thought


Mariama shows off her plate of delicious rice and sauce

Frail hardly described the tiny 13 year old Mariama when she entered her first year at NVOC. Her country, Niger, is stricken by poverty. Its effects are evident wherever one might look. Yet Miriama’s case screamed out as severe above most. For Miriama the hot lunch program helped nourish her tiny body; and along with other training and encouragement you would never pick her out from a crowd as weak. She is no giant but she holds herself in a stately manner and possesses a zest for life. The once tiny and shy girl is now the social butterfly among the NVOC apprentices. Even though not all girls come to NVOC in such a desperate state the hot lunch program offers some much needed nutrition and protein to the girls’ diet. As illustrated by Miriama’s story, hot lunch served every day is an integral part of NVOC’s work to help girls out of the grasps of poverty.

A healthy lunch full of vegetables, meat and grains is fed to the girls every weekday lunch. This is a change from the last cycle of NVOC when the program ran only four days a week. It was decided that a bit of nutrition helps the girls focus and learn optimally during class time. So, it’s now five meals a week!

According to the staff, the sauce called Chipata(made with a leaf specific to the region, peanut butter, squash, tomatoes and other vegetables and meat) is a big favourite! And the students seem to like it too! For the girls this is a rich meal. Usually a good meal is considered a belly stuffed full of carbohydrates (rice, couscous, bread etc.). But NVOC intends tohelp these girls understand that the nutrition they and their families need is contained in a balanced array of foods including vegetables for vitamins and meat for protein.

Who gets it done?

Voici Hassi! Here is the reason the girls eat. She works hard to bring all of the ingredients to NVOC and is the head of the operations. Hassi always greets with a warm smile and genuinely cares to contribute to the lives of these girls!

Voici Mariama! Mariama works part time at NVOC. She always loves to have someone for a tasty meal! This is evidenced in the food that we eat every day that she is cooking.

Voici Traichad! She is a lovely addition to the team, providing good help and big smiles!

Voici ‘YOU’! ‘YOU’ as in the supporters of the Hot Lunch Program. Unfortunately the markets don’t supply free food. If they did, who would need Hot Lunch program?

Not Just Physical Nutrition

Relationships are built around the table.It is a good opportunity for the young ladies to interact with each other and with the NVOC staff. Good food often precedes good conversations.


This program is not fully funded for the year. If you would like to know how to contribute, please check out the following link- https://secure.e2rm.com/registrant/TicketingCatalog.aspx?eventid=150215&langpref=en-CA&Referrer=https%3a%2f%2fadmin.e2rm.com%2fEventSummary.aspx scroll down to find the link “Niger Vocational Training School – Hot Lunch for One Month.”


The girls line up to be served by Hassi


This may not please any aesthetic cravings but it sure does taste good!


Some of the girls are enjoying lunch together


Lunch is always a time for fun!

Working and growing together

These last two weeks at the NVOC school we haveseen different ways in which the students work together really well, and other ways that they really work in opposition to each other. Let’s keep in mind that only two months ago a lot of these girls didn’t know each other. And that they are teenage girls, just like teenage girls all around the world in many ways. We have seen examples of where they have sat next to each other and taught a crocheting stitch to someone that wasn’t understanding it. We have seen them sit and braid each other’s hair. We have seen them work together in math class to come to the right answer as a group. But we have also seen them call each other names. We have heard of them excluding someone because of their religious beliefs. We have seen insults and even hitting occur when they didn’t get along and they wanted to try to be superior to another girl by putting her down. We have had tears and hurt feelings. Even as a adult I am reminded of how rejection hurts and how it feels to be excluded. No matter where you are from, those things hurt.

It was perfect timing to have a day where we were focusing on teamwork and encouragement. We started the afternoon by talking about the African Proverb –

” If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. “

We talked about cultural examples of how people working together could succeed and ways that they saw that happen in their own communities. We also talked about how in their culture (like many others) people who succeed and get ahead are often insulted and sabotaged and brought down by people who do not want anyone to get ahead or to succeed if it isn’t them. They gave several examples of how this is true in their own lives and community experiences as well.

I read them Ecclesiastes 4:9-10.

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.

We talked about what happens when you see one person insulting another person. I gave them the example of if Cecilia and I were fighting and I started calling her names and insulting her. What did that make them think about Cecilia? Quite often it did not actually make people think worse of Cecilia. People know that insults often hold no truth. I asked them what it would show about the person who was giving the insults- this they quickly answered was obvious that they were a mean person. We talked about how our actions and how we treat others actually shows clearly the condition of our own hearts. So the one doing the accusing is actually just showing the black condition of their own heart. One of the girls told a little story example that tied perfectly in with my next scripture. I paraphrased and explained to them Numbers 11:14-17- telling them a little bit about the life of Moses and these verses-

I alone am not able to carry all this people, because it is too burdensome for me. “So if You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once, if I have found favor in Your sight, and do not let me see my wretchedness.” The LORD therefore said to Moses, “Gather for Me seventy men from the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and their officers and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you….”Then I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit who is upon you, and will put Him upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you will not bear it all alone.

We are made to live in community. We all are better off when we work to the good of the community and when we lift each other up and become encouragers, and not negative people who only think selfish thoughts. I told them we hoped to see more community grow in our school and less of the arguments and insults or putting down other people. Will you join us in praying this spoke to their hearts and that God would continue to grow a spirit of unity among them? I reminded them of one of my motto’s for the school.

The world outside these walls is cruel and will be against you. But in here, we are family. And we stand together.

Then we switched to some interactive ways to experience teamwork. Kerri-Jo showed them a great, physical example. If you are sitting on the ground with your feet in front of you (even with knees bent up) it is almost impossible to get up yourself without using your hands. But if you sit back to back with another person and you apply pressure and support each other, you can stand up together. Hilarity ensued as we saw the girls pair up and try to make this happen. It was more like WWF wrestling than teamwork at some points!

Kerri-Jo and Katie showing them how it is done!



Then we introduced our creative project for the day. Operation “save Mr Egg!”. The girls were all given a raw egg to name and some craft materials. Their job was to work together as a team to come up with a design that would protect their precious Mr. Egg from a fall from various heights. Each girl had one item to add to the materials and they had to work together to make the best design. The winning team would be the one who survived the greatest fall! The Girls loved this activity and really I was pleased to see such a positive atmosphere as they worked together. In the end, we dropped the eggs from different heights and the biggest survivor finally cracked about 6 feet off the ground. I remember last cycle when we had two designs that still didn’t break when we dropped them off the roof! But that cone design was not present this year and thus the shorter distances.

 This poor Mr Egg never made it off the research and development floor…


One of the groups showing off their design. I love the feather hat look 🙂


We kept dropping the eggs from various heights as we knocked out the competition.


The winning team!


The learning word of the day was….poop.

Hygiene and cleanliness is a popular topic at our school. We talk about it all the time and make sure to keep the school, latrines and courtyards clean. Early on we also taught a series of classes on general hygiene, how and why to wash your hands, when to wash, how to protect your food from germs and contamination, how to purify water via boiling and solar purification, and how disease and illness can spread through “dirty” water and food.

We took some washable kids markers and we marked pretend “germs” on the hands of the girls- making sure to put some under their nails and between their fingers as well as the more obvious areas. Then each girl would go and wash her hands using the method we had showed using soap and water and counting to at least 15 seconds while lathering and scrubbing. We had so funny scenarios showing how illness can easily be spread from one person to another through handshakes and touch. We love how interactive the girls are.


As usual, we try to reinforce the teaching with skits and other active ways for the girls to internalize what they heard and saw, talk about it, then repeat it for the others to see and learn from again. Those skits are often the highlight of our week as there is so much laughter , but often also bits of real insight into culture and situations that us teachers would not normally think of.




The second week Cecilia was talking about food hygiene and protection. She had a great set of photos showing all different kinds of hygiene situations and the Girls got into groups to classify them into good practice and bad practices. It was great to hear them discuss certain pictures and what was wrong with them.



We are certainly not above using the word poop, or caca as they call it with a little giggle that teenage girls are so fond of, in our classes! In a place where there is a low percentage of people with improved sanitation facilities, it is important to help them to see the health ramifications of uncovered and unclean latrines and animal droppings. According to the 2012 World Development Indicators (by the World Bank) only 9% of the total population of Niger had access to improved sanitation facilities. While they percentage is higher here in the city, it is still a staggering figure!

Cecilia clearly laid it out. There is poop on the ground. You touch it. You touch your mouth . This equals you eat poop. Flies land on the poop then land on the food. Then you eat the food. Thus you eat poop. Your water sources and compromised and filthy, You drink the water. You are drinking poop. She said it much more eloquently than that short explanation, but the gist was the same!


One of the girls said to me after how it had never occurred to them before that the animal dropping all around their courtyard could present a health hazard to them, and especially to their younger siblings who never think to wash their hands. We hope this visual reminder and skits and teaching will stick in their heads and be something they will not only practice at home themselves, but pass on to the other people in their families.


Ice breakers and team work!



This year at the NVOC (short for Niger Vocational Training Centre) we are working with new batch of girls. This means that they don’t know each other and there is no established trust or friendships. In the past this has also caused tensions and fights as girls from different ethnic group background come together and mix daily where they normally would not. We learned one of the best ways to break through some of these relational barriers was to have fun together! One of our first classes after we tackled placement tests and Math and French we decided to just play some games where they purposefully had to really interact with each other – with hilarious results!

The game where sometimes you end up with 5 people sharing one chair….


Or the one where you have to trust the people you don’t know to catch you when you fall. Do we really think they will let us fall or hold us up? Symbolically we pray this will speak volumes about how strong their relationships grow this year!



Funny Haoua decided to crowd surf and launched herself, much to their surprise!



Then we sat down in small groups and talked about why education was important. Why did they want to be at a training school and learning, rather than at home or married. Why did they think this type of school and fighting against child marriage was important? Each group met and talked and made their own skit up to explain and show to others what they thought.


The skits they had prepared were hilarious. Pictures just can’t do them justice! At one point three of the girls were all-out wrestling on the mats, pretending to be a mother and a father and a man who wanted to marry their young teenage daughter. The dialogue was something along the lines of “I’ll teach you to think it’s okay to marry my 13 year old daughter- you old man!” Oh how we all laughed! We are excited to see already this new group of girls engaging and speaking out. It seems to be coming along quicker this cycle than last time and it is so fun!


We value your prayers as we look to not only invest in these girls individually, but to built a community of other girls and staff around them who will walk through this journey of life with them. I remind them that outside the walls of our school the world is difficult and many people will be against them, but in here we are all together, we all care for each other, and no one is left behind. I pray this will be true in both actions and words and they will grow to love and care and support for one another.



A new cycle begins

First of all, forgive me for our blog silence lately. We have had some html/web issues that I just don’t have the knowledge to solve and thus my main way of writing blogs (via an external plug in program that made it quick and easy) is no longer working and I have to do it the long, arduous html way. Ouch.

We started our new cycle of young ladies at the Girls at Risk school this month. As we reviewed our previous cycle one of the things that cropped up is that we needed more time with the girls. We had two classes running before. One class from 8:30 to 12:30 and another class from 1:30 to 5:30. So 60 girls overall. But those 4 hours a day were not enough for them to learn all they had to tackle and even our sewing teacher staff members wanted to have more time with the girls. So we made the decision to cut back the overall number of girls in order to have more time with the ones we do have. So we have one class of new girls from 8:30 am to 16:00 everyday. We also have 10 returning grads who come 2-3 days a week to learn advanced skills and to help lead and mentor the new group of girls.


4 of our returning graduates.


First health lessonNVOC-2130



We were so excited to see each and every girl who had registered show up and ready to start. We have 11 girls on a waiting list and more today showed up to try to register. Sadly we do not have the physical space to be able to hold all the girls who would like to enter, but we are thankful for each one we do have!

All of our new girls came and we spent the morning a few weeks ago doing entrance interviews, Math and French placement tests and health statistics like their weight and height (to track their progress with our medical clinic and nutrition program). It took a long time and it was hot and sweaty, but we broke it up with snacks, cold juice and lots of laughter!

I am so excited to meet these young ladies. I am excited to see how much they want to learn and how eager they are and I can just imagine all that God will do in their lives and how they will blossom. Already in our few classes we can see them striving to do better, so eager to ask questions, so ready to interact and do skits, learn new things and to challenge their cultural norms about health and learning and the roles of girls.

We started the morning off in prayer with the Girls. We know it is important they see us as people of prayer who care for them and will pray for them and journey with them. I look forward to every week as we will ask for prayer requests and pray for the issues and people dear to their hearts.

Speaking of prayer, we will soon be sending out prayer partnerships. If you would like to be included in our list of partners and be assigned a young lady to lift up in prayer, please let us know.



NVOC Class 2014


Thank you for your support and prayers as we embark on this next round of education for these young ladies. We are so thankful for each of you who reach across the distance and care, and pray and support!