Samaritan's Purse launches project in Western Africa
by Sherrie Norris
The 10-day effort, "Raise a Village," could transform the community and change the lives of village families whose struggles are insurmountable, Samaritan's Purse officials said.
According to information provided by Samaritan's Purse, nearly half of Niger's population lives each day on less than most Americans spend on a cup of coffee. Millions of Nigeriens live on less than $1.25 per day, Samaritan's Purse said.
Samaritan's Purse officials said that through this campaign, the 1,400 people living in Guidan Gado will have renewed hope for the future.
The goal for "Raise a Village," is $85,000, which will help move the community toward self-sustenance by providing goats and other livestock, seeds, farming tools, methods to maximize food production -- and an opportunity to hear God's Word.
The economy of the Republic of Niger, a landlocked country in Western Africa, centers on subsistence crops and livestock.
Despite a 99 percent Muslim population in Niger, Christians are free to share the gospel. Samaritan's Purse has provided assistance to an estimated 500,000 people there since 2005, when the organization responded to a severe food security and nutrition crisis. However, hunger and malnutrition remain a stark reality today with more than 3 million Nigeriens suffering from severe and moderate food insecurity. Nearly half the nation's children live in a state of chronic malnutrition.
"Right now, the people of Guidan Gado are in a desperate situation because of poverty, starvation, disease and lack of access to clean water," said Alan Bobbett, Niger Country Director for Samaritan's Purse. "They don't know if they will even live another year.
"Bobbett said that during one visit to the community, he saw a woman with a handful of bugs and leaves that she was pounding out just so she would have something to feed her children.
Anybody can minister to the physical needs, but to the spiritual needs - to actually bring and restore hope is something only God can do, Bobbett said. "We're called by Jesus to enter into the suffering of the poor, and we can do that here. We can raise this village and in so doing, we can raise the entire community around it," he said.
Hope is contagious and when people begin to hope, it spreads, Bobbett said. "That hope is what Samaritan's Purse plans to bring to this community through the 'Raise a Village' campaign."
Bobbett said that donations would allow his group to teach the villagers agricultural and farming techniques, practices that are sustainable and will provide a solution, not just a Band-Aid, to their food problems.
Once the results are apparent in this village, Bobbett said, neighboring villages will come alongside them and model the same practices. "So, in essence, good outcomes for just one village can impact an entire region," he said.
Bobbett sees the "Raise a Village" program as one that will also reduce death rates and allow children the opportunity to thrive rather than struggle to survive.
"It will make households more self-sufficient, allowing them to provide for and feed their families. It will also create a population of adult men who do not have to leave the village to look for work. This means families can stay together," he said.
Guidan Gado is located east of the capital city of Niamey and described by Samaritan's Purse as being "atop potholed roads and across scorching desert for more than 200 miles."
The roads are "regularly interrupted by speed bumps that are handmade and plentiful" - each bump marking a location where a child was killed by a vehicle that did not heed villagers moving from one mud hut to another. Upon reaching the town of Madaoua, vehicles must leave the pavement and traverse rocks and sand for more than two hours through the fine, deep sand of dry riverbeds.
Guidan Gado is on a hot desert hillside where mud and thatch walls frame small family compounds. Women with babies tied to their backs pound millet - a grain friendly to the semi-arid climate - in large wooden mortars, tapping their pestles against the sides between hits.
The People of Guidan Gado In addition to the above information, Samaritan's Purse has provided the Watauga Democrat with a profile of some of the village people, including Auta, whose skin is described as "dark and taut with valleys of worry and determination etched into her forehead."
Auta is a 58-year-old widow, whose husband died more than 30 years ago. During a recent interview, Auta sat holding her granddaughter, as a few men were hard at work around her, trying in earnest to grow food in the dry, sandy soil;
"Guidan Gado is my village, Auta said, "my home, because I was born here and my parents were born here and everyone I know is here. It's not good when people have to leave, but by necessity, they have to leave."
Auta's words reveal the harsh reality these 1,400 villagers experience each day.
The people of Guidan Gado watch as their land grows drier. They sit in excruciating heat, waiting for rains that rarely come. They watch their men leave to find work, to find food. They lay down to sleep with empty bellies for a night, two nights, sometimes more.
Auta's smile and eyes betrayed the difficulty of her life, but the lines around them testified to years of such smiles.
Her face illustrated the great paradox of these people who live simply and struggle to provide even the very basic necessities for their families. Yet they are also tenacious and resilient. There is still a shadow of joy here.
"We are hungry," said the village chief Mahaman Chaibou, "and that is the main problem."
The granaries are empty, the fields are barren, and animals are in short supply. Families often don't eat for days.
The narrow cheeks of children and the stunted growth of men are harsh reminders of reality.