Interview With Aminata Salifou Mody

By Elsa Sichrovsky

Aminata Salifou Mody is a cultural ambassador whose passion is sharing the culture and beauty of her country, Niger, with the world. To find out more about her cultural celebration of Niger, I contacted her on Instagram and she graciously took time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions. Below is our discussion about how to increase awareness of Niger on an international scale.

 

  1. Please introduce yourself and your work as a cultural ambassador.

My name is Aminata Salifou Mody, known by the pseudonym of #Hajia culture. My basic training is in the audiovisual field. I was fortunate enough to be part of the Art and Culture branch of Abdou Moumouni University in Niamey coordinated by Professor Tidjani Alou Antoinette and the Master in World Heritage and cultural projects for development in Turin, Italy. I am also the coordinator of the NGO Al Adun Gargajiya (ALDU Niger). As a cultural ambassador, I often say that I am a “patriot” wanting to awaken awareness of our cultural richness.

 

  1. What are some misconceptions about Niger that need to be challenged?

I would say that the very first is the fact that Niger is often confused with the neighboring country, Nigeria.

 

  1. How do you think we can help people not confuse Niger with Nigeria?

By promoting Niger as much as we can, through music, film, and interviews. By giving us Nigeriens the chance to talk about our country.

 

  1. What do you want people to think of when they think of Niger?

Culture, social cohesion, peace, and brotherhood.

 

  1. What is a place in Niger that everyone must go to?

For me, everyone must go to all the 8 regions (including Niamey) of Niger because every region is special, unique, and has its particularity and beauty.

 

  1. What are some special places in Niger?

The Mosque of Agadez

The Sahara Desert

The Parc W (W Bénin-Niger National Park)

The Fleuve Niger (Niger River)

 

  1. What is the mission of AL ADUN Gargajiya?

The NGO Al Adun Gargajiya has set itself the general objective of helping to promote national culture through an ideal of peace, tolerance, and sharing among all young people in Nigerien society.

 

  1. What new projects are you working on currently?

Taking the NGO to an international level, by creating partnerships that will help me export Nigérien culture.

 

  1. What would you like to say to Nigerien girls and women?

Believe in yourself, train yourself. When you get involved in a project, you have to go all the way. The first obstacles should never discourage a committed person. Believe in yourself and put education and training first, because that’s the one thing that cannot be taken from you. What’s in your head, no one will be able to get hold of. Also, take an interest in your cultural identity because it is part of you. Choose what’s best for you without trying to prove things to anyone. Live your life…. be yourself!

Aminata’s stirring words to Nigerien girls and women echo what Wells Bring Hope is striving to provide: education for women so they can take advantage of the economic and social agency that comes with knowledge. With access to the education and resources to develop their talents, they, too, can become cultural ambassadors like Aminata and remove Niger from its current state of relative obscurity. Give Nigerien girls and women the power to change their futures by donating or volunteering with Wells Bring Hope.

Follow Aminata Salifou Mody on Instagram: @sensei_cultura

Follow her NGO Al Adun Gargajiya on Instagram: @aldu_niger and on Facebook: Al Adun Gargajiya

 

Earthquake Blog

By Nick Baldry

Source: Martin Luff

At 11:39 PM on Friday, September 18th my house started to judder violently. As I lay helplessly pinned to my mattress desperately hoping that the ceiling would remain above my head while listening to my six-year-old scream in fear, a small voice in the back of my head told me “Well it’s 2020, what else did you expect?”

Naturally, most Angelinos take a 4.5 magnitude rattler in stride. I’m not a born Angelino though. I come from Scotland, a part of the world where the ground has the decency to stay still underneath your feet. If it does start swaying, that is a sure sign that you’ve overdone things at the pub and now is a good time to stumble home, crawl into bed, and await the hangover that you’ve well and truly earned.

So it was that around midnight I was doing an unconvincing job of reassuring my eldest son that everything was fine after the earthquake, that had followed the Bobcat fire reaching the outer perimeter of our city’s boundary, which was preceded by historic civil rights protests, in the midst of a pandemic, which has caused an unfolding economic disaster, that is the backdrop to one of the most bitterly contested presidential elections in living memory.

Source : Forest Service, USDA

It’s OK. I lie to my kids all the time.

Incidentally, my youngest earned his So Cal spurs by sleeping through the whole thing, blissfully unaware of the shaking and screaming that unfolded around him.

Yes, 2020 has been a complete and utter fiasco for most of us, and the knowledge that we still have to drag ourselves through the last three months of this wretched year is weighing heavily on many. It feels like we lack control over our own destinies at times and we ask ourselves constantly “could it be any worse?”

Well, yes.

We could live in a country where the following are part of everyday life:

  • One in seven children dies before their fifth birthday.
  • 61% of rural villagers lack access to safe water.
  • 96% of people lack access to sanitation.
  • On average girls only get four years of education as the burden of finding water (safe or not) all too often falls on them.
  • 85% of women cannot read or write.

That is the reality on the ground in Niger. Every single year.

The absolute kicker here is that these are preventable problems and access to sanitation and safe water is a huge leap forward in resolving the issues I just listed. You, dear reader, can do something about that right now. Go to the Wells Bring Hope donation page and give $30 right now. Go on. Do it. I’ll wait.

You may be asking yourself why $30? Well, that’s how much it costs to give one person clean water for life. That is a lifesaving intervention for another human being that costs an amount of money that would barely cover a medium-sized family’s coffee order at Starbucks.

I can’t prevent earthquakes. I can’t extinguish LA county’s largest-ever wildfire myself. It will take more than one person to bring equality to our society (though we do have a responsibility as individuals to do our bit). I can’t single-handedly bring a global pandemic to a halt. My consumer spending will not fix the economy on its own. While it is your duty to vote if you have the right, you won’t single-handedly resolve an election.

I can save someone’s life. While 2020 is undeniably a dumpster fire of a year, it is still within my capacity as an individual to do that one bit of good and salvage something from this mess.

If you also want to take control of something in 2020 then here’s the donation page link again. If saving one life doesn’t seem like enough to mitigate the wall of negativity that is this year, then you can always make that donation a monthly one!

Moustapha Alassane: Telling Niger’s Stories

By Elsa Sichrovsky

Source: Alzinous

Moustapha Alassane produced the first African animation in full color, Samba le Grand (Samba the Great), which follows the adventures of its hero, Sambagana, as he strives to ace a series of challenges in order to win the hand of his bride[1]. In addition to directing over 30 films, Alassane has also worked as an actor and a scriptwriter. He was also head of the Cinema Department at Niamey University for over 15 years. In 2007, he was made a Knight of the Legion of Honour at the Cannes Film Festival. However, due to a lack of state funding and the growing preference for Hausa-language films from neighboring Nigeria, locally-produced Nigerien film has declined in popularity since the 1980s, so by the time of his death, he was relatively unknown to the Nigerien public.

Born in 1942 in N’Dougou, Niger, Alassane grew up drawing and making shadow puppet shows to entertain his friends, often using transparent cigarette packaging to make light shows. He even built his own film camera[2]. Meeting a Frenchman who many call the father of Nigerien cinema, Jean Rouch, changed his life, prompting Alassane to give up his career as a mechanic and make film his life’s work. Jean Rouch nurtured Alassane’s talent by providing for his education in Canada where he learned animation[3].

In Alassane’s films, animation is not merely entertainment for children, but rather a medium for communicating culture and telling powerful stories. In one of his acclaimed animations, Kokoa (2001), frogs, iguanas, birds, and chameleons participate in Niger’s national sport, Kokowa wrestling. The film celebrates the sport while its animal characters depict the spirit of competition and domination ironically.

Frogs also appear in one of his earlier films, Bon Voyage Sim (1970), in which the president of a frog nation goes on a journey only to be tossed into the water by his fellow frogs on his return. These frog tales echoed political events in Niger and can be seen as Alassane’s subtle political commentary. He was known for having said that frogs were his favorite animal because they were funnier than humans4.

His dramas celebrate Nigerien tradition while also examining the effect of modernity on a changing society. His first feature film, Aoure (1962), depicted a young Zharma couple living on the banks of the Niger River. Shaki (1973) reflects on the mixture of religions in Nigerien culture with a story of the ascension of a Yoruban king. His 1972 dramatic film, F.V.V.A., (Femme, Villa, Voiture, Argent) (Women, Cars, Villas, Money), depicted how young Nigeriens handled newfound prosperity as Niger continued developing after independence.

Le Retour d’un Aventurier (The Return of an Adventurer) is one of his best-known portrayals of Western influence on Nigerien culture. In the film, a man returns from America to his Nigerien village with a suitcase full of cowboy clothes. His friends eagerly don the costumes and take on the persona of cowboys in a Western. They romp through their village getting into brawls and committing petty crimes, which earn the disapproval of the village elders. The film is a humorous reflection on the inevitable clash between cultures and generations that arises as young Nigeriens began having increased contact with foreign cultures5.

One of his dramas, Toula ou Le Genie des Eaux (Toula or the Water Spirit) retells a tribal tale about a nation cursed with drought, a situation all too real to Nigeriens. The holy man declares that a young maiden must be sacrificed. A young man’s love interest, Toula, is chosen to be sacrificed. He desperately searches for water to save his love, but despite having found water, he returns to find her gone.

Moustapha Alassane passed away in March 2015. His films and animations are a rich legacy that preserves Nigerien culture, while exploring its growth and evolution. By using new approaches to retell Nigerien legends and ancient tales, he made them accessible to the international community and honored his birth country.

 

You can watch some of Moustapha Alassane’s films here:

Toula ou Le genie des eaux

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KpXz7pWXGRE

Le retour d’un aventurier

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1eAckJuI44

Samba Le Grand

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujlpx63EDQs

Bon Voyage Sim

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SmIo-28mBw

[1] https://www.bristol247.com/whats-on/film/festival-screening/cinema-rediscovered-focus-on-moustapha-alassane/

[2] https://www.lecinemaclub.com/archives/kokoa/

[3] Jolijn Geels, Niger: The Bradt Travel Guide. Bradt Travel Guides (2006)

4 https://hyperallergic.com/378773/the-animations-and-improvisations-of-a-trailblazing-nigerien-filmmaker/

5 https://www.adkdw.org/en/article/1270_le_retour_d_un_aventurier

COVID-19’s Severe Impact on Food Insecurity in Niger

By Omair Ali

Source: UNICEF Niger//YouTube

Like many nations around the globe, Niger is struggling to address many of its ongoing challenges during the pandemic-driven economic meltdown. Before the pandemic struck, many Nigeriens were already struggling to meet their most basic needs, but the economic effects of COVID-19 have made the situation more dire. Perhaps Niger’s most significant challenge right now is not the virus, but the hunger crisis that the pandemic response has unintentionally worsened.

Food production has always been a difficult undertaking in Niger due to its semi-arid climate and extreme weather patterns like long-lasting droughts that make agriculture challenging to sustain [1]. Over the centuries, Nigeriens have found ways to adapt to their climate by growing hardy crops, including root vegetables, millet, sorghum, rice, and beans [2]. Despite the remarkable resilience of Nigerien farmers, the year’s extreme circumstances have made it impossible for Niger to meet the nutritional needs of its population in 2020. According to a report by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the travel restrictions implemented by the Nigerien government this past spring significantly disrupted food supply chains and agricultural commerce. As a result, this years’ food crisis was exacerbated, leaving many communities extremely vulnerable to famine [3]. Even though travel restrictions have now been eased and new investments are being made to promote agricultural entrepreneurship in severely under-resourced Nigerien communities [4], the FAO report indicates that the pandemic has already disrupted critical periods of the growing season, which will ultimately reduce overall food production.

The Nigerien health infrastructure is currently supported by agencies that include Niger’s Ministry of Health, the World Bank, UNICEF, and Doctors Without Borders. These agencies are addressing not only the COVID-19 outbreak but also the rise in malnutrition during the “hunger gap” – a period in the summer when food stocks have been completely used up, and acute food insecurity is prevalent [5],[6]. However, due to the pandemic, it is likely that the “hunger gap” will be much worse this year and possibly next, as food production has already stalled and border closures have delayed food deliveries, making it even more difficult to replenish food stores.

One of the most pressing concerns with food insecurity is malnutrition, Niger’s leading risk factor for disability and death [7]. Adequate nutritional intake encompasses sufficient caloric, protein, vitamin, and mineral intake. A lack of adequate nutritional intake accelerates disease processes and aging and can lead to an early death. Additionally, adequate nutrition is critical to childhood development, and malnutrition can have lifelong consequences like growth impairments [8]. Both UNICEF and the World Food Programme have predicted that in 2020, 15 million child cases of acute malnutrition will occur in six African countries, including Niger, which is up from its pre-COVID estimates of 4.5 million cases [9]. In other words, this year’s food insecurity will cause a massive spike in preventable deaths of children if food distribution measures aren’t scaled up to meet current supply needs. As FAO’s report suggests, the current demand is very far from being met.

Alongside adequate food access, access to safe water is equally critical for ensuring community health. The only water point available to many Nigeriens is open wells or groundwater, which is often contaminated. Contaminated water often leads to. severe cases. of diarrhea, which compound the effects of malnutrition that result from famine. Wells Bring Hope addresses this problem by working with Nigerien communities to drill wells that provide unlimited access to safe water, which is plentiful just 250 feet below ground. If you wish to fight malnutrition in Niger today, please consider donating to support Wells Bring Hope’s water projects.

Sources

[1] https://wellsbringhope.org/niger-work-in-progress/

[2] https://wellsbringhope.org/food-of-niger-and-nutritional-health/

[3] http://www.fao.org/3/cb0180en/CB0180EN.pdf

[4] https://scalingupnutrition.org/news/ifads-support-to-niger-for-food-and-nutrition-security-and-climate-change-resilience/

[5] https://www.msf.org/facing-multiple-challenges-responding-covid-19-niger

[6] https://reliefweb.int/report/niger/world-bank-and-unicef-deliver-vital-supplies-niger-s-covid-19-response

[7] http://www.healthdata.org/niger

[8] https://wellsbringhope.org/tracking-malnutrition-in-africa/

[9] https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/west-and-central-africa-more-15-million-cases-acute-malnutrition-expected-2020

 

Hamsou Garba: Breaking Barriers

By Elsa Sichrovsky

In the 1980s, Niger underwent massive economic restructuring initiated by the aid requirements of the IMF and the World Bank. Young women who worked clerical jobs were hit hard by massive layoffs. Among them, a young Nigerien woman named Hamsou Garba faced being laid off from her job as a typist at a local bank, which she had held for eleven years. But when this door closed, Hamsou Garba found a window.

Far from being merely a typist, Hamsou Garba had been singing and performing from childhood. As a child, she transferred from an elite French school to an Arabic-French madrassa, which offered training in singing[1]. Just as her former livelihood was taken from her, the government recognized her musical talent and offered her a position as a “cultural mobilizer”[2]. This title gave her the status of a civil servant, which included a stable income and pension. It provided Hamsou Garba with the funding to develop a stable career as a professional artist, radio talk show host, and political activist.

Throughout her career, Hamsou Garba has boldly merged the potentially conflicting realms of music and politics. She has been an outspoken supporter of the Nigerien Democratic Movement for an African Federation and has produced songs promoting its leader, Hama Amadou. In fact, she was once accused of civil disobedience and imprisoned for singing a song urging citizens to vote for Hama Amadou[3]. Military regimes recruited her to put on performances to welcome foreign dignitaries. While Hamsou Garba’s political involvement has sparked controversy, having an active role in entertainment and politics as a Muslim woman in a patriarchal society is a groundbreaking achievement. Future generations of Nigerien women will be inspired to increase their public presence and make their voices heard.

She garnered a wide audience by performing in Hausa, Zarma, and French. Her musical talent allows her to be, in her own words, “my own author, composer, and editor” when she produces songs. She choreographs the dance routines that she performs with her fellow performers to accompany her music. With the entertainment group she founded, Groupe Annashuwa, she sings songs ranging widely from love and religion to public health, AIDS, and politics.

 

Hamsou Garba should have been congratulated for being able to earn a living through her passion for music, but instead, she met with jealousy and criticism from her colleagues. The griot community felt she was subverting their inherited cultural role.  Hamsou Garba did not come from musical family background but was simply pursuing a childhood interest in performing. Without a culturally or religiously endowed role, Hamsou Garba’s career as a female performer goes against deeply rooted social expectations for a Muslim woman. However, Hamsou Garba believes that her talent is a “gift from Allah”, which she is responsible to develop for the benefit of society.

In addition to her musical career, Hamsou Garba strives to empower women through her radio talk show. She discusses issues such as the lack of female representation in the local government to encourage women to be active in the political life of their communities. She actively engages with the audience and encourages them to call in with comments on the topic of debate. This gives women a platform to publicly express their views on important political and social issues, rather than remain invisible in a male-dominated political structure.

Wells Bring Hope seeks to give women the financial means and the social support to emerge from invisibility and develop their talents. There is hope for the new generation of Nigerien girls to have the confidence and the resources to pursue their dreams, starting with education and social awareness,. Join Wells Bring Hope in breaking the cycle of poverty and give Nigerien young people hope for a brighter future unimaginable to past generations.

You can enjoy Hamsou Garba’s energetic music here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vRdIKH3W0Z0

[1] https://africasacountry.com/2013/12/four-nigerien-women-musicians-you-should-know/

[2] Ousseina Alidou, Engaging modernity: Muslim women and the politics of agency in postcolonial Niger. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005.

[3]https://www.actuniger.com/societe/11160-elections-2016-la-cantatrice-habsou-garba-sous-mandat-de-d%c3%a9p%c3%b4t-%c3%a0-la-prison-civile-de-niamey.html

Coronavirus is Impacting Vaccine Programs in Niger, Endangering Children

By Omair Ali

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a great strain on Niger by creating massive delays in supply distribution and other hurdles that have been detrimental to communities’ well-being. One, particularly concerning consequence of COVID-19, is that many children have not yet received essential vaccinations, leaving many vulnerable to serious infections.

Vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and polio had devastating effects on populations across the globe for centuries until vaccines were created and eventually distributed worldwide. As an immunity-boosting tool, vaccines stimulate our immune system by introducing a weakened microbe, a dead microbe, or a molecule from the microbe into our bodies. By mounting a response against the agent introduced by the vaccine, our immune systems gain memory of a microbe such that it can produce an effective immune response if re-infection occurs. Vaccines work effectively to protect children around the world but are particularly critical in regions like West Africa, where vulnerability to highly fatal infections is high.

Earlier in the pandemic, the World Health Organization advised several countries, including Niger, to postpone their vaccination programs to limit the spread of COVID-19 [1]. Additionally, healthcare workers in Niger have been reassigned to COVID-19 treatment efforts, and vaccine supply chains have been disrupted [1,7]. These measures, along with social distancing restrictions, have stalled vaccine programs. Furthermore, growing fears about COVID-19 have kept parents away from clinics that they view as hotbeds for COVID-19 transmission [1,7].

While the focus on treating and preventing COVID-19 is warranted, especially as Niger has been receiving coronavirus-related aid [2], these efforts shouldn’t impede other public health efforts like vaccine programs. Vaccinations are essential for everyone, especially children. When children don’t receive their recommended vaccines, they are left with very little protection from diseases that have killed millions in past years. As vaccine-preventable diseases, such as polio in Niger and measles in other African nations [1,3],  have been reappearing as small-scale outbreaks, unvaccinated children are in an even more vulnerable situation. Additionally, vaccine-preventable diseases have deadlier and more frequent consequences than coronavirus for children, so lack of access to vaccinations further entrenches future generations in extreme poverty.

Reaching all infants and children in Niger has long been a challenge for NGOs. UNICEF’s 2017 vaccine coverage survey revealed that fewer than 4 out of 10 children in Niger received all recommended vaccinations before turning one [5]. The survey also showed that 80.2% of children had received the Penta-3 vaccine, a vaccine that provides coverage against Diphtheria, Tetanus, Meningitis, Hepatitis B, and Polio, which was short of their 90% target [5]. A 2018 vaccine survey shows a decline from 2017 in coverage for all available vaccines, highlighting existing gaps in participation [4]. Part of the problem is a lack of community awareness and health misconceptions, which are further exacerbated by coronavirus-related concerns.

Despite the ongoing challenges, there is hope that Niger can overcome these challenges as vaccination programs resume operations. The World Bank-sponsored Population and Health Support Project has been acting quickly to meet the needs of Nigerien communities. Through the project’s “Rapid Results Initiatives,” Nigeriens have been receiving health services during the pandemic, including active vaccine programs that have been allowed to operate in areas like the Maradi Region [6].

Good health for children has also been hard to achieve in Niger due to a lack of access to clean water. Because of poor water access, families are forced to consume water that is often from sources contaminated with disease-causing microorganisms, which leaves children vulnerable to diseases that can lead to poor growth, permanent injury, or death. In response to Niger’s water crisis, Wells Bring Hope ensures access to clean water by drilling wells that ensure not only the current survival of communities but also a healthy future for children.

 

Sources:

[1] https://www.bbc.com/news/health-52911972

[2] https://www.afdb.org/en/news-and-events/press-releases/african-development-bank-approves-20-million-contain-spread-covid-19-g5-sahel-nations-36118

[3] https://www.zmescience.com/science/with-vaccination-suspended-niger-gets-hit-with-a-new-polio-outbreak/

[4]  https://www.who.int/immunization/monitoring_surveillance/data/ner.pdf

[5] https://www.unicef.org/niger/stories/childrens-immunization-everyones-responsibility

[6] https://reliefweb.int/report/niger/rapid-results-initiatives-niger-advancing-women-s-health-outcomes

[7] https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/facing-twin-crises-of-covid-19-and-climate-change-refugees-will-suffer-the-most/

Did COVID-19 bring anything good to the Planet?

 

by Raphaela Barros Prado

Source: Del-Uks

For months now, the world has been suffering from COVID-19, and citizens across the globe have been trying to find unique ways to fight the pandemic and adapt to a strange new reality. The planet has also changed since this crisis began, and many of these changes have been for the better.

When the virus started spreading in China, the government quickly enforced a lockdown, closing all non-essential businesses and requiring the entire population to stay home. It was a significant effort to slow the spread of the virus. China has one of the world’s biggest economies, with thousands of factories active almost 24 hours a day to keep its economy running full steam. All of that full-time production causes intense air pollution. Once the lockdown started, the lack of cars in the streets and the shuttered factories resulted in a dramatic improvement in air quality as the carbon dioxide emissions dropped.

A similar thing happened in India, where urban air pollution levels are often among the world’s worst. Before the pandemic, it was not uncommon to see Indian people wearing masks because of the bad air quality. But with the fast spread of the virus, the country also implemented a lockdown, and as a result, the biggest cities saw a significant decrease in air pollution and enjoyed clear blue skies for the first time in years.

With millions of people staying home, fewer people driving in the streets, beaches close to empty, and tourism at a  standstill, nature has started to revert to a healthier state. In Venice, with tourists gone and only residents using boats, the water in the canals has changed color, becoming more clear and less polluted.

An article published by Nature notes that with the significant changes we have seen in the environment, there is a chance to see a return to abundance in the oceans. If we put in the effort we have a chance to counter the damage done from pollution and overfishing by 2050.

As we contemplate newly clear skies, cleaner water, and more abundant wildlife, and as we appreciate being able to live more peacefully, with less traffic and less pollution, we must realize that this may only be a temporary respite,. Once countries start reopening, factories resume production, and people begin traveling again, the environmental benefits caused by the lockdown will decrease or disappear unless we take serious action. Although all the changes we have seen maybe short-lived, we have a unique opportunity to recommit ourselves to doing what we can for the planet’s future.

https://www.inquirer.com/science/climate/earth-day-coronavirus-philadelphia-wildlife-pollution-climate-change-20200422.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pollution_in_China

Rahmatou Keïta’s The Wedding Ring: Celebrating Niger’s Beauty

By Elsa Sichrovsky

Source : Rahmatou Keïta

Do you know what Niger’s first entry at the Academy Awards was? It was Rahmatou Keïta’s 2016 film The Wedding Ring (Zin’naariyâ!), and it was entered in 2018[1].  It follows the adventures of an aristocratic young woman named Tiyaa (starring director Rahmatou Keïta’s daughter, Magaajyia Silberfeld) as she struggles to readjust to life in her village in the Sultanate of Zinder after studying at university in France. Although she is returning as an educated woman who has had the luxury of seeing the world outside of her village, her life is frustrated with the pain of waiting as her suitor in France has yet to make a formal offer of marriage.

She seeks the advice of a wise man, who tells her she should get the foreign symbol of marriage, a plain gold wedding ring, by the eve of the new moon. While she waits, she has time to rediscover the rituals and stories of her native culture, and the love stories of the women around her. The film celebrates the experiences of women in love as they navigate the cultural and familial complexities of Sahelian traditional culture.

The Wedding Ring echoes director Rahmatou Keïta’s own life story. She too is a descendant of multiple empires: Sundiata Keïta (Mandigo Empire), Askia Mohammed (Songhoy Empire), and the Fulaani’s kingdoms of Macina[2]. Just like her heroine, she studied philosophy and linguistics in Paris. After graduating, Keita made sure she didn’t just stand out only for being the first African journalist on French television. Her work with the television magazine L’assiette anglaise won two prestigious 7 d’or awards in 1988 and 1989[3]. She also directed a 26-episode TV series, Women of Africa (Femmes d’Afrique), which was broadcasted throughout the Africa.

Rahmatou Keïta yearned to continue the tradition of storytelling from the griots in the Sahel. She wanted to bring the richness of Sahelian culture to the world[4]. In 1993, she decided to pursue her true passion: film writing and cinema. Her first documentary feature film, An African Actress (Al’lèèssi…, 2004), described the struggle of those who first built the African film industry. The film won Best Documentary Award at Montreal and FIFAI (International Film Festival of Africa and the Islands) and the Sojourner Truth Award at the Cannes Film Festival, which brought her into the international cinema industry’s spotlight.

The British Blacklist praised the film’s artistry and presentation of Niger, “The cinematography is quite beautiful and adds to the modern feel of the story, whilst presenting the Republic of Niger in such a way that it might just make your list of places to visit one day.”[5] Rahamtou Keita clearly succeeded in her mission, as overturning stereotypes about her nation was one of the driving motivations behind her art. “Through The Wedding Ring, I wanted to show that there are happy people in Africa, beyond the dark images of economic poverty and terrorism…Material wealth isn’t always necessary to be happy,”[6] she says.

Through her film The Wedding Ring, Rahmatou Keïta strives to show her nation’s beauty to the world. “We are nations to whom dialogue and research of harmony are of the utmost importance for us, and we cultivate inner and exterior beauty and elegance[7].” Rahmatou Keïta took the time to pay painstaking detail to the decor and costumes in her film. She employs henna, dyes, and facial scarring to showcase the artistic and creative beauty of traditional Sahelian culture: “I want to pay tribute to beauty, to age-long and sumptuous architecture and costumes[8]”. She even uses clothes from her grandmother and realia from her family, such as a calabash[9].

Rather than reinforcing the popular image of African women as victims or powerless figures in the background, The Wedding Ring portrays socially active, assertive women who mirror  the positive role models Rahamtou Keita had growing up. “The women in Africa are fiercely independent and strong. My grandmother had caravans and traded gold and fabrics, she left with her employees on the backs of camels from the Niger Sahara to Arabia and even sometimes in China on business purpose. I grew up seeing such women.[10]

Yet even with such a beautiful vision of cultural celebration, Rahmatou Keïta’s script initially failed to attract sponsors from European countries. In despair, Rahmatou Keïta was about to discard her script when she learned during FESPACO 2009[11] that Algeria was planning to sponsor four feature films. To her shock and delight, the judges were awed by her script, and she was awarded funding for film production. Her confidence boosted by this success, she was able to enlist the help of film industries in other African countries such as Congo, Rwanda, Morocco, and Uganda.

Having been raised in a culture that idolized Western film, Rahamtou Keïta believe passionatelythat Africa must develop its own film industry in order to tell its own unique stories. To put her people on the screen is to give them power and confidence. “In those days cinema was about white men who were portrayed as having somewhat of a divine nature. Images had such power that we did not doubt what we saw on screen, until the day African actors appeared on the screen. The African women were not vamps and the men were unlike any of the Hollywood stars we were used to watching. They were ordinary people with a normal tan and normal features. People were shocked.” Rahmatou Keïta continues to be passionate about promoting African culture and language on an international scale. She founded ASPAC (Pan African Association of Culture)[12]and with friends founded Sonrhay Empire Productions, which seeks to produce films that give a voice to marginalized communities in Africa.

Wells Bring Hope shares Rahmatou Keïta’s vision of bringing Niger’s beauty to the world. By empowering women and girls to educate themselves and their children, Wells Bring Hope is building a future Niger where women and girls have the means to express themselves and create art that celebrates their stories. Join Wells Bring Hope in tackling, and breaking down, the economic and cultural barriers that keep Nigerien women and girls from becoming their best selves. So much of Niger’s beauty and wonder awaits to be unlocked!

 

Watch the trailer for The Wedding Ring here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50uN8xn6fJE

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wedding Ring_(2016_film)

[2] https://www.metmuseum.org/blogs/now-at-the-met/2020/sahel-west-africa-cinema-rahmatou-keita-fanta-nacro

[3] https://www.africanfilmny.org/tag/rahmatou-keita/

[4] https://www.metmuseum.org/blogs/now-at-the-met/2020/sahel-west-africa-cinema-rahmatou-keita-fanta-nacro

[5] http://thebritishblacklist.co.uk/lff2016-zinnaariya-the-wedding-ring-80-out-of-100/

[6] https://iffr.com/en/blog/%E2%80%9Cafrica-needs-to-tell-its-real-stories-now%E2%80%9D

[7] https://womenandhollywood.com/lff-2016-women-directors-meet-rahmatou-keita-the-wedding-ring-ad392d63610e/

[8] Ibid.

[9] https://www.awardsdaily.com/2018/12/16/rahmatou-keita-on-preserving-culture-in-the-wedding-ring/

[10] https://iffr.com/en/blog/%E2%80%9Cafrica-needs-to-tell-its-real-stories-now%E2%80%9D

[11]  Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou

[12] http://africanwomenincinema.blogspot.com/2015/02/fespaco-2015-rahmatou-keita-jinnaariya.html

Summer 2020: A Malaria Season Like No Other

By Omair Ali

Source: J. Bavier, Voice of America

Niger experiences extremely high mortality rates related to disease outbreaks, which are rooted in poor access to sanitation, lack of prevention, and limited treatment options. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, malaria is Niger’s leading cause of death[1]; however, this summer will be especially challenging as the global COVID-19 outbreak will coincide with malaria season.

Malaria is a protozoal infection that is caused predominantly by a parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, the most lethal of all Plasmodium species, in Niger[2]. The parasite is transmitted by Anopheles mosquitoes, which can acquire or transmit malaria through contact with human blood during its nocturnal feeds. Once malarial parasites enter human blood, they infect liver cells and multiply; the parasites then leave to infect red blood cells, where they multiply further and cause symptoms[3].

Common symptoms of malaria are very similar to COVID-19 and include fever, chills, nausea, fatigue, and headache[4]; this makes having tests for COVID-19 and malaria essential for appropriate diagnosis and treatment. Complications from unresolved malaria are severe bleeding, organ failure, seizures, severe hypoglycemia, and death. Pregnant women and children shoulder the highest burden of vulnerability to malaria. Additionally, widespread anti-malarial drug resistance has also challenged the effectiveness of existing treatment options. Compounding the problem is the fact that Niger does not have access to the malaria vaccine, Mosquirix, which is being tested in pilot programs elsewhere[5]. These shortcomings in medical management have made it exceedingly difficult for vulnerable populations in Niger to battle malaria.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), methods that effectively reduce malarial transmission involve the use of chemicals in high-risk wet areas to kill mosquitoes during the larva stage and the implementation of insecticide-treated nets, repellants, and window screens to prevent mosquito bites[6]. Implementing these strategies is critical during the rainy summer months when Anopheles mosquitoes use the newly formed wet areas as breeding grounds for rapid population growth[7]. However, as a disease of poverty, malaria has its most significant impact on Niger’s low-income families, whose access to prevention and treatment is at the mercy of the government and humanitarian aid.

As of June 17, there are 1016 total cases and 66 deaths from COVID-19 in Niger, but the worst is yet to come[8]. The World Health Organization’s models predict that the COVID-19 outbreak has negatively impacted malarial prevention strategies[9]. In Niger, the response to COVID-19 has led to lengthy lockdowns and other restrictions that have slowed down the distribution of anti-malarial treatments and preventive measures and has further endangered many communities.

Another reason that prevention is so critical is that malaria is challenging to treat because it frequently occurs with other health conditions. One study found an association between severe malaria and diarrhea-causing bacterial infections[10]. The rainy season also coincides with the “hunger gap” period, when many Nigeriens run out of stockpiled food from their previous harvest and are at risk for starvation[11]. When malnourished individuals have malaria, their weakened immune systems are less able to fight off infections, which leads to worse health outcomes.

Water scarcity compels Nigerien women to travel for several hours daily to find water, which also leaves them vulnerable to mosquito bites around the water sources they locate. But when people are desperate for basic needs, they don’t have the luxury to avoid high-risk areas where they can contract malaria.

Wells Bring Hope’s efforts are crucial to the survival and success of Nigerien communities, as we drill wells that ensure sustainable access to clean water. Giving people access to clean water frees people from the burden of relying on open water sources, allows them sufficient water for planting starvation-preventing gardens, and allows them to focus on critical issues like malaria prevention.

[1] http://www.healthdata.org/niger

[2] https://www.who.int/malaria/publications/country-profiles/profile_ner_en.pdf?ua=1

[3] https://www.cdc.gov/malaria/about/biology/index.html

[4] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/malaria/symptoms-causes/syc-20351184

[5] https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/23-04-2019-malaria-vaccine-pilot-launched-in-malawi

[6] https://www.cdc.gov/malaria/malaria_worldwide/reduction/vector_control.html

[7]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3816780/

[8] https://ne.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/covid-19-information/

[9] https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/23-04-2020-who-urges-countries-to-move-quickly-to-save-lives-from-malaria-in-sub-saharan-africa

[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3928319/

[11] https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/what-we-do/news-stories/news/niger-fighting-malnutrition-and-malaria-during-hunger-gap

Boko Haram’s Devastating Impact

By Chidiebere Aguziendu & SatyaLakshmi Settem

Source: EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid

Boko Haram insurgency began in 2015 in the border region of Diffa. Though the attacks decreased in 2017 and 2018, the end of 2018 and 2019 saw an increase in violent attacks in the region. It has led to the death of many civilians and displacements of about 18,000 people in March 2019. Diffa city currently has over 300,000 displaced persons and refugees. The attack has led to the closure of schools, and children are at risk of being exploited, kidnapped, or recruited into the armed group. Girls are at risk of being forced into early marriage. Children who are displaced by conflict repeatedly are prone to trauma, anxiety, or depression.

The impact of the attacks extends far beyond education, affecting every aspect of life in the region. The increase in the number of IDPs and refugees has put a strain on the availability of food, healthcare, WASH facilities, and shelter. It has led to overcrowding in camps and host communities, thereby increasing the spread of diseases. Most of the households lack access to clean water.  The available water point is located at a far distance, thereby exposing women and girls to violent attacks such as rape, kidnapping, and abuse.

Humanitarian aid in the areas of health facilities, clothing, a makeshift shelter, and water must be available to the host communities.

On 19th February 2020, UNICEF released a statement indicating that roughly three million people in Niger are in urgent need of aid. Alarmingly, more than half of those requiring this humanitarian assistance are children.

One of the biggest drivers of this increased need for aid is the significant increase in terrorist attacks against civilians and the military in Niger that has occurred, in recent months. According to the UNICEF report, attacks against civilians in the Lake Chad region have kept nearly 263,000 people in Diffa from returning to their homes in Nigeria.

Nearly 1.4 million children were displaced in Nigeria and neighboring countries, due to the violence carried out by Boko Haram (an Islamist militant group). UNICEF’s Regional Director –  for West and Central Africa, Mr.Manuel Fontaine, pointed out the tragedy thusly, “’ Each of these children running for their lives is a childhood cut short… It’s truly alarming to see that children and women continue to be killed, abducted and used to carry bombs.’”

Along with the government leaders and other NGOs in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger, UNICEF is expanding efforts to assist thousands of children and their families in these terror-struck regions. They are hard at work providing access to safe water, education, counseling, vaccination, and treatment for acute malnutrition. Despite these expanded programs, the increasing number of refugees and the limited resources available have put a tremendous strain on organizations seeking to provide life-saving assistance to these refugees. With the added challenge of COVID-19, the need for aid is more urgent than ever.

References:

https://www.un.org/press/en/2019/db190405.doc.htm

https://www.acaps.org/sites/acaps/files/products/files/20190405_acaps_start_briefing_note_displacement_in_diffa_niger_0.pdf

https://www.voanews.com/africa/boko-haram-militants-target-civilians-nigers-diffa-region

http://www.rfi.fr/fr/afrique/20181223-niger-jihadisme-boko-haram-diffa

http://documentos.bancomundial.org/curated/es/120511530128010996/pdf/Project-Information-Document-Integrated-Safeguards-Data-Sheet-Niger-Refugees-and-Host-Communities-Support-Project-P164563.pdf

https://sofrep.com/news/boko-haram-terrorists-strike-again-in-niger/

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/unicef-3-million-people-in-niger-need-urgent-aid/1738699

https://www.un.org/africarenewal/news/boko-haram-violence-displaces-14-million-children-nigeria-and-beyond-%E2%80%93-unicef

https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/unicef-goodwill-ambassador-orlando-bloom-meets-children-and-families-affected-boko

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13809501