Children on the Market

Children on the Market

by Shelton Owen

Hama Amadou, President Mahamadou Issoufou’s opposition in Niger’s 2016 election, was sentenced to one year in jail following a long-running baby smuggling investigation. The former candidate has been living in France for the past year after fleeing Niger just days before a run off, citing health concerns. The prosecution claimed Amadou was among a group of criminals who smuggled babies into Niger via Benin. Amadou’s lawyers claim the sentence is politically motivated and unjust: a way to prevent him from running for office again. The smuggling incident stems from the negative stigma attached to childlessness. In recent years, wealthy couples have turned to “baby shopping” as a means to compensate for the wife’s inability to conceive. Couples would look for a baby in Nigeria then have them transported to Niger.

Child trafficking is one of the highest paying criminal activities worldwide. Adoption trafficking, though faring better for the child than sex trafficking or child servanthood, still strips the child, and possibly their birth parents, of basic human rights. The African orphan crisis traces back to the continent’s high poverty rates. Parents are being tricked into signing away their children to orphanages with the belief that the setup is temporary, only lasting until they can regain stability. Unfortunately, manipulators such as Amadou capitalize on the system’s weaknesses and falsely claim parenthood of these children, only to sell them for profit to the highest bidder.

 

Campaigners demanding an end to the human trafficking crisis (africacheck.org)

 

Going to such great lengths for a baby may seem absurd for those of us in the U.S. who have adoption, foster parenting, and other methods of parenthood. However, the instance points to a larger issue in African culture. A couple without children is thought to be cursed or to have angered the spirits, giving them an obvious mark for all of society to scrutinize. African culture places strong emphasis on religion and views children as a gift from God, only amplifying the stigma surrounding childlessness. Though the World Health Organization reports around 50% of infertility cases are due to the man, it is solely the woman who takes the heat the majority of the time. Wealthy couples have the privilege of seeking different methods of parenthood (though it may not be legal), but the less fortunate don’t have that option. The most frequent effects on the women are distress, lowered self-esteem, depression, and raised anxiety levels. In some cases, the husband divorces his wife or takes another. For developing countries, such as Niger, fertility drugs and IVF are expensive and limited. The issue often stems from infections such as STDs, which are common due to inadequate healthcare, improper use of antibiotics, and penicillin-resistant strains of gonorrhea.

Wells Bring Hope empowers the women of Africa, regardless of their motherhood status. Through micro-financing and education training programs, women can find their niche in society, fostering a sense of self-confidence and purpose. The women’s increasing responsibility in the community chips away at the expansive gender gap dominating many aspects of daily life. Small steps like this nudge the nation towards the goal of women being viewed as equal partners versus inferior servants. Those with children have the chance to contribute to their family’s income and sustain a stable home life, reducing the threat of having to put a child up for adoption.

Women in Niger utilizing a WBH well

Accessing the Available

Accessing the Available

by Emily Johnson

You wake up to sun through your bedroom window, realizing the room is warm, even hot. Your legs feel sticky from sweat. Your eyes are sticky, too, from sleep. It feels as though the ceiling fan only pushes heat around in circles. To the AC panel you go.

You squint, fidget with the rubber buttons, and manage to set the temperature below 70 degrees. You open the window for now and breathe outside, in. But you are still hot, still sticky, and what you want more than fresh air right now, is water.

You go to the sink, without a second thought, and pull the lever in the diagonal direction of ‘cold.’

What comes from the lake or the ocean or the river, filtering through whole reclamation plants, through systems and tanks and pipes and engineering, is this steady stream of water. The sound is as immediate as the pull of your hand on the lever, the mouth of the spout is brimming and you will drink fresh water, for the umpteenth thousandth day of your life.

It is April of 2017. And Flint, Michigan, still does not have clean water.

As often as we fill our glasses this statement can be heard passing through college classrooms and Facebook Vox videos, one year and four months into the city-sanctioned State of Emergency.

I write this Flint, Michigan, still does not have clean water from my Chicago apartment, 285 miles from the City of Flint Water Plant. What would be a 4-hour-and-28-minute drive. A drive I have not taken. A drive the majority of us have not taken. Because for most of us in the US, water just is. It’s always there, constant and dependable. It astonishes us that lead could be allowed to poison this community of almost 100,000 at all, let alone that once discovered, it would continue for so long. Still, it’s not long before the breaking story is no longer astonishing, and news becomes commonplace. Activism is endurance.

President Peter Gleick of the Californian nonprofit Pacific Institute, dedicated to global water accessibility, writes that “we currently use on the order of 960 cubic miles (4,000 cubic kilometers) of freshwater a year, and overall there’s enough water to go around. [However,] there is increasing regional scarcity.”

Flint is surrounded by the Great Lakes, which hold one-fifth of Earth’s fresh water surface—in other words, 6 quadrillion gallons of water. This seems far from a regional scarcity, yet the system is not in place to harness and utilize this necessary resource to sustain life. What Gleick notes is that there is enough freshwater for all, but it is a matter of ensuring the proper systems for access and availability to specific communities (whether regional or otherwise).

It is a 21-hour-and-ten-minute journey, flying and driving, from Flint’s Water Plant to Diori Hamani International Airport in Niger’s capital, Niamey. Across mountain ranges and vast ocean, still entire communities go without sanitary water, experiencing a scarcity that need not exist. Niger borders the Sahara Desert and, coupled with scarce rainfall, the result is a startling 64% of rural Nigeriens without adequate access to clean water. However, drilling localized wells harnesses the existing water underfoot. Drilling wells is not simply symbolic for tapping potential—in this case, accessing what is available allows entire communities the inherent right to sustained health, the inherent right to take care of oneself and each other, the inherent right to work and play and thrive. The inherent right to access what is available a couple hundred feet below the earth’s surface.

Empowering Villages One Well at a Time

by Rita Brhel

Africa is a huge land mass, made up of 54 nations, 1.1 billion people, and some of the most iconic wild regions on earth.

Yet, as mind-blowingly beautiful as the pictures in our minds are of the savannas, the Sahara, the rainforests, and the pyramids, our thoughts often turn dark when they turn toward the people inhabiting this second-most populated continent. Africa is often recognized primarily for its regions of extreme poverty, the AIDS epidemic, frequent famines, and broken infrastructure.

Those challenges exist, but the people of Africa are resilient. They are creative problem-solvers, innovators, and dedicated change-makers. Wells Bring Hope believes passionately in community-driven solutions that free people from the burden of worrying about the most basic of needs.

Wells Bring Hope works because the tools we bring to communities in Niger depend on local engagement. The process begins with the basics: latrines. When paired with education and social pressure, the use of latrines quickly stems the contamination of groundwater by human waste.

Niger is the poorest country in the world. More than 40% of Nigeriens earn less than $1.25 per day, and life expectancy is limited to 55 years old.  61% of the people in Niger do no have access to clean water, and 96% are unable to have or unaware of good sanitation practices. This is a hard country to live in, but latrines are a solid first step toward better health for the people and their communities.

After we have helped the community to build latrines and begun the training on basic sanitation, we drill a well. This multi-day process is completed by professionally-trained locals and the water produced by the resulting well is lab-tested for contaminants.

We require the formation of a committee that will oversee well maintenance. This committee consists entirely of locals, half of whom must be women. Women in these communities typically do not have a voice in village concerns, so putting women in this kind of a leadership role is ground-breaking for the local culture. We’ve found that when women are involved in community affairs, the needs of the whole family becomes a priority.

Having a source of safe water in the village immediately eliminates the need for women to spend hours walking to a water point up to 6 miles away to provide for her family. She is safe from the dangers of rape during her water walks, and her children are not left home alone. Her daughters, who otherwise would accompany on her water walks, have time for education. Schools are reinvigorated.

Better still, every woman in the village now knows that the water she brings home won’t make her family sick. The risk of death during childhood from contaminated water is reduced by a whopping 70% when a well is drilled.

That is no small feat.

But we don’t stop there. Wells Bring Hope stays with each community for 15+ years, building upon the foundation we started with access to safe drinking water.

We recognize that changing generations worth of habits is tough. We train locals in sanitation and hygiene practices, particularly hand and face washing as well as water container and utensil cleaning. As a result, 50% fewer children die from diarrheal illness, and childhood deaths from respiratory infections drop by 25%.

We go on to teach drip farming, an irrigation technique that uses wastewater leftover from baths and utensil cleaning. This enables the women to grow vegetables and grains that improve the families’ diet and helps to ward off starvation during times of famine. In every village where we drill a well, we set up savings groups and provide the women with microfinance training that allows the women to become micro-entrepreneurs. They are able to use the time once spent walking for water to develop small businesses, and as a result, their self-confidence increases as does their influence within their homes and communities.

Positive social change is contagious. The structure of the culture changes, and the beginnings of a new Niger is borne.

This is what your small donation can do.

Every well costs $5,600 to drill, and every cent raised by Wells Bring Hope goes toward a new well. World Vision matches every dollar we raise, one for one, and during the next 15 years, contributes an additional $30,000 toward sanitation and hygiene education, micro-entrepreneurship training, and community building. This means that what you donate today will transform into an exponential growth over the next 1 1/2 decades.

Start a Water Circle today to change a village of lives tomorrow.

https://wellsbringhope.org/watercircle.php

 

 

This One’s For the Girls

by Shelton Owen

 

On March 8th, women around the world celebrated their femininity on International Women’s Day. The special day, observed since the early 1900s, is about recognizing the progress achieved while looking ahead to opportunities of advancement. Women have made great strides in the past century, socially, politically, and economically, but the battle is far from over. In 1908, great political unrest drove 15,000 women to march through New York City demanding better wages, shorter hours, and the right to vote. Today, gender pay gaps from the most advanced nations to unfathomable injustice in lower-income nations, drives us to keep walking, though our feet may be weary.

The women of Niger are all too familiar with the consequences of such an expansive gender gap; a divide so gaping it engulfs many of their aspirations and basic rights. According to our-africa.org, “The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that two-fifths of all African girls are married before the age of 18. In some countries the proportion is much higher. For example, in Chad and Niger, a third of young women (20-24) said they were married by the age of 15.” With marriage generally comes the termination of the woman’s education and beginning of her role as a wife and mother. Becoming a mother at such a young age is a high risk. With Africa making up 11% of the world’s population, Africa accounts for more than 50% of maternal deaths. Busy with motherhood and taking care of household tasks, such as seeking sanitized water, there is little to no time or motivation left to dedicate to a career. A limited education constricts the career options available to the woman and increases her dependency on her husband to serve as the provider. The wells built by WBH is just the start of empowerment waiting to spread like wildfire.

Before a well is drilled, a committee of villagers is formed to maintain the well and promote hygiene. The group of 6-7 usually consists of 3-4 women, giving them a meaningful role in village life. Wells Bring Hope gives Microfinance support to the women of Niger through a program involving educational instruction, hands-on practice, and eventually an independent career. Role models like Joyce Banda, the first female President of Malawi, are a promising symbol of hope for the future, a future in which women and men will be equal partners, working to make the world a better place.

Joyce Banda, Malawi’s first female President

The campaign theme for 2017 is “Be Bold For Change”; therefore, I encourage you to do your part today by empowering women in Niger through your donation to Wells Bring Hope. Take a stand and speak up for your sisters across the globe being told to shut up and sit down. Say it loud and say it proud–“Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.”

 

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Welcome to Our New Corporate Partner – Aiqueous!

Wells Bring Hope would like to welcome Aiqueous, a water software firm based in Austin, TX, as our newest corporate partner! The mission of Aiqueous, to modernize utility operations with tools to sustain water resources for years to come, is grounded in their commitment to promoting positive social responsibility and environmental change stewardship.

Aiqueous is a member of 1% for the Planet, an organization that helps to link nonprofits like Wells Bring Hope to businesses like Aiqueous that care about sustainability and solving global problems through targeted action. As a business member of 1% for the Planet, Aiqueous donates 1% of its revenue towards causes aimed at sustainable solutions to water-related issues from around the world, and we are excited to announce that 50% of Aiqueous’ commitment for 2016 will be donated to Wells Bring Hope!

According to Aiqueous President Jonathan Kleinman, “What draws me to Wells Bring Hope is its recognition that women play a distinct role in the local economy within West African communities. Wells Bring Hope helps keep more resources within the community, and helps women to take on greater roles.”

We would like to thank Jonathan and the rest of the team at Aiqueous for their generous support of Wells Bring Hope this year, and we look forward to a great partnership going forward!

Why Education Matters

By Barbara Goldberg

On the front page of Saturday’s Los Angeles Times was this headline: “Former students in Nigeria hunt down teachers.” This is happening just across the border from where we work in Niger, West Africa. It is just the latest incident in the vicious campaign that Boko Haram has been waging against innocent people, focused on eliminating secular education, especially for girls.

In this most recent attack, students hunted down their former teachers, killing or threatening to kill them if they continue teaching.

With education as Boko Haram’s target, it is even more critical to ensure that girls throughout West Africa go to school. Boko Haram has crossed the border into Niger on several occasions, but the Nigerien government and its neighbors have pushed them back. However, Niger and other West African countries remain at risk from Boko Haram.

In rural Niger, education for girls can only happen when a well is drilled in a village. It is only when girls no longer have to walk miles to get water that they have the time to go to school.

The effects of educating girls have been well documented. When girls go to school, they…
• marry later.
• have children later and are less likely to die in childbirth.
• are better able to work and earn money for their families.
• make sure that their children get an education.

Education for girls is vital to ending the downward spiral of poverty in the poorest country in the world.

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Wells Bring Hope Holiday Party

On December 1, 2016, Wells Bring Hope Founder and President Barbara Goldberg once again opened her home to WBH supporters and volunteers for some holiday cheer and a celebration of a another successful year in our effort to save lives with safe water.

We are fortunate to have some terrific, interesting people as our donors and volunteers who thoroughly enjoyed meeting each other.

It was a mood of celebration and relaxation, and as Charley Dobbs said, “What a great way to kick off the holiday season!”

And while this was not a fundraiser, I’d like to share a note that was given to me with a donation from long-time supporter, Catherine Kaufman: “In the spirit of the season and with love, I thank you and all who help with Wells Bring Hope. I am grateful and proud to be a small part of this wonderful venture.”

Wells Bring Hope received the gift of a wooden sculpture that was first used to line open contaminated wells in communities in West Africa. The grooves on the back of the work were worn away by ropes cutting into the wood as mothers and their daughters pulled up buckets of contaminated water. Thanks to our generous donors, their burden has been lifted.

We thank everyone who came and wished us well. We are thankful for our generous supporters who have made 426 wells possible!

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Wells Bring Hope’s Annual Fundraiser

On Sunday, October 9th, philanthropist, Stanley Black welcomed Wells Bring Hope back to his home for the third year in a row for our annual fundraiser. It was a perfect California fall day and guests mixed and mingled in the late afternoon sun.

Our event was a huge success, thanks to our generous donors, capable volunteers, and especially to our Director of Special Events, Jamie Gates who choreographed it all.

We raised enough money to fund 32 wells, thanks to the help of Marsha and Mark Hierbaum who contributed $25,000 in matching funds and Bill and Susan Bloomfield who added another $15,000 in matching contributions for Raise the Paddle.

Guests nibbled on delicious food from Cornucopia Caterers and sipped wine generously donated by the San Joaquin Wine Company. The more adventurous among us sampled the sparkling tequila cocktails provided by TeQava, also courtesy of San Joaquin.

While everyone ate, drank and chatted away, our fantastic volunteers enticed guests to bid in the silent auction.  The auction tables were loaded with exciting offerings and bidding for many items was fierce, especially for the Hollywood Bowl garden box that went for more than double its value! Thanks to everyone who bid and made the auction lively and fun.

There were weekend getaways in Park City, Scottsdale, Santa Barbara, Palm Springs, and more as well as gift certificates to a variety of restaurants like the Century City hot spot Hinoki and the Bird, Cassia and the Michelin three star-rated Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas, thanks to the generosity of Board member Ed Keebler.

At the close of the silent auction, guests moved to the back lawn, where they were welcomed by Founder and President, Barbara Goldberg. She talked about how cutting-edge professionals in the world of philanthropy recommend this: give where the need is greatest.  Our work to provide safe water is the most basic of human needs and doing it in the poorest country in the world qualifies WBH for that distinction.

Barbara introduced our partner, Sam Jackson from World Vision, who has been with us from the start and has guided and educated us on navigating the world of philanthropy.

Grant Snyder, auctioneer extraordinaire, took the stage for the fourth year in a row, helping us raise lots of money for wells.  He  auctioned off exciting trips to St. Croix, Whistler, Maui, and Chicago and there was lots of bidding action. Grant also tempted guests with orchestra seats for two to Hamilton, a unique behind-the-scenes experience on the set of Major Crimes and business class tickets for two to Europe on Turkish Airlines, supporting us for the last four years. We so appreciate their generosity.

 

Thank you to all who came to support Wells Bring Hope’s eight great  years!

Wells Bring Hope’s First Ever SoulCycle Fundraising Event

This past Saturday, twenty Wells Bring Hope supporters clipped in for a 45 minutes sweat session at the SoulCycle studio in Brentwood. Organized by WBH Advisory Board member Rose Schneider, the event was a first for Wells Bring Hope, and it proved an exciting and fun way to raise money to save lives with safe water! Between the riders and those who supported the fundraiser from afar, we raised over $3,000, and more continues to come in.

Everyone who participated left drenched in sweat and energized by the class, which was led by Michael, one of SoulCycle’s enthusiastic instructors. It was a great opportunity for WBH supporters to get together for a fun activity while raising money for the cause. Andi Claman, head of the WBH Club at Chadwick School is already looking into organizing a similar fundraising ride at the SoulCycle near her school!

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The Repercussions of Violence Against Women

by Vanesa Martin

The implications of the violence wrought by extremist group Boko Haram to the nations surrounding Nigeria, including Chad and Niger, reach far beyond civilian casualties and displacement. It is no secret that rape is an unfortunately common weapon of war, and Niger is no exception. Sexual violence against women is part of Boko Haram’s plundering strategy, and it can provoke psychological and social trauma; women that have been raped are frequently ostracized by their families and neighbors despite it having been against their will. Niger is also unique in that it is the country with the highest fertility and infant mortality rate in the world (with about 7 births per woman and 101 deaths per 1000 births), so the consequences that this reality has on the population are only exacerbated by the violence being experienced there today. It also means that more and more women, young and old, are pregnant and being forced to give birth in the bush or on the streets while they are fleeing from the conflict. Needless to say, these are less than sanitary and clinically sterile conditions for both the mother and her offspring, and the health of both is jeopardized tremendously.

source: {Wikipedia}

Currently, hygiene kits are being dispersed by many aid organizations to the people that are most at risk, which are typically women and their children. It is a short-term solution, though, and is not enough. It is also difficult to reach all of the people that are currently being displaced, as many of them are hiding in the bush. What could, in fact, be more helpful to these individuals is to build wells in as many communities as is possible so that those fleeing can have access to potable water in the next community or village. Wells Bring Hope is a great way for anyone to contribute to the mitigation and the eventual solution to these crises and the consequences they bring. We partner with communities to build wells and work with women to empower them in a society where there are seemingly insurmountable obstacles between them and their self-sufficiency. Any help can be a critical start for the success of someone in Niger, especially to those women that are braving the perils of giving birth outside of a clinic or hospital. Water is where the solution begins.

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