Build It for Ourselves: Interview with Magaajyia Silberfeld

By Elsa Sichrovsky

Source: FreeCorp

“I grew up watching films and wanting to not only be in them but make them too,” is how Magaajyia Silberfeld describes her passion for filmmaking. She is the daughter of French journalist Antoine Silber and Rahmatou Keita, a Nigerien journalist, writer, and film director, whose work includes “The Wedding Ring,” in which Silberfeld starred. She was born in Paris, but spent her childhood traveling with her mother throughout Niger, Mali, Greece, and the United States[1]. At the young age of 14, Silberfeld made her acting debut in Geraldine Bajard’s 2010 film “The Edge.” By the time she was 18 years old, she had directed her first short film, “Me There.”

Silberfeld studied theatre at the Conservatoire de Paris and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy at the Sorbonne. “Ride or Die,” which she produced and co-directed, won Best Ensemble at the Queens World Film Festival in 2015. Her short film “After School” won the Rhode Island Best Directorial Award. In 2017, she wrote, directed, and starred in the short film “Vagabonds​,” which explores familial and social conflict in the life of a young woman living with her Nigerien uncle and his American wife. Currently, she is developing two shorts and a feature in addition to acting as the lead in a short film.

Silberfeld graciously took time out of her hectic schedule to answer my questions about the challenges of her work, which include contending with race and identity issues as a biracial actress, struggling to secure funding, and coping with the lack of a strong local film industry in Niger.

In 2016, she played the lead in The Wedding Ring and participated in the production process. Producing a film in Niger had unique challenges due to the negative perception of female actresses: “People look at our work like it’s “haram” (forbidden),” she says. “When I was helping Rahmatou Keita cast The Wedding Ring, most people were turning us down specifically because of that.” In the Muslim world, she explains, actresses are considered prostitutes, and women who do not wear hijabs only add to the difficulty. But her mother’s influence has given her resilience in pursuing her dreams: “My mother is a documentarist, but the way she goes about things and how proactive she is has definitely inspired me. She never gives up. I get that from her.”

Silberfeld describes the frustration of being multiracial, which in the film industry means not being able to fit into any racial category: “You’re 99% not what people want. You speak English but your accent isn’t American enough. You speak English but your accent isn’t British enough. You’re mixed but they want a darker girl. You’re mixed but they want a whiter girl.” Instead of succumbing to despair, her solution is to direct films of her own: “I’m not trying to be pessimistic, but let’s face it: the industry was not built for us. So we have to build it for ourselves. Or rebuild it.” She raised awareness about sexism and racism prevalent in the French film industry by writing an essay for the anthology, Noire N’est pas Mon Métier​ (Black is Not My Job), and joining the book’s authors in a protest at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival[2].

Faced with an entertainment industry that caters to certain racial motifs and echoes worn-out discriminatory stereotypes, Silberfeld urges young actresses to tell their stories and create art, even if it means producing their own films when the film industry resists their uniqueness or lacks sufficient state funding, as is the case in Niger. Her advice to Nigerien girls interested in an acting career is simple: “Become a filmmaker, or even a producer, and put yourself in your own films. Don’t wait around.”

For girls growing up in a country where one in seven children dies before the age of five, the future can seem bleak. Wells Bring Hope is determined to build a future for Nigerien women and girls by drilling wells that provide fresh water. When that essential need is fulfilled, resources can be allocated towards health education, microfinance training, and perhaps, the pursuit of dreams like filmmaking. Join Wells Bring Hope in empowering Nigerien families to build sustainable lifestyles that will continue to benefit them for many years.

Follow Magaajyia Silberfeld on Instagram: @magaajyia

[1] https://fr.petitsfrenchies.com/interview-de-magaajyia-silberfeld-realisatrice-et-actrice/

[2] https://afropunk.com/2018/05/my-job-is-not-being-black-16-french-black-actresses-take-a-stand-against-erasure/

Women in Niger Empowered to Initiate Divorce

by Barbara Goldberg

Source: willemstom

In January of 2019, NPR’s Rachel Martin interviewed Dionne Searcey, West Africa bureau chief for The New York Times, about a startling change in the social fabric of Niger:  women now feel empowered to initiate a divorce.

Prior to having safe water well in their rural village, Nigerien women walked miles every day to get water and thus could not work and earn money for their families.  When a well is drilled, women have over 50% of their time freed up to work and earn money.

With that comes a sense of accomplishment and pride and a newly shaped identity marked by greater confidence and independence. Women who work and earn money have more choices and, as Dionne Searcey, tells it, they feel empowered to initiate a divorce.

In prior generations, a marriage partner was chosen by a young girl’s parents and the arrangements were made for the economic betterment of the bride’s family, who may have had too many mouths to feed. Rarely was a marriage based on love. One thing that the NPR article didn’t address is that in Niger, some men have more than one wife. Often when a man did well financially, a sign of his affluence was taking on an additional wife. While some families with multiple wives co-exist peacefully, it is often a source of difficulty for one or more of the women. This is another compelling reason for wanting to get a divorce.

In the NPR interview, Dionne Searcey described a divorce court that took place on a public sidewalk, not unusual in Niger, where the judge’s bench was a sheepskin rug. With cars driving by and surrounded by a large crowd of men, she found it difficult to hear.

She told NPR that she went to Niger to explore a story about forced marriage and child marriages but the sight of an Islamic court judge on the street caught her attention. The judge informed her that there had been a noticeable increase in the number of divorces in Niger overall, including ones that were initiated by women.

Searcey was curious why this was happening. She spoke with a teenager named Zalika, who said that she had met a man at a wedding at a time when she wasn’t even thinking about getting married.

Searcey learned, “She told me she didn’t find him particularly attractive, but he was nice to her mom. And she thought they could have a nice life together. She acknowledged that many relationships start to fade as time goes on.  He didn’t want her to work, and she wanted to work. So every day, she sat inside her house and just stewed. Then she got pregnant, and when she was in labor, he didn’t even come to the hospital. And that was enough for her.”

Several other factors have contributed to women feeling a greater sense of freedom to initiate divorce. With both husband and wife earning money, more families are moving to the cities, where there are greater mobility and freedom. Women selling goods in a larger marketplace have greater exposure to the media, radio, and TV shows that depict women leading more independent lives. That helps them see what their lives could be.

Even though divorce has always been legal in Niger, in this very traditional country, a woman’s place was always in the home. Some mothers who stayed stuck in loveless marriages for many years felt that it was their daughters’ responsibility to do the same. Others wanted more for their girls, knowing that it could be possible for them to marry for love.

Searcey reported that women going through a self-initiated divorce expected to find another husband but wanted to marry someone they loved. This is a major cultural change in Niger, one that bodes well for women as they continue to strive for social as well as economic equality—another positive effect of expanding access to safe water wells.

 

 

 

A Hopeful Update on the COVID-19 Outbreak in Niger

By Omair Ali

Source: World Health Organization

The pandemic has brought immense chaos, uncertainty, and disease worldwide, but Niger has been fortunate to have experienced only a small COVID-19 outbreak so far. As of October 19, 2020, there have been 1,210 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 69 deaths, and 14 active, mild cases [1,2], which is remarkable considering the nation has a population of 22 million. Niger has only seen 100 new cases since July 22nd, and there have been no new COVID-related deaths since July 17th, highlighting the success of social distancing and quarantine measures. Other countries in the region haven’t been as fortunate. For example, Nigeria has had over 50,000 cases and more than 1,000 deaths. Niger’s low case count and death rate highlight the effectiveness of measures to prioritize the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.

Containment Measures Have Been Very Effective

Given the abrupt growth of the coronavirus pandemic in March and April, Nigeriens had to quickly engineer an appropriate response to the rise in cases. Fortunately, they had key health partners who have provided logistical and on-the-ground support to assure adequate treatment, quarantining measures and prevention of COVID-19 spread. For instance, UNICEF trained healthcare workers to manage COVID-19 patients clinically and provide psychosocial services. Further, UNICEF promoted water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services and information to ensure better compliance with safety precautions [3].

Perhaps the most effective containment strategies have been the strict travel restrictions, curfews, and crowd restrictions that were implemented early on [4]. During the outbreak, strict quarantine measures have limited migrant travel. These efforts have largely mitigated COVID-19 spread among migrants, but a 14-day quarantine further stressed migrants [5]. The shutdown seems to have stabilized the outbreak. As of October 19, 10 days have gone by without a new case. However, the economic consequences of these measures for the remainder of 2020 have yet to be realized, and new events threaten Niger’s ability to be COVID-free.

Challenges to COVID-19 Containment Remain

In recent weeks, there have been new concerns about containing the COVID-19 outbreak. Migrants from Burkina Faso and Nigeria have been fleeing instability from the Boko Haram crises and some have traveled to Niger in search of safety [6]. At the same time, smugglers in Niger have continued to traffic migrants, who are often abandoned and left at the mercy of a desert climate where temperatures can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit [7,8]. Fortunately, some migrants have been rescued by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and have been sheltered and quarantined. As regional violence continues to displace communities, safely managing the influx of migrants will be an ongoing challenge for Nigeriens.

Additionally, recent torrential downpours and rainy season floods have devastated communities, and as many as 432,000 Nigeriens have been displaced by the storms [9,10]. Displacement of this scale is especially concerning as it can lead to crowding and poor sanitation. However, early efforts to provide socially-distanced shelter and provisions to affected families could help Niger avoid a new outbreak in the future.

Because of the ongoing water crisis in Niger, countless communities don’t have reliable access to clean water and consequently, they are more vulnerable to disease, including COVID-19. Wells Bring Hope continues to address these challenges by drilling deep wells to access clean water reservoirs and training communities to ensure the long-term sustainability of their wells.

You can help address Niger’s water crisis by donating to Wells Bring Hope today!

Sources:

[1] – https://covid19.who.int/region/afro/country/ne

[2] – https://virusncov.com/covid-statistics/niger

[3] –  https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/UNICEF%20Niger%20COVID-19%20Situation%20Report%20No.%208%20-%208-21%20June%202020.pdf

[4] – https://www.garda.com/crisis24/news-alerts/327466/niger-curfew-implemented-in-niamey-effective-march-28-update-2

[5] – https://observers.france24.com/en/20200428-migrants-niger-protest-quarantine-without-end-covid19

[6] –  https://wellsbringhope.org/boko-harams-devastating-impact/

[7] – https://reliefweb.int/report/niger/iom-and-niger-s-civil-protection-rescue-83-migrants-distress-sahara-desert

[8] – http://north-africa.com/2020/09/niger-dozens-of-migrants-saved-in-niger-desert-after-they-were-abandoned-by-smugglers/

[9] – https://reliefweb.int/report/niger/niger-floods-dg-echo-ministry-humanitarian-affairs-and-disaster-management-un-ocha

[10] – https://www.cnbc.com/2020/09/10/record-flooding-hammers-the-african-sahel-the-latest-in-a-series-of-shocks.html

 

 

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