One Tribe: The Representation of Race, Africa, and Women in Black Panther

by Jennifer Dees

If it hadn’t been for the hype, I probably would have waited to see Black Panther at home. There have been more than enough Marvel films in the past few years, but it quickly became clear that Black Panther wasn’t just another superhero movie.  It’s a celebration of black and African culture, of women, and of the ties we all share.

Black Panther is going through the typical Hollywood stages: it’s starting to drift from “the best movie ever” to “it’s overrated.” I expect in a year or so, it’ll level out to a “pretty solid movie.”  A lot of the backlash is in response to the hype over black representation. While it’s true that the film has more to it than the racial discussions it’s generating, it’s still a big moment for a lot of people. In mainstream media, black people are often portrayed as the slaves or the sidekicks or the gangsters; someone to pity or fear. After seeing those stereotypes perpetuated through the media, they’re what a lot of people think of when they consider race. None of the characters in Black Panther are represented this way (although the damage caused by racism and colonialism is a major theme). Because I don’t have a black heritage, I can’t connect with the film the same way as a lot of black viewers. But I still needed to see it because 1) It’s a good movie! 2) While I couldn’t see it through the lens of a black person, I could still watch the product that was forged through that lens. While the comic the movie is based on was released in the 1960’s, this story became more public and impactful when it hit the big screen. This is the first blockbuster film with an African American writer, director and cast. Black kids can hang posters of a superhero on their walls, and the person they look up at will finally look like them.

T’Challa, the Black Panther, is king of Wakanda, a hidden African nation that has miraculously avoided colonization. There, vibranium metal powers everything. Remote-operated cars, holograms, medical treatments, and the nearly indestructible Black Panther suit are all dependent on vibranium. While Wakanda does not represent any one region of Africa, it blends and reflects the continent’s many cultures. The clothing was inspired by tribes across the continent: Queen Ramonda’s hat by the Zulu of South Africa, W’Kabi’s cloak by the Basotho of Lesotho, Nakia’s clothes by the Suri of Ethiopia, and the Dora Milaje’s uniforms by the Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania. One district’s fashion resembles that of the Tuareg tribe, a semi-nomadic group in Niger. I even recognized Sudano-Sahelian architecture (which can be found in Niger) in some of the buildings T’Challa soars by. Some of the characters speak snippets of Xhosa, an official language in South Africa.  There was so much to see in every shot, I want to watch it again just to see what I missed. Black Panther makes me want to learn more about the places that inspired Wakanda.

The women of Wakanda are just as captivating as Wakanda itself. Even with a male protagonist and antagonist, the female characters shine. They’re confident and strong, both physically and mentally. Nobility is protected by an entirely female guard called the Dora Milaje, led by fierce and glorious Oyoke. Nakia, a Wakandan spy, is constantly fighting to defend others, and Shuri, T’Challa’s sister, is a spirited genius who has developed much of the technology seen in the film. I love that little girls can see themselves in her, and I can’t wait to see them dressed as her for Halloween. There was never a question about a woman’s “role” in the Wakandan society. That women were as powerful as men was just assumed, it needed no commentary, and I appreciate that silent, natural acceptance. If the black cast is considered momentous, the way these women are portrayed is phenomenal. They are role models to everyone, regardless of race.

Black Panther has even more going for it: a spectacular soundtrack, a memorable villain (one of the best I’ve seen), and a mature yet engaging tone that sets it apart from the other Marvel films.  What I loved most was the message. A big decision T’Challa faces is whether or not to share Wakanda’s vibranium, knowledge, and technology, and risk the rest of the world taking advantage of them. There’s a message in the film that seems to be speaking directly to the audience: “We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis, the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe.”

Many people working with Wells Bring Hope have no direct tie to people in Niger. None of us can appreciate what it means to be a Nigerien, nor can we understand the hardships some of them are going through. But I think all of us, while still celebrating differences, want to be a part of the tribe T’Challa speaks of.  We see the inherent potential and beauty of Niger and its people, and we want to help them continue to develop by spreading the word and sharing resources and knowledge. We want all women in Niger to feel empowered like the women in Black Panther. Wakanda reflects what Africa is and represents what it could yet become. And that leads to a choice: If you had to decide whether or not to share Wakanda, what would you choose?

Rethinking H20

When Wells Bring Hope began nearly ten years ago, our founder, Barbara Goldberg, decided to focus our efforts on only one country. We chose to drill wells only in Niger because it is the poorest country in the world, but there are people struggling with water security around the world, and today, we’d like to highlight the work of a fellow water warrior. The following was written by Kevin Sofen, founder of Wristponsible and host of podcast, Rethinking H20. Kevin also recently interviewed Barbara on his podcast; you can listen to that here.

by Kevin Sofen

Nepal’s municipal water supply is unreliable and often contaminated. After the tragic earthquake in 2015, access to clean water posed a significant, daily problem for Helping Hands hospital, located in the country’s capital of Katmandu. Serving over 200,000 patients each year, the hospital desperately needed a safe water solution to improve hospital operations.

Fortunately, it does not take copious amounts of money or technology to make a tangible impact for those in need of safe water solutions. After determining the needs of the hospital, H2OpenDoors, a water charity division of the Rotary Club, worked with W.S. Darley & Company to implement a combination of solar powered pumps, water treatment, pipes, and tanks.  Using these systems, dirty water is pumped to the roof, treated with the SunSpring water treatment system, and clean water is then gravity-fed to over 100 hospital beds.  The hospital is now operational and provides safe drinking water to all of its patients.  This video showcases the implementation process from start to finish.

After working professionally in the water space for six years, I realized that getting safe water to those in need was not an easy task.  I quickly learned that one of the biggest obstacles to overcome is access to capital.  To combat this problem, I set out to raise as much money as possible through hosting charity golf tournaments and finding corporate sponsors.  After raising $50,000 from two large charity events that went towards the water projects in Nepal, I set out to find a more sustainable source of funding.

While installing water systems in Nepal, I met a group of artisans that created beautiful hand-crafted jewelry.   Their work inspired me.  I realized that I could buy their jewelry, import it to the United States, sell it to consumers, and donate ALL profits to water charities around the world.  Using this model, I could help those in need of clean water and provide work for skilled artisans.  After only six months of this endeavor, the charity I created, Wristsponsible, has sold over 1,000 wristbands and has donated $9,000 to three different water charities.  Most recently, Wristsponsible has officially grown from an individual charitable passion to a formal 501c3 charity.

People who purchase a Wristponsible bands receive a handmade artisan band and confidently know that the proceeds are implemented ethically.  This fuels a vibrant supply chain for artisans around the world that simultaneously crates capital funds for water projects.  Out of $10, $3 of the band goes toward employing the artisan and $7 goes to the water project.

In October, we continued our efforts to bring safe water solutions to remote villages and implemented a social water enterprise in the community to Shinyanga Tanzania.  To learn more about the recap of this water adventure, you can watch this video.

If you are interested to collaborate or learn more, please feel free to email Kevin at Wristsponsible@gmail.com

3 Lessons from Water Poor Countries

by Stephanie Coles

I recently watched a great Ted Talk by Lana Mazahreh, a water conservation activist. I always find Ted Talks insightful, but what was great about this one was the simple and hopeful message behind it: we can work together to solve water crises. How do we do this? Let’s learn from what countries in crisis are already doing.

She opens her talk by walking through the situation in Cape Town, South Africa. In March of 2017, Cape Town was declared a disaster due to the fact that they had less than four months of usable water left. The mayor described needing a new relationship with water. Mindsets needed to shift. Although today water levels are still dangerously low, residents have managed to stretch out the original four-month forecast through water conservation, and the city is still not dry. Mazahreh cites examples from several other cities around the world that have had or are currently experiencing water shortages. She broke down her advice into the following key takeaways.

Lesson 1: Honesty is the best policy

It is crucial to acknowledge the problem. Let citizens know how much water is left, Mazahreh says. From 1997-2009, Australia was facing a severe drought. Water levels in Melbourne dropped to a capacity of 26%. To help combat this, the city used electronic billboards to display exactly how much water was available. Being honest about the issue “creates a sense of urgency and community” and empowers people to take responsibility for fixing the problem. Cape Town has taken that advice to heart. They are using the same electronic billboards that proved effective in Melbourne and a website was created to outline exactly how much water is left in an easy to digest format.

Lesson 2: Empower people to save water

Currently, citizens in Cape Town are only allowed 50 liters of water per person per day.

The tight restrictions are preventing the city from hitting the dreaded “day zero,” the day Cape Town will completely run out of usable water. Again we can look to Melbourne for guidance. Because the city was straight forward about the dangerous water levels, citizens were empowered to take action, and many people invested in rain collection tanks to help with conservation efforts. The city also provided water efficient shower heads for free to help cut back. In a span of four years, these efforts reduced water demands per capita by 50%. In Cape Town, the city has also worked to support their citizens in their water saving efforts. On the city’s government website, resources and tools are available (see below) to help people think through their day and how to best use their supply.

Lesson 3: Look below the surface

In her final takeaway, Mazahreh tells us about Singapore, the 8th most water scarce country in the world. Singapore depends on imported water for 60% of its water needs. In 2008, to help with their shortage, the city built an urban water reservoir called Marina Barrage.

It has “a catchment area of 10,000 hectares, or one-sixth the size of Singapore” that serves three purposes. It helps to boost the water supply by 10%, it lowers the risk of flooding for the surrounding area, and it has become a major attraction visited by tourists and locals alike. Mahahred reminds us that “not all initiatives need to be stunning” like Marina Barrage, but we can think outside the box to help ourselves and each other.

I highly encourage you to listen to Mahahred’s Ted Talk here: 3 Thoughtful Ways to Conserve Water. What is happening with Cape Town is happening around the world. We all need to consider reevaluating our relationship with water. By implementing easy conservation efforts –  taking shorter showers, changing to a lower flow faucet, turning off the tap while brushing your teeth – we can work together to make a big difference.

Niger may be able to learn from the successes of other nations as well, but they lack the resources of a country like South Africa to implement them. This is what makes the work Wells Bring Hope is doing so critical.  It is also why we teach drip irrigation and the use of grey water in all villages where we drill. Thanks to their familiarity with water scarcity, the villagers in rural Niger have an inherent understanding of the importance of conservation of their most precious resource. Unfortunately, solving the water crisis in Niger is going to take more than the lessons of a Ted Talk, it’s also going to take resources. By partnering with Wells Bring Hope, you’re a part of solving the water crisis for a people in need.

The Personal Impact of Giving Back

by Kristopher Coulston

Service for others is one of life’s most rewarding experiences. For as long as I can remember, I have felt the urge to volunteer and give back, and this drive is the reason for some of my fondest memories. There are so many wonderful experiences I have had during volunteer work: the amazing conversation I had with one of the residents at a residential care facility, working an ultramarathon aid station and handing out water and food to the runners, and spending hours doing research in order to write a blog for Wells Bring Hope.

I have been asked by several people why I enjoy working for free, but I don’t see volunteering that way because I get so much back in return. The joy I feel when I see how grateful runners are, the incredible conversations I’ve had with strangers, the satisfaction I get knowing that I have made a difference, even if it’s a small one is a kind of payment. The sense of community I feel when I am working with a group of strangers makes me feel I am part of something bigger, and that is valuable to me.

The need for service is endless. To think that on any given day, and at any given time, there is a need to be met, is overwhelming. Kindness should impel us to turn our focus outward to meet that need for service, which will, in turn, make a manifest inward difference. As Albert Einstein has said, “Only a life lived for others is worth living.” Having a compassionate outward focus is the only way to live life.

The most vital part of being human is having compassion. Compassion can make people do some crazy, amazing, and selfless things. I always think of Mother Teresa when I think about compassion – she is a prime example of the incredible things people can achieve when driven by compassion. She dedicated her entire life to meet the needs of others. Some have said that Mother Teresa deprived herself, but I imagine she would say that she was richly rewarded. When she departed from this earth, she left a legacy of service, compassion, and love, and she will always be remembered for her selflessness. Individually, most of us will never have the kind of universal impact that Mother Teresa did, but our collective small acts of compassion and service will meet the mark to leave a legacy of humanity for the future. In fact, we can all be guided by her wisdom as we seek ways to give back, “We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”

New Year, New Hope

by Shayna Watson

The village of Kobio is typical of many communities in the Tilaberi region of west Niger. Its people face many challenges as they try to create better lives for their children in the midst of poor conditions like recurring drought and famine. Women used to walk more than six miles to find water. Parents were powerless witnesses of a high level of child malnutrition, illiteracy among the girls and feared that a child might die from contaminated water.

In 2015, Wells Bring Hope drilled a well in Kobio, improving the lives of more than a thousand people. In addition to drilling a well, its partner World Vision began educating villagers on good hygiene and sanitation practices, and it is something they continue to do as they visit a village one a month.

Fadima Sanda has ten children, seven girls and three boys. For the past two years, she has been an active member of the “Kanda Gomni” savings group, which means bringing the blessing. She says the creation of this group is a blessing because sometimes in the past, she could not even afford a little salt for their food.

Fadima’s life changed when she took out a loan to make bed mats for people in her community. She took a loan of 5,000 FCFA (US$10) from the savings group and used it to buy materials to create 10 beds. Her hard work generated total revenue of 10,000 FCFA (US $20).

She then bought a goat, which has given birth twice and allowed her to sell one of the newborns for 22,500 FCFA (US $45). Three months later, Fadima repaid her loan with interest¾she made a profit that not only serves to invest more in her new business but also to improve the health and living condition of her children.

Eating traditional grain with seasoned meat sauce used to be rare in this village, maybe a once a year occasion. However, life has changed for Fadima and women like her. Today, she prepares a different healthy meal almost eery night.

When she goes to market to sell her traditional mats, she uses part of her profit to buy food that her children love. The market day is really a happy day because she comes home with salt, rice, okra, tomatoes, meat, and smoked fish for the week. Fadima is happy to see her children so much healthier. They don’t get sick the way they used to.

“Since I became a part of this savings group, my life has gotten so much better. Now, I can help my husband with house expenses like food and the children’s clothing. Our food is richer and varied,” she said proudly. “Joining the savings group has allowed my children to eat well and they are happy. I am filled with happiness because I can see their joy. Look at them, they are well fed and well dressed,” Fadima added with a big smile.

Philanthropic Messages in Super Bowl LII

by Meghan Rees

Super Bowl LII: Tom Brady. Nick Foles. Justin Timberlake. We all know the Sunday superstars who took the field and entertained us at halftime. But the Patriots and Eagles weren’t the only ones scoring touchdowns in last night’s game.

The Super Bowl is known for airing new commercials with innovative perspectives and messages. This year, we saw a shift from political messaging to philanthropic messaging. Two ads in particular addressed the issue of water resources both near and far.

In Budweiser’s “Stand By You” commercial, (pause for goosebumps and watery eyes), the brand elicited strong emotions from the audience by tying in recent natural disasters. The commercial shows a branch of Anheuser-Busch halting production of beer to manufacture canned water. With a simple tagline, “Whenever you need us, we’ll stand by you,” this message speaks directly to those affected by the hurricanes, but also expresses to the entire nation that we’re in this together. Whether we were personally affected or felt heartbroken for our neighbors in the South, Budweiser did an exceptional job at turning sorrow into hope, faith and a sense of community spirit. Hurricane Harvey isn’t the first time Anheuser-Busch intervened to bring water to those in need. They were also involved in producing water during Hurricane Matthew (2016), the Flint water crisis of Michigan and California fires. Anheuser-Busch’s VP for Community Fairs stated, “Putting our production and logistics strengths to work by providing safe, clean drinking water is the best way we can help in these situations.”

Stella Artois’ commercial “Taps” features Matt Damon and, like Budweiser, also touches on the relevant issue of water. This brand takes it one step further by educating the viewers with new information and showing how their purchase will make a difference. Damon informs us, “Millions of people in the developing world walk up to six hours every day for water… If just 1% of you watching this buys one [chalice], we could give clean water to one million people for five years.” Stella’s website reads, “Our goal is the provide access to safe water to 3.5 million people in the developing world by 2020. With your support, since 2015, we’ve already changed the lives of more than 1 million people.”

While some may argue Anheuser-Busch and Stella Artois could have simply donated the cost of creating the commercials to the cause, they’re instead creating a sense of group effort and the power of community. Millennials tend to link themselves with brands that are connected to a cause, so the purpose of these commercials is to make more of a difference through viewership than the brand could do on their own. While one person or company can make a difference, the key message here is about being part of something bigger than ourselves. Philanthropy is one of the best ways an individual can contribute to a global fight. Join our fight by learning more at wellsbringhope.org

Preserving Biodiversity and Protecting Livestock

by Jennifer Dees

I have the neediest, pickiest cats in the world. To them, if the bowl is half-full, it might as well be empty. I figure they’ve got it pretty easy amongst the billions of other pets around the world. That got me thinking about what pets people own in Niger and the relationship they have with other animals.

I discovered pets aren’t common in Niger, but the Azawakh dog has probably played the most significant role in their lives. According to Infodogs, the nomadic Tuareg tribes bred them for hunting, guarding, and companionship. They’re friendly with family, but wary and defensive with strangers. They can happily chase after gazelles up to 40 miles per hour in 100 degree heat. However, they’re rarely seen today because of the drop in game and the government ban on hunting.

Traditional hunting (on foot without the use of modern weapons) isn’t a significant cause of dwindling wildlife. The problem is with droughts and hunting by those with advanced tracking and weapons. Hunting is illegal in Niger, but with cities few and far between, poachers still slip through. It hasn’t always been like this. According to John Newby’s article on “The Role of Protected Areas in Saving the Sahel,” 19th century travelers marveled at the abundance of wildlife. But, then, the country was once covered with forests and grassland and flowing with rivers. The animals were once a reliable resource for nomadic tribes during droughts. Today, few see the value in supporting wildlife. Newby attests that “Just as it is wise to store grain for times of famine, it should be desirable to encourage the growth of healthy wildlife stocks.” And, of course, the extinction of any animal would be a huge ecological loss.

Hundreds of species still roam the desert, from lions to elephants, and from golden jackals to oryx antelope. But in a country that’s 80% desert, and with fewer than five inches of annual rainfall, several mammals are threatened or endangered. The addax antelope is critically endangered, while humans and giraffes complete for land resources. Still, efforts are being made to protect the wildlife. According to the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, 14.29% of Niger is protected land, including the fourth largest reserve in the world, the Aïr and Ténéré Reserve. In 1991, only about 50 West African giraffes remained on Earth. That number has risen to 400—still low, but slowly growing.

Most Nigeriens today depend on raising livestock rather than hunting wildlife. According to the World Bank, in rural areas, 4 out of 5 households own livestock. It’s the biggest source of income for many households, so losing any of their livestock can be a disaster.  Without water for the livestock to drink, losing them is always a concern.  “Family herds that took decades to form can be decimated in only a few months. As an example, in 2009, following a drought in Niger, herders in the worst-hit areas lost up to 90% of their livestock.” Starting over after something like that must be devastating.

With so many people enduring a lack of resources, it can be easy to overlook the animals that are also affected. With more access to water, people in Niger will have an easier time caring for their livestock and won’t have as much competition with wildlife over the few water sources. I hope that as Niger develops, more people will begin to restore and protect the animals that give the country much of diversity.

New Years in Niger

by Stephanie Coles

Like many of you, I spent the last week of 2017 contemplating what I would like to do differently in 2018. What goals should I set for myself? I jotted some notes down, but I was curious about what others were doing. I needed inspiration.

Here is what I found. Last year, a digital marketing company called iQuanti reported on the most popular new year’s resolutions based on people’s Google searches. The results were as follows:

  1. Get healthy
  2. Get organized
  3. Live life to the fullest
  4. Learn new hobbies
  5. Spend less, save more
  6. Travel
  7. Read more

Their findings may not come as much of a shock; it’s a good list. They are all great things to think about when trying to improve oneself. And although I don’t know how these trends may have changed over the past year, I would wager not much.

Because I’ve been hyper-aware of Niger while volunteering to blog for Wells Bring Hope, I couldn’t help but wonder how different this list would be if I was Nigerien. I imagine my list would look something like this:

  1. Find regular access to clean water (61% of rural villagers lack safe water)
  2. Take care of 7 children (average number of children per family)
  3. Avoid extremism (more information here)
  4. Protect myself from disease (specific disease risks include malaria and diarrhoea, cholera, hepatitis and measles)
  5. Learn to read (literacy rate is 28.7% for adults and just 15% for women)

The more I think about the gap in privilege between myself and the average 30-year-old Nigerien woman, the more I’m grateful to have connected with Wells Bring Hope. Rather than let the disparity of these lists depress me, I choose to let it inspire me.

I am sorry to say that last year at this time, I wasn’t focusing on a new year’s resolution that would allow me to give back or inspire people the way that writing for Wells Bring Hope has. However, in September I started on this journey to write for WBH, and it has been one of my proudest achievements of 2017.

This entry is a call to ask you, the readers of this post, to find a way to use your privilege to help create change in 2018. This is a call to pause, to think about a cause you’re passionate about, find a way to make a difference, and to act. It only costs $30 to give someone access to clean water for life. Try giving up an espresso once a month and use that money to become a recurring donor. Just $5 each month adds up and by the end of the year, your contributions will have transformed two lives. Find a way to focus the energy that comes along with a resolution into something larger than yourself. Then find a way to inspire others to do the same.

Africa: Worthy of Our Respect

By Barbara Goldberg

A Nigerien woman works in a community garden

The muck and mire of partisan politics is no place for a nonprofit like ours, but the remarks by our president regarding the countries of Africa cannot be ignored. They are NOT s___hole countries! As true with anything in life, first-hand knowledge and experience reign supreme in making judgements like this one and I highly doubt that our president has seen much of Africa!

And anyone who lumps together 54 independent countries on one continent the way Donald Trump did cannot possibly have the remotest grasp of Africa. Are our 50 states all the same, even remotely? No.

While many countries in Africa are poor and in the category of “underdeveloped,” a number of them are growing at astounding rates as the chart below indicates.

Most Africans are strivers, working hard to pull their economies up, often in the face of incredible challenges, often with limited natural resources and insufficient infrastructure. We, who work to help the people of Niger, West Africa, a country tied for last place as the poorest in the world, see those strivers hard at work. Women who are given the opportunity to learn how to start their own small businesses do so in a matter of months. Failure for them is not an option—there is too much at stake.

We are proud to serve the people who live, not in a s___hole country, but one that is full of beauty, rich with culture, and powered by a people determined to improve their lives and communities. Niger and her people are, like all strivers, worthy of our respect.

To read more about Niger’s vast potential and incredible beauty, read Jennifer Dees’ blog here.