It is Heartbreaking and Almost Inconceivable

by Kristin Allen

I want to tell the story of each and every experience that I have had in Niger, West Africa…they all deserve to be told. However, what happened today is the real reason why I am here, and it needs to be told first.

I have been in Niger for 3 days. We have visited 5 villages so far…some without any safe water, some with a well, and some who have been able to start micro-financing programs now that their villages have safe water (i.e. raising goats and sheep, or selling granite oil). In all five villages, we have had the opportunity to speak with the women to learn about their lives. We heard stories of unimaginable suffering, and saw the faces of the amazing children who are the victims of not only extreme poverty, but who are also robbed of the most basic need for survival….safe water. It is heartbreaking, overwhelming and almost inconceivable.

Today, we were driving from Zinder to Maradi for the next leg of our trip. As we traveled, we saw a public watering hole with many women waiting to fetch water. We stopped to shoot some video, because although we have heard the stories, we had not yet had the opportunity to really see the process at work. There were about 30 women and young girls at the watering hole. The “watering hole” was a filthy, muddy reservoir of stagnant water. The women would wait in line until it was their turn to fill their containers. Once they filled their containers with the murky, brown water that would be used to feed themselves and their children, they would place the large, heavy container on their heads and walk back to their villages…sometimes as far as 4 hours away.

As we approached the women, we were greeted with smiles and warmth (as was the case virtually every other time we approached any Nigerien). The women and girls patiently allowed us to videotape them and take pictures, and all the children crowded in to be in the picture. When we were done, they all said gracious words of thanks, and started to walk away…..a long line of beautiful, amazing women and children making their long trek home.

When we got back into the car, another member of our team, Ida, asked me my thoughts. Ida had been to Niger 3 years ago, so she had some preparation for what to expect. As I tried to form my words, I started to cry. “It is so embarrassing.” I said. “When I picture my life, and what I think is difficult, and then I see the incredibly hard lives and suffering of these women…yet, they handle it with such grace and dignity. It’s just embarrassing.”

Very few people know anything about Niger, the second poorest country in the world. I certainly didn’t know anything about it until a very short time ago….including the fact that so many people in the world were living without the most fundamental basic of survival…..clean, safe water. But the people of Niger need desperate help. No matter how hard their government tries, it cannot do enough to help its people. The people are suffering from a lack of safe water, and now, a lack of food, due to the “food shortage” (which will become a famine in a few months). It is mind-numbingly horrendous.

It is my hope and prayer that I can help the people of Niger…not only through my own actions, but by using my words to inspire others to learn more about the critical and life-threatening challenges that they face. $30 brings one person safe water for 30 plus years. How is it possible not to help? So little, goes so far.

Please take a minute to read and find out more at www.wellsbringhope.com. It has changed my life, it can change the lives of others, and it may just change yours…

Niger: The First Meeting

by Kristin Allen

OK, it is really sinking in….

I am going to Niger, West Africa with the amazing organization I am affiliated with, Wells Bring Hope. I am traveling with them to write about their efforts and success so far, and also to witness first-hand the desperate amount of work and hardship that still needs to be addressed.

So….

• Visa…check
• Air….check
• Registering with the U.S. State Department as a precaution………..ummmmm, check?

I will be honest. This is the first time I have made this type of a trip. I have been out of the country before, but this is a whooooole different scenario. This is the second poorest country in the WORLD. Nearly two-thirds of the people living in the rural areas do not have safe water to drink. 97% in the rural areas do not have proper sanitation or toilets. We will be spending our time in the rural areas…. Get it???

To make matters worse, there is a severe famine ravaging the country. We don’t know exactly what we will see when we get there, but the bottom line is that people are starving on top of everything else. Heartbreaking…

So, although we go into this with heavy, serious hearts, we are still filled with optimism for what we can and will do, and the impact that is being made from the generous donations of people who have answered the call to help. It makes a difference. It matters.

On Tuesday, I had the chance to meet the team for our first pre-trip prep. The group will be:

• Sam: National Director of Philanthropy for World Vision – the partner to Wells Bring Hope
• Barbara: Founder of Wells Bring Hope
• Ida: One of the original members of Wells Bring Hope
• Hadiara: A Wells Bring Hope member, and native of Niger
• Dan: A cameraman with the critical job of visually documenting the trip
• Yours truly

These people are AMAZING. They are so committed, passionate and singularly focused on the important work being done. We all know that the trip will be extremely challenging – both physically and emotionally. But we also know that it is critically important to the mission.

So sit tight and follow along….I intend to blog my way through this phenomenal, life-changing journey.

Our Story

 

In February, 2008, Gil Garcetti, former L.A. County District Attorney and internationally acclaimed photographer, spoke to a Los Angeles-based organization, “Salon Forum,” started in 1993 by Barbara Goldberg, founder of Wells Bring Hope. Through words and powerful photographs, Gil conveyed the dire need for safe water in West Africa and the plight of women and girls who walk miles every day to get water.

(more…)

Happy Thanksgiving from Wells Bring Hope

by Kate Cusimano

In these difficult economic times, it is easy to lose sight of the many things we have to be thankful for, but with Thanksgiving just around the corner and the holidays not far behind, now is the perfect time to pause, reflect, and express our gratitude for all that we have.

In working with Wells Bring Hope over the past few weeks, I have learned a great deal about the devastation caused by poverty in Niger and around the world. More specifically, I have realized the tremendous impact that access to clean water can have on a community. This knowledge has provided me with a healthy dose of perspective and filled me with gratitude for all that I have.

Water, our most basic human need, is something that I rarely think about, and this is, in itself, a blessing. According to the World Health Organization, one in six people worldwide do not have access to enough safe freshwater. In other words, water is very much on the minds of the 894 million people on the planet who can’t easily access it. The ramifications of this lack of clean water are devastating – disease is rampant, child mortality is high, women are disenfranchised and at risk, and economic improvement is an impossibility. The statistics are heartbreaking but inspiring because with the simple gift of a well and the access it provides to clean water, a community can be transformed.

Tomorrow, when I sit around the Thanksgiving table with my family and share what I am thankful for, I am going back to basics. I will say that I am grateful for water. Water that runs straight into my house. Water that is hot when I want a shower and cold when I want a drink. Water that is clean and fresh and free of things that can kill me. Based on this fact alone, I am more fortunate than the nearly one billion people on the planet who don’t have this luxury.

Life-Changing Effects of a New Well

by Kate Cusimano

When a new well is drilled, the most obvious and immediate benefit is access to clean water. Africa’s challenges, however, extend well beyond its water problems. Fortunately, the benefits that a new well offers to a community go a long way toward addressing these other issues. In addition to the reduction of water-related diseases, a new well offers myriad other benefits ranging from increased empowerment for women to a significant reduction in local poverty. The following are the top five ways that a village benefits when Wells Bring Hope, in partnership with World Vision, drills a new well.

There is an immediate improvement in the health of the local population.

In West Africa, problems with water and sanitation are largely responsible for a low life expectancy and high rate of childhood mortality. By digging a well, we can reduce childhood mortality by a staggering 65 percent. In addition, access to clean water virtually eliminates waterborne diseases such as trachoma, an infection that affects 40% of Nigeriens and leads to blindness if left untreated.

Women are empowered and progress is made toward gender equality.
When a community does not have access to a clean water source, the burden of tracking down and hauling clean water falls to women and girls. In the dry season, this means that the female villagers end up walking as many as six miles every day in order to provide their families with clean water. Time spent gathering water is time that these women and girls do not have for education or income-producing work. In addition, these multi-mile treks are fraught with danger; physical and sexual assaults as well as wild animal attacks are very real threats. When a well is dug, women regain the time necessary to receive an education and earn an income, two things that can increase their perceived value within a community. In addition, Nigerien law dictates that the committee charged with maintaining a well must be at least 50% female. This is significant because it empowers women and gives them a voice and a means of influencing village life.

A fifteen-year commitment to the education and empowerment of the villagers begins.
Digging a well is only the first step toward transforming the lives of local residents. In addition to providing a clean water source, it is important to educate people on the importance of good sanitation and proper hygiene. Latrines are installed and locals are taught the importance of using them in order to avoid contaminating the water supply. In addition, villagers are taught the essentials of drip farming so they can begin using “grey water” to grow vegetables for personal consumption and for sale. Finally, our World Division partners visit each village once a month to ensure that the program continues to thrive.

Education becomes a reality and a priority.
Children who once spent the better part of a day helping their mothers carry water from distant wells have more time to devote to school once a well is dug. In addition, children no longer have to miss school because of the debilitating diarrhea that results from consuming dirty water. Overall, a new well can result in a 40% improvement in school attendance.

Women are given micro-loans to develop small businesses.
When women no longer have to spend hours gathering water, they have the time necessary to start and run small businesses, so providing the micro-loans they need to get started has become an essential part of our work. These women have a wealth of knowledge and experience, and with just a little bit of seed money, they are able to create and maintain small businesses. Working together, the women form micro-credit enterprises in which they do things like raise livestock, grow vegetables, and make peanut oil, millet cakes, or soap to sell at the local market. When women are empowered and valued members of the society, the quality of life for everyone in the village is markedly improved.

Panda Restaurant Group Donation of Over $100,000 Announced at Fundraiser

by Susan Van Seggern

Last week, Wells Bring Hope celebrated incredible news at a spectacular fundraiser. “A Journey to Niger, West Africa” was held at the Lladro Gallery, 408 N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, on Thursday October 27, hosted by Valgard Capital Partners, LLC, and its principals, Robert Kerrigan and Kenneth Kilroy.

The event featured memorable photos displayed throughout the gallery, taken by Ken Kilroy on his April 2011 trip to Niger. A video shot by his son, Ross, on the same trip was also shown that night. The event and video highlighted the accomplishments of Ken’s remarkable 15-year-old daughter, Kevin Kilroy, who, through donations from her church, school and others, raised funds for five wells. Leslie Miller of Channel 7 Eyewitness News was on hand to interview Kevin and the 2 ½ minute segment was aired the same night.

Wells Bring Hope Founder and President, Barbara Goldberg, kicked off the evening by thanking attendees and telling them about what Wells Bring Hope does and the uniqueness of its program. Also in attendance was former Los Angeles County District Attorney and internationally acclaimed photographer, Gil Garcetti who talked about what happens when a well is drilled in a village.

The most memorable part of the evening was the presentation of a major donation by WBH supporter, Panda Restaurant Group. Vice President Stanley Liu announced the donation by longtime Panda employees, Alan and Gigi Cheung of $56,000 which was matched by company Founder and Chairman, Andrew Cherng and his wife Peggy for a total gift of $112,000. Mr. Cherng was also present to receive the gratitude expressed by WBH. He has pledged to match all funds raised for wells by his employees who he has encouraged to support Wells Bring Hope.

These funds will enable WBH to drill 20 more wells, surpassing their 2011 goal of 40 by 8 wells. This does not include other donations from this fundraiser, which added 5 more wells.

For photos from the event, please see our Flickr page. For video from the event, please see our YouTube Channel. Click here to see the Channel 7 Eyewitness News segment.

October 15th: World Rural Women’s Day

by Pat Landowska

Did you know that October 15 is the International Day of Rural Women? It was established by the United Nations in 2007 and observed for the first time in 2008, in New York. The purpose of dedicating the day to women living in rural areas of the world is to direct attention to both the contribution that women make in these areas, and the many challenges that they face.

According to the 2009 report “Global Employment Trends for Women,” rural women form the backbone of the agricultural labor force across much of the developing world. Globally, more than a third of the female workforce is engaged in agriculture, while in regions like Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, more than 60 per cent of all female employment is in this sector.

In developing countries, rural women fulfill many different roles: they are farmers, caretakers of children and the elderly, wage workers and small-scale-entrepreneurs. They often spend long hours fetching water and collecting firewood. But too often they are held back by lack of education, unequal property rights and limited control over resources. Because women carry out a range of vital household and caring tasks, their overall working hours tend to be longer than men’s.

“Rural women have the potential to propel their households and communities forward, to lift them out of poverty,” says Annina Lubbock, Adviser on Gender and Poverty Targeting at International Fund for Agricultural Development. “When investments reach women, transformations begin to occur.” Providing women with better opportunities to grow and sell their own crops, undertake paid work in an agro-industry, or take on other paid activities in the rural sector is critical to increasing their bargaining power within the home. It can also legitimize their control over key material resources, such as land and credit. This is important because it elevates their status within families and communities, but also because women are more likely than men to invest their income on food and other basic needs for the household, states the 2008 report of the World Bank “Equity for women : Where do we stand on Millennium Development Goal 3?”

“To tap women’s potential, we need to first understand their challenges and their needs, and then direct our investments accordingly,” says Lubbock, “because when they overcome traditional barriers, the gains are huge.”

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An African Reflects on Clean and Dirty Water

by Hadiara Diallo

Recently, I looked at pictures of clean and dirty water taken during my last trip to Niger, West Africa. There were a few shots of the surrounding village of Tchibarey. These photos remind me that while much of Africa struggles to find clean water sources, during the wettest season, the ‘marigaux’’ encircling the village was high enough to force us to get out of the car and walk through the water embankment so we could get to the village. Although locals were happy for the rain, one can’t help but wonder why countries throughout Africa are not taking better advantage of methods to recapture water for future use.

By sharing my pictures, I thought you might get a clear idea about what water looks like in my part of the world, which is further described by Pete Brach in his blog: Why Clean Water for Africa? Certainly, the adage: ‘’A picture speaks a thousand words” truly applies in this situation. So, while my blog Struggling To Find Clean Water In West Africa describes dismal conditions, pictures of the muddied murk of dirty water drive the point home most directly. Please take a quick look at them and see what people in Tchibarey and many West African villages use for cooking, bathing and drinking! Do you not agree that everyone living in Africa and elsewhere has a right to clean drinking water?

In Niger, the consumption of unsafe water is the source of many ills for the population in the areas of health, employment and education. By donating money or time to Wells Bring Hope, you are helping Africans move out of poverty and into jobs. Please join us in our fight to bring clean water to Niger, West Africa, the third poorest country in the world.

Empowerment for Women

by Sophie Glander

Bringing empowerment to women allows for greater expressions of caring attentiveness within communities. It follows then, to create lasting change, greater attention must be put on helping women cultivate their potential. They must be empowered and given the chance to feel proud of who and what they are.



Fati Harouna, a 39 year old Nigerien women is a great example of wholesome pride. She reads, writes and understands math. Thanks to micro-financing, she is also an accomplished business owner. Kenyan Vivian Onano is yet another promising example. Kenyan has moved from living in an impoverished village to being a sophomore at Carthage College, Wisconsin. Otherwise, her fate might have matched 50% of Nigerien girls who marry men 3 times their age.

While it is all well and good to discuss the importance of empowering women, that is where it often ends. Wells need to be drilled if this dream is to become a reality. Improving education and training is another prime mover that will cement a brighter future. Quoting the great Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.

In many cases, particularly in remote villages, funding education without drilling a well is wasteful. However, without the heavy burden of fetching water, many girls will be free to become literate, discover their talents, learn new skills and develop into women who can empower their village, their country and their world.

“A woman is the full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform”. – Diane Mariechild

Sources

http://www.unicefusa.org/news/news-from-the-field/addressing-early-marriage-in.html

http://www.carthage.edu/features/vivian-onano/

http://www.actalliance.org/resources/niger-loans-create-hope