Drilling Wells Helps Reduce Number of Early Marriages

by Pat Landowska

Somewhere in a village in Niger, Amina is giving birth to a boy whose father already abandoned the family. The girl got married at the age of 12, now she suffers chest pains that prevent her from eating and sleeping. If it was not for World Vision’s workers coming to her village, there would have been no one to take care of her baby.
Abandonment and depression are only two of many negative aspects likely to develop when girls get married too young, in fact when they are still children. This phenomenon, however strange to Westerners, is common in many developing countries. Fifty-one million girls in the developing world have been married before legal adulthood. Over one-third girls in Niger marry before the age of 15, according to World Vision’s report “Before She’s Ready.” Three out of four brides in Niger are younger than 18. Only Bangladesh notes more under age marriages; in over half of them, brides are under 15.

Why is this happening?
For many reasons, among which poverty seems to be the most important one. Parents give a young daughter away so they have fewer mouths to feed and to ensure that she is supported. Sometimes, a bride’s family receives a piece of cattle as a thank-you gift from groom’s family, something that is very desirable in places often swept by droughts and famine. At other times, parents feel that marrying young will shield their daughter from strangers, possible attacks, rape. In places like Niger where life expectancy doesn’t exceed the early fifties, parents marry off children early, hoping to provide them with stability before their own deaths.

What really happens?
When a girl enters a marriage, she will most likely drop out from school. In Niger, only 15% of women are literate. Less than one-third of girls are enrolled in primary schools. Studies have shown that women with seven or more years of education marry later and have fewer children. There is no coincidence between a high illiteracy rate among females and the fertility rate, which in Niger is the highest in the world (7.2 births per woman.) However, school is seen as irrelevant in societies where a girl’s role is restricted to home. Many girls are kept out of classes to do chores such as cooking, tending to animals and fetching water.
Without educated females to serve as role models in a community, benefits of educating girls aren’t readily apparent. As a result, uneducated girls often lack life skills and self-confidence to be economically independent. They become prone to early marriages and exploitation.

What is the health risk?
Early marriage and childbearing pose severe risks for girls who are not yet physically, mentally and emotionally developed. So it does for their children. Niger has the world’s highest infant mortality rate; one in four children doesn’t reach the age of 5. Children have fewer chances to survive when born to mothers who are too young and unprepared for parenthood.
In girls whose pelvis and birth canal are not fully developed, delivery of the baby can be obstructed. Pressure from the infant’s skull during prolonged labor can damage the birth canal, tearing the internal tissue that separates the bladder or bowel from the vagina. This tear, or fistula, causes uncontrollable leakage of urine or feces, sometimes both, unless the injury is surgically corrected. These girls live in shame. The condition keeps them perpetually soiled and they smell. They are usually ostracized by their families and many are abandoned or divorced by their husbands. In Niger, where marriage before the age of 15 is common, fistula counts for nearly two-thirds of divorces.

What does drilling a well have to do with this?
A lot. The necessity of walking long distances to fetch water is one of the reasons why girls drop out of school or don’t attend it at all. If a village receives a well, girls go to school. They are less likely to marry and give birth at a very young age and become prone to medical conditions, like fistula. Moreover, drilling a well is a major step towards breaking a perpetuation of poverty that grows on the grounds of a lack of education and restricted ability to produce an income. When a well is drilled, women no longer have to walk miles every day to get water. Their time is freed up to work productively for their families. In every village where Wells Bring Hope drills a well, micro-loans are given to the women to start small businesses, like raising chickens, goats, making peanut oil and millet cakes. Women become successful entrepreneurs and their earning ability shifts the balance of power within the family and the entire village. They have a greater say in how money is allocated with the focus on providing a better life for their children.

World Hand Washing Day in Chadakori, Niger

World Hand Washing Day was observed on October 15, 2010 in a region known for its high population density and high population growth, one of the highest in the world at more than 6% annually. The Chadakori Area Development Program, which hosted the World Hand Washing Day ceremony, covers a population of 44,881. The departments represented at this ceremony were: Primary Education, District Health, Water Services along with the schoolteachers, students, parents, and various youth groups and women’s associations of Chadakori and vicinity.

The ceremony began with a welcome from the District Supervisor who expressed his appreciation for the work of World Vision. This was followed by an educational skit performed by the Community Mobilization Team on the topic of hand washing: 1) before and after meals, 2) after using the toilet, and 3) after changing a baby. The skit depicted a family who practices good hygiene, beginning with the woman of the house bringing soap for the family to wash their hands before touching food.

Just as the head of the house prepares to eat, along comes his friend and travel companion who goes straight to the kettle and uses soap to wash his hands, a gesture appreciated by the head of the family.

The two friends, having both washed up, sit down to eat. Just then another friend arrives from the field who starts to rush directly to the food, but the other two manage to restrain him and request that he first wash his hands. The audience was delighted with the skit’s message and the professional skill of the actors.

The skit gave way to the manager of the Niger Rural Water Project, who represented World Vision at this ceremony. He reinforced the importance that World Vision gives to the water, sanitation and hygiene sectors in order to achieve the Millenium Development Goals, as well as World Vision’s desire to work with Niger to combat poverty. He said that over the next five years, World Vision planned to drill approximately 650 new wells equipped with hand pumps, install 10 piped water systems, build 150 school latrines, and 3,000 family latrines.

Finally, the Prefect of the town of Guidan Roumdji acknowledged the efforts of World Vision in Niger, emphasizing that these were in full alignment with the development priorities of the Niger government. He noted that water, sanitation and hygiene interventions played a primary role in disease reduction and prevention. It was for this reason, he said, that the entire international community had mobilized around this sector, to improve the potable water supply, basic sanitation infrastructure and good hygiene practices.

He added that the World Hand Washing Day, established in 2008 by the UN General Assembly, was a useful tool for promoting this simple and low-cost way to reduce the number of child deaths due to diarrhea by half, and the number of deaths associated with acute respiratory infections by one quarter.

The ceremony ended with a demonstration of proper hand washing with soap, and the gift of 30 hand washing kits to the schools in Chadakori, the first of their kind to be introduced in the region. They will allow for the training of several thousand children on proper hand washing methods.

Walking to Find Water

by Sussanah Ngwuta

I was born in the United States but left with my family for Nigeria, the country of my parents, at the age of four. I lived in Nigeria for 13 ½ years, in a place that one would call a remote primitive village turning into a city. Its residents were comprised of people who lived from hand-to-mouth and suffered greatly from a lack of any significant infrastructural development. Everyday, I had to wake up extremely early to look for water and walk miles upon miles to find it.

Our situation got worse during the dry season as the wells dry up and out of desparation people would dig holes in the ground and sometimes, miraculously water did come out. The stark reality was that finding water to drink or even bathe in was never a guarantee.

Each time I set out on foot to look for water, saying a prayer was a must. And even upon arriving to a place where there was water, I still had to wait in a long queues before it was my turn to get it. Sometimes after waiting for hours and hours, by the time it was my turn the water would be either finished or the level too low to get any water at all. As a girl, I felt vulnerable to falling prey to desperate and exploitative men. Sometimes there were “bullies” who were very disrespectful and hostile. The unfortunate part is that the government receives money every year to drill bore-hole wells, but it is embezzled before it gets to the people.

Sussanah Ngwuta, a volunteer for Wells Bring Hope, returned to the U.S. in 2006 and started at El Camino College. Six months later she obtained her Bachelors Degree in Political Science at California State University, Long Beach. Currently she is pursuing her Masters in International Relations. Her passion to make a difference and positively impact the lives of others in developing countries and that is what attracted her to Wells Bring Hope.

Mildred Rivera Interview

Pat Landowska’s interview with artist, Mildred Rivera: “I cannot ignore what’s in front of me”

Mildred Rivera, an artist, who specializes in air brushing and watercolor, and a student at Santa Monica City College, decided to donate 25% of profits from the show featuring her art and the art of her colleagues to Wells Bring Hope. The show opened on November 6 and will be held until November 20 at The Market Gallery, S San Pedro & E 11th Street in Los Angeles.

Why did you decide to donate 25% profits from your show to Wells Bring Hope?

Because I like the concept of it. Everything…the same goes on and on around the world through generations, like homelessness, poverty, racism, nothing really changes. Since I am an awareness artist, I think it is important to make a point that everybody is affected by what’s going on, that’s my job – to make people aware. For an artist it can be that simple as using the color pink to raise awareness about a breast cancer.

Yes, but one may say that there is plenty of poverty and suffering right here where we are, in the States. A person doesn’t have to go to Africa to find the needy ones.

I don’t discriminate among people in need based on their location. We all live in the same world, in which ignorance is overwhelming. Therefore, we all have to do our part. If only one person breaks the ignorance and does something about it, others will follow. Barbara Goldberg, the founder of Wells Bring Hope, is the best example. I cannot ignore what is in front of me. And by that I mean what’s going on in Africa as well as in here.

You are a student. Don’t you need money for yourself?

Yes, I do. But you know what, as long as I’ve eaten today, which I did, I can help others. I am not selfish. God has given me a talent to share, to pass on somebody else.

Is this your first charitable fundraiser?
No, I’ve done it before for causes like fighting breast cancer and AIDS. But I didn’t raise a lot of money.

Well, every little bit counts. Thank you for the conversation, and good luck with your studies.

Water: The Most Precious Resource of All

by Golda Gonzales

We might not think of it often, one tends to take for granted what has always been here, but it also doesn’t take long to come to realize the preciousness of water. Wherever you turn, and from every angle, life is possible thanks to water. There is no replacement for it.

From the tiniest cell of any living being to the most complex of organisms, like the human body, which is 60% water, survival is simply not possible without water. Most of us could survive on less energy consumption per day—a lower or higher thermostat, depending on the season, a bit less TV or a more fuel-efficient vehicle. However, it is unlikely that any of us could survive without water for more than a week.

It has been estimated that our bodies need approximately two quarts of water each day. From household consumption to agriculture and manufacturing, the extent to which water runs through our lives is precisely why we have to confront the challenge of using it wisely, distribute it evenly and preserve it for future generations.

Clean, safe drinking water is a scarce commodity in many parts of the world because 97% of the world’s total water supply is salty ocean water. Two per cent of the fresh drinking water is ice-trapped in the north and south poles and less than 1% comes from rivers, lakes and underground soil.

With this said, a dilemma is born…how do we ensure enough water for drinking, growing our food, cooling our power plants, etc. given limited resources and a fast growing global population? With more than 83 million new people on the planet each year, (National Geographic, April 2010) in 15 years 1.8 billion people will be living in geographical regions where water will be severely scarce.

A study conducted by Goldman Sachs (Newsweek, October 31, 2010) estimated that global water consumption is doubling every 20 years and that the UN expects water demand to outstrip supply by more than 30% by 2040.

Statistics already show that of the 6 billion people inhabiting our planet, 2 billion lack access to safe drinking water, with more than 1 billion of them living in the developing world. Countries in West and North Africa as well as the Middle East and Asia are the most affected. Groundwater supplies in these areas are critically important for survival since many in these regions get very little rainfall throughout the year. According to studies, many of these aquifers are being drained faster than Mother Nature can replenish them. Tensions among countries lucky enough to be on the shores of the Nile, the Danube, the Tigris, who have been sharing water supplies with neighbors, have increased due to water shortages and drought.

This grim landscape can’t help but bring up a couple of questions: how successful can water management be, at any level, international, federal, local? Is conservation of our fresh water resources enough to offset the growing in population, and therefore the increasing demand on our water supply?

One thing is clear: today we’re using more than half of the fresh water supply in the world and unless something is done soon, we are going to run out of our most precious resource, not in generations from now but in this century. What can YOU do?

U.N. Millennium Development Goals Appear Out of Reach in Africa

by Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times

With only five years left to meet the targets of poverty reduction and healthcare improvements set for 2015, most of sub-Saharan Africa lags behind amid the lack of aid and political will.

Sub-Saharan Africa will not reduce poverty and hunger and improve child and maternal healthcare to meet the goals set a decade ago by the United Nations unless African and Western leaders do much more, several recent reports suggest. The main reasons: Donors have failed to keep pledges and many African nations have not improved their governments or increased health spending as promised.

Only a handful of developed countries have met a pledge to increase foreign aid to 0.7% of their gross domestic product, while in some countries aid is declining. And only Rwanda, Tanzania and Liberia have met their pledge to spend 15% of their budgets on health, while in some African nations — Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa and others — the proportion has fallen since 2000, according to a recent report out of Britain.

The average spending on healthcare in sub-Saharan Africa remains less than 10% of GDP. The Millennium Development Goals were adopted by about 190 U.N. member countries in 2000 to tackle poverty, hunger, disease and early deaths in poor countries, with a series of targets set for 2015. The struggling efforts to meet those goals will be discussed at a three-day U.N. summit in New York beginning Monday.

Almost from the outset it was clear that countries and international organizations were not moving fast enough to meet the targets. The eight goals include halving the rate of poverty from 58% of the population in 1990 to 29% in 2015; reducing child mortality by two-thirds from 18% of births in 1990 to 6% in 2015; and cutting maternal mortality from .92% to .23% during the same period. Other goals include providing universal primary education, combating HIV/AIDS and providing universal access to treatment, and eradicating malaria.

“There’s progress, but not at all sufficient if we are to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015,” said Elhadj As Sy, the Nairobi-based regional director of UNICEF. “Even in countries where we had a drop in child mortality, in the best cases we saw a reduction of 2.5 or 3% and we need a 5% reduction to meet the targets.” He said the situation is worst in countries mired in conflict, such as Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In the 10 years since the goals were set, meeting them has become more complicated, as the global financial crisis plunged an additional 64 million people into extreme poverty, many of them in Africa. Global warming threatens future food production in sub-Saharan Africa, but in the last five years the amount of arable land under irrigation has increased by less than 1%.

The most disappointment has been in the efforts to reduce child and maternal mortality, both of which were to be slashed by two-thirds by 2015. So far, child mortality has been reduced, but 14% of children still die before their fifth birthday. The rate of maternal mortality had barely shifted, according to a U.N. report on the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs.

There also has been little improvement in the poverty and hunger levels. In 2008, 32% of people in sub-Saharan Africa were undernourished, a proportion little changed since 1990, according to the recent report by Britain’s Commission for Africa. More than 1 billion people worldwide were hungry last year, with insufficient nutrition a key factor in poor health and mortality. Although the proportion living on less than $1.25 a day declined, the overall number in poverty has risen to more than 400 million.

One worrying element, according to analysts, is that the easier improvements — slashing debt, distributing mosquito nets, vaccinating children, improving primary school enrollments — have been carried out in many parts of Africa. With only five years left till 2015, far more challenging programs must be implemented, such as setting up decent health services for women in remote locations and improving the quality of primary education.

The U.S. has released its strategy to reach the goals, including providing an extra $63 billion for healthcare in developing countries, $3.5 billion to help improve agricultural production and $30 billion to help countries adapt to global warming.

“The road ahead will likely be more difficult than the road already traveled,” said a USAID report on meeting the 2015 goals. “To meet the MDGs by 2015, historic leaps in human development will be required. Many of the remaining poor and undernourished will be harder to reach because they live in marginal areas or face ethnic, religious, and other kinds of deep‐seated social exclusion. Some reside in conflict‐affected or fragile states, where the prospects for development are least auspicious.”

Osten Chulu, a policy advisor in Johannesburg to the United Nations Development Program, said the efficient use of aid in Africa was sometimes compromised by poor governance and the extreme disempowerment of populations who are unable to hold leaders accountable through democratic elections. “In Europe and America, a politician is always wary of the reaction of voters,” Chulu said. “But here, it’s the other way around. People are afraid of politicians and civil leaders.”

Chulu said governments in both developed and developing countries had failed in their commitments to meet the U.N. goals. “The question is not so much the money,” he said. “It’s how you use the money.”

This week’s summit is reportedly aiming to generate billions of dollars in pledges of aid. Nongovernmental groups such as Oxfam are calling for a much greater commitment from developed countries. In 2005, the Group of 8 leading industrialized nations promised an extra $50 billion in aid by 2010, but only 61% of it has been delivered.

“Unless an urgent rescue package is developed to accelerate fulfillment of all the MDGs,” a recent Oxfam report said, “we are likely to witness the greatest collective failure in history.”

Devastating Floods Sweep Niger After Months of Drought

Excerpted from: http://breakingnews.ie/world

Drought-stricken Niger has been struck by devastating flooding, aid agencies said today. Crop failure combined with a severe drought had already thrust tens of thousands of people into a perilous state in Niger and neighboring Chad in the Sahel region of central North Africa.

But now severe flooding is making the situation even worse, Save the Children said today. Heavy rainfall since the end of July has inundated six regions of Niger, affecting more than 58,000 people. Houses have collapsed and rotting animal carcasses are contaminating flood water, spreading disease, the agency said.

The region of Zinder in the south of the country has been hit hardest, with 28,000 people affected. More than 37,000 animals have drowned in the floodwaters. Zinder is also one of the regions suffering most from the current food crisis.

Children in Zinder are already incredibly vulnerable as they have been without enough food for months and their immune systems are already desperately weak. The lives of over 300,000 children in Niger are already at risk, and the floods will put even more children in danger.

On Saturday, the UK Government called for more countries to provide aid to the stricken area. International Development Minister Stephen O’Brien said: “The current humanitarian situation in Niger and Chad is dire and millions of people are desperately in need of food. “The UK Government has been swift to respond to this crisis, providing food aid to feed over 810,000 people, treating 85,500 malnourished children and providing seeds to more than 81,000 households across the Sahel.”

“The World Food Programme (WFP) and agencies on the ground are working to deliver vital aid to those who need it most but they do not have enough funding to meet all the needs. We are calling on other donors to increase their response to this crisis before it’s too late.”

Malek Triki, West Africa spokesman for the WFP, said villagers in Niger are describing the situation as worse than in 2005, when aid organizations treated tens of thousands of children for malnutrition, and worse even than 1973 when thousands died. “What they are saying is that this is the worst crisis in living memory,” Mr Triki said.

The WFP estimates that 7.3 million people – almost half the country’s population – are in desperate need of food. Niger is susceptible to famine because it is mostly not irrigated. Its agriculture is heavily dependent on rain and when the rains fail, so do the country’s crops.

“This year was a double whammy,” said Christy Collins, the country director for US charity Mercy Corps. She explained that in most years, even if the country’s primary crop failed, at least the secondary crops survived. But this year there was so little rain that not only did the fields of millet not bloom, but the secondary greens used for animal fodder also failed. This means that not only do villagers not have enough to eat, but their livestock also died off.

What Our Partner, World Vision Is Doing To Ease The Famine

“The situation is escalating and we aren’t even at the peak of the hungry season between harvests yet,” said Sarah Carr, a World Vision nutritionist serving in Niger, West Africa.

“Young boys are banging on my door at night begging for food,” said Carr. “That’s something I’ve never seen in Africa, even here in Niger where people are so poor.”

Drought and locust swarms destroyed most of the crops, driving the price of food out of reach for the poor.

Ousseini’s twin brother died of malnutrition the day before this photo was taken. Ousseini lives in a village near Maradi in eastern Niger.


Officials estimate 2.5 to 3.6 million people in Niger may go hungry.

At risk are an estimated 800,000 children under age five, including more than 100,000 who are severely malnourished. World Vision staff members fear that 10 percent of the children in some areas could die.

Food aid and long-term solutions

World Vision was one of the first to respond to the famine. Food is being distributed at more than seven sites in the south around Zinder.

Aid includes an outpatient therapeutic feeding program in Zinder for up to 5,000 malnourished children. Severely malnourished children who have medical problems are evacuated to a hospital in Maradi—about four hours away by road.

Projects providing long-term solutions to the food crisis include food-for-work agro-forestry programs (planting drought-resistant Acacia trees) and stocking 120 cereal banks and building 25 more (loaning grain to farmers who pay back with grain from the next harvest).

Tough times until October harvest, at least

Olivier Saugy of World Vision said, “Even in good years, people have little to eat during this season and we see cases of malnutrition. But this year, because of the drought, the number of malnourished children under five is soaring in Zinder.”

Most families are trying to exist on one meal a day. An increasing number of people are fleeing south into Nigeria to get away from the famine.

Famine in Niger

While our mission is to bring safe water to rural villages in Niger, West Africa, we cannot ignore the most immediate problem: Niger is experiencing the worst hunger crisis in its history. And unlike the previous but not nearly as severe famine in 2005, this government is doing something about it. The following is excerpted from Rukmini Callimachi’s AP posting of 8/14/2010:

Niger is now facing the worst hunger crisis in its history, with almost half the country’s population in desperate need of food and up to one in six children suffering from acute malnutrition, aid officials say. Malek Triki, West Africa spokesman for the United Nations’ World Food Programme, said villagers in Niger are describing the situation as worse than in 2005, when aid organizations treated tens of thousands of children for malnutrition, and worse even than 1973, when thousands died.

National surveys conducted in May and June in the drought-stricken country on the southern fringe of the Sahara desert indicate that 16.7 percent of children under the age of 5 are acutely malnourished. That is well above the 15 percent threshold used by the U.N. to declare an emergency, according to the WFP.

The WFP estimates that 7.3 million people — almost half the country’s population — are in desperate need of food. In rural areas like Diffa, Triki says he spoke to numerous people who eat at most once a day. “A woman I spoke to basically said, ‘We’re in a constant state of fasting. If we eat lunch, we cannot eat dinner. If we eat dinner, we cannot eat lunch.’”

It’s unclear if people have begun to die of starvation, he said, and mortality figures are not available from either Niger’s government or the U.N. Aid workers, however, say that the high rate of malnutrition is obvious at the food distribution points. Many of the children “look stunted,” said Triki.

Niger’s government, now being run by a military council after a February coup ousted President Mamadou Tandja, had said it would provide more than 21,000 tons of food. In 2005, Tandja played down the food crisis, dismissing it as “false propaganda” used by the U.N., aid agencies and opposition parties for political and economic gain.

Niger has historically been susceptible to famine because the country is mostly not irrigated. The success of its agriculture is heavily dependent on rain and when the rains fail, so do the country’s crops. “This year was a double whammy,” said Christy Collins, the country director for U.S. charity Mercy Corps, which opened its Niger office at the height of the 2005 crisis.

In most years, even if the country’s primary crop failed, at least the secondary crops survived. This year there was so little rain that not only did the fields of millet not bloom, but the secondary greens used for animal fodder also failed.

A Day at the Sunland/Tijunga Watermelon Festival

A BIG thanks goes to Evan Sobel, Elizabeth Gervase and Jessica Hooks, who worked so hard in the heat and dust and blaring music of the Sunland/Tijunga Watermelon Festival on Saturday, August 14, 2010. We raised $375, and while that doesn’t sound like much, it was quite an accomplishment, given the demographics of the people who attended. We did make connections with several groups and churches that have funded projects in the developing world and we will follow up for speaking engagements. Elizabeth’s focus was to try to get some schools to take up our cause and she got a couple interested in doing that.

The majority of the people who attended were from the low end of the income scale and many who liked our cause were sad that they did not even have $10 to contribute for a set of bracelets. One woman, moved by what we’re doing, had $10 and her choice was to eat or give it to us. She thought about it for a few moments and I said, “Go eat…if you want to send us $10 later, you can do that.” Some gave us the few dollars they had. They could relate to people in need and wanted to help.

There was also a strong sense of community at the Fair. Everyone got free watermelon and a lot was consumed! Other vendors and reps of causes came by and were also interested in helping us as we were interested in their causes. The church booth next to us was selling a week’s worth of food for a family of four, valued at $75, for only $30 and people were signing up.

Spending time there put us in touch with the reality of what our country is going through. Evan said that he didn’t feel like we were in Los Angeles. There were a number of people who brought loved ones in wheelchairs, a lot of special needs people being taken out by their families. One woman, upon reading the insert in the necklace, started to cry. She had recently left a homeless shelter after suffering physical abuse from her husband and had just gotten her child back. She was working with her father selling jewelry and was proud that she has turned her life around. When she read the words that come with our necklace, tears welled up, turning to sobs. She could relate to words praising the strength and flexibility of women.

This day filled our spirits to see how generous people can be with so little.

The best way to end this is with “Blessings.” We were “blessed” by a lot of people for our work and that felt good.