The Meaning of Poverty

by Christine Eusebio

What comes to mind when we think of being poor?

Is it not having enough money? Not having the most expensive car? Or even not having the name brand clothes that seem to be in fashion? The definition of “underprivileged” can vary from one person to another. But in West Africa, the definition is very simple.

The ten poorest countries in the world lie within this region of one of the largest continents on Earth. Seven nations in this area are currently troubled with political and social issues, and have been devastated by harsh climate changes. Niger is one of the most severely affected of those countries.

According to Oxford University's poverty index, 92 percent of Niger's population is trapped in what is called “multi-dimensional” poverty, the highest level in 109 countries studied. Niger, along with nearby Congo, was also ranked dead last on the UN's 2013 Human Development Index.

To make matters worse, a new drought has created yet another crisis, affecting the crops and leaving little to eat for the 6 million people already suffering from food scarcity.

A river runs dry in Niger – {source: Bread for the World}

In Niger, many villagers cut back on meals during the “lean season”, which is a time when food stocks run low before harvest season, and the drought has extended this period. As a result, families go to bed hungry and malnourishment is rampant.

Many Nigerien mothers suffer unimaginable losses, watching as their young children starve to death. According to Save the Children, Niger has consistently been at or near the bottom of its rankings of the worst places in the world to be a mother. Many of these women wake up each day unable to feed their children.

{source: EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection}

By 2040, 55 million people will live in Niger, considering the difficulties feeding the present population, the situation is likely to get worse.

Women: Inspiration & Enterprise – The Future of Africa

by Jessi Johnson

South Africa has historically been a nation that sets examples. Within Africa, which as a continent is experiencing new economic growth, South Africa leads the way in international and open-door economic policies. It rebelled against apartheid to become one of the most multi-cultural and multi-ethnic countries in the world. It hosts anti-homophobia symposiums. It was home to the first human-to-human heart transplant, and now South Africa is continuing along its forward-thinking path this year by honoring prominent female leaders at the Women: Inspiration & Enterprise symposium in Cape Town.

The Women: Inspiration & Enterprise symposium brought together prominent leaders from the worlds of politics, business, fashion, philanthropy, media, entertainment and the arts, in a full day of panels, workshops, and classes. The conference works with both women and men from a wide spectrum of industries in order to solidify the ideologies of gender equality. However, the symposium is focused on igniting the spark of enterprise in women who wish to expand their boundaries and pursue careers in any field. The event was comprised of inspirational talks and panels with high profile speakers and guests drawn from the worlds of politics, philanthropy, media, fashion and the arts. Panels discussed such diverse issues as the role of women in technology and the need for global empowerment in an age where death during childbirth is an intolerable risk in many developing countries—and the undeniable importance of clean water sources in at-risk nations.

{Sara Brown} {Elsie Kanza} {Arianna Huffington}

The symposium is an annual event. WIE, founded in 2010, is a global annual conference and online community designed to empower the next generation of women leaders, allowing a yearly space for females of any age to come together and discuss the significant issues facing their gender. Past keynote speakers included Sarah Brown, wife of the former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, designer Donna Karan, and Huffington Post cofounder Arianna Huffington. This year, CNN anchor Robyn Cunrow and Elsie Kanza, Head of Africa at the World Economic Forum made appearances and led panels. Organizations like Wells Bring Hope, which helps bring awareness to the need for clean water sources and women’s health, honor the same spirit of empowerment that the symposium does. An annual global gathering of this size showcases how women are participating in the global conversation and taking a central role in shaping the Africa of tomorrow.


Food for Thought



by Nicholas Baldry

I have been watching what I eat of late. My concerns about my own food intake have revolved around excess. Excess salt, excess sugar, excess fat, excess calories, in short an excess of just about everything. Of course I can control this by making the right choices when buying food and any issues with my own diet are the result of my own choices. With a plentiful variety of food, both healthy and unhealthy available at affordable prices at the local supermarket, my dietary intake is completely within my control.

In comparison the diet in Niger is, at the best of times, repetitive. A diet largely consisting of milk and cereals such as millet or sorghum made into a porridge, as well as some starchy roots doesn’t offer a lot nutrition, and protein from meat is only available on special occasions with livestock being too valuable to slaughter on a regular basis. When fruits and vegetables are available, they are usually prohibitively expensive for the poorest families. Beyond that there is the primary issue that comes with collecting water for communities without a well – the lack of cleanliness of the water itself.

A lack of proper food impacts both physical and mental development in youngsters and productivity in adults. Stunted growth amongst children is alarmingly prevalent in Niger with some estimates suggesting that about half of under-five’s suffer from this problem.

{Wells Bring Hope’s Partner World Vision Assists with Famine Relief}

A real cause for alarm is that the diet described above is the diet available in good years. A poor rainy season in late 2011 lead to failed harvests in 2012. This produced what was variously called a lean season (which is a staggering understatement), nutritional crisis, or outright famine in the Sahel region. Whatever you want to call it, the result of such poor conditions is a diet that consists of anything the stomach can hold. In the past this has meant acacia leaves, weeds, and anything else that will stem the feeling of hunger. Adults can barely survive on this diet, but the ones who suffer most are children. In need of nutrients such as zinc, iron, magnesium and protein that this diet lacks, thousands of young children were left in need of treatment for acute malnutrition and too many children didn’t even get that.

And I worry about my diet.

{photo by Ida Harding}

As part of Wells Bring Hope’s commitment to help villages for at least 15 years after drilling a well, we teach techniques like drip farming. This allows the efficient use of ‘grey water,’ which is wastewater* from domestic activities such as laundry, dishwashing and so on, to help grow vegetables that would otherwise not be available to villagers. These vegetables add much-needed nutrients to the regular diet, and any excess produce can be sold, substantially increasing the household income. Nutritional deficiencies have for too long been a fact of life for people living in Niger, with access to a well and updated farming techniques, a little water can go a long way to change this.

*Not that any water can be termed waste when it as scarce as it is in rural Niger, that is why recycling it for irrigation is so crucial.


No Surprises Here

by Pauline Vu

If the connection between clean water and health was ever in doubt, a new study definitively puts that question to rest.

Due to unsafe water, there are 4.7 more deaths per 1,000 children under age five in countries like Niger than there are in countries like the United States. Due to unimproved sanitation, there are 6.6 more deaths for every 1,000 children under five.

{photo by Barbara Goldberg}

The report, published in the U.K. journal Environmental Health by researchers at the United Nations University and McMaster University in Canada, is the first to quantify the death rates of mothers in the first year after childbirth and children under five as a result of unsafe water and unimproved sanitation.

“If the world is to seriously address the Millennium Development Goals of reducing child and maternal mortality, then improved water and sanitation accesses are key strategies,” the authors said.

The study divided 193 countries into four tiers, ranking ease of access to clean water and adequate sanitation. Not surpisingly, Niger was placed in the bottom 25 percent.

In addition to young children, new mothers also fare poorly when access to clean water and sanitation is limited. From the bottom tier of countries to each tier above it, a new mother’s odds of dying increases 42 percent due to unsafe water. Their odds of dying increase ever more—48 percent—from one tier to the next as a result of unimproved sanitation.

{photo by Barbara Goldberg}

While progress is being made to improve the lives of people in the poorest countries, this study shows that there’s still a need to increase efforts like those of Wells Bring Hope to help the women and children of Niger by drilling more wells and improving sanitation. Clean water and sanitation don’t just improve women’s and children’s standard of living—they offer a child a better chance of celebrating a fifth birthday, and they provide a mother the precious gift of hope that she will see her children grow up.

The Nightmare of Malnutrition

by Lauren Cohen

Sometimes dreams and reality become blurred. Some dreams are so real, that you have to sit there and actually think about whether the events in the dream actually happened or if they were simply dreamt up. The events and the characters just seem so plausible that you really cannot differentiate between reality and dreams. Often, when life seems too good to be true, we like to say that life is a dream. Sometimes our nightmares generate this feeling, and we are flooded with relief when we wake up and realize that none of it was real. However, for some, it’s their reality that is a nightmare.

How would you feel as a parent if you were relieved to offer your fifteen-year-old daughter up to an older man for marriage because that would mean one less mouth to feed?

{source: Focx Photography}

Imagine living with the constant worry that your child could die at any moment. After all, just about everyone you know has had to bear the death of a child.

These are realities of the people of Niger.

When I was fifteen years old, my reality consisted of online socializing and going to the mall with my friends. I never had to worry about being a burden to my family because I was one more mouth to feed.

Niger is one of the most impoverished countries in the world, and every day people struggle with the very same things we Americans take for granted: access to food and clean drinking water. People in Niger, particularly children, deal with health concerns related to unsafe water on a regular basis, and overall the country has the fourth worst child mortality rate in the world.

{source: Teuseum}

In June of 2010, Nigerien officials estimated that approximately one out of every six children was, or would soon be, suffering from malnutrition. Malnutrition is worsened when children lack access to safe water since contaminated water often leads to diarrhea, which makes it impossible for children to hold onto the nutrients that they ingest.

The answer to these problems seems so simple: send food from wealthy countries to Niger and – boom – instant health. Or better yet, teach the people how to obtain their own food because if you give a man a fish, he’ll have dinner for one night, but if you teach a man how to fish, he’ll have dinner for a lifetime. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

Here are the many factors that BBC News cites as contributing to malnutrition in Niger:

· A failed harvest, which has undermined the gains of last year

· Years of drought which have left many families in debt

· A sharp spike in food prices at the market, blamed on a combination of oil politics in neighboring Nigeria, speculation by traders, poor market integration and a lack of infrastructure

· Regional insecurity, with a rebellion to the north in Mali and an insurgency to the south in northern Nigeria, leading to unexpected population movements in a fragile region that can’t cope with such abrupt changes

· A lack of education which results, for example, in mothers giving their babies dirty water to supplement breast milk, leading to diarrhea — one of the quickest paths to severe malnutrition

· Chronic poverty, which means poor basic health care, leaving children vulnerable to disease

· Population growth

· Child marriages, which can result in premature or stunted babies and frail mothers

· Climate change and desertification

Fortunately, despite the many risk factors, child mortality rates in Niger are dropping every day. When Wells Bring Hope began working in Niger in 2008, 1 out of 4 children died before his fifth birthday, today that number has dropped to 1 out of 7.

{source: babasteve}

Although it’s great to see progress, that’s all it is: progress. These numbers need to keep dropping, change must continue and the only way to create this change, is for YOU to step in and make a difference. Gandhi once said, “We need not wait to see what others do.” So, instead of waiting for others to make a change, make one yourself. Step in and help repair this world. I know I will.

Sometimes it Takes a Woman

by Christine Eusebio

Singer James Brown famously sang that this is a man's world. But it would be nothing without a woman or a girl.

She is your neighbor. She is the cashier at the local grocery store, or the CEO of a major corporation. She might be a family member serving in the armed forces.

There has never been a better time to be a woman.

Women bear our children and provide the tender touch of a mother. They laugh, cry, and most aren't afraid to express their emotions. They are nurturers and world leaders. They can raise children and have a career. And sometimes, it takes a woman to move mountains and bring about change.

{photos by Gil Garcetti}

As president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has shown exactly what women are capable of. She has raised four children and risen to the highest position in her country. Sirleaf’s story is an inspiring one, but it not a common one. The lack of safe water in Liberia and throughout the continent means that most women do not have the opportunities that she has had. Women in Africa spend 40 billion hours a year walking for water, and as a result, education and advancement are near impossibilities. In a speech earlier this year, Sirleaf demonstrated that she has not lost sight of this fact as she reaffirmed her commitment to finding solutions for water and sanitation issues in West Africa.

{President SIrleaf – source: Wikipedia Commons}

According to Ghana Business News, President Sirleaf stated that many believe that development must occur before adequate sanitation can be implanted, but in reality, improved sanitation is a driver of economic development. This is only logical. When the most basic needs are unmet, there is no time, no physical or mental energy, available for anything else.

While it’s true that women around the world have more opportunities than at any other time in history – Sirleaf is a prime example of this, it’s also trues that for many, there has never been a worse time to be a woman.

Many of the women of West Africa are handicapped when it comes to obtaining adequate health, especially with the concern for fresh, clean water. Everyday, women and girls walk miles upon miles to fetch water to bring back to their villages. This in turn interferes with girls’ chances of going to school to receive a decent education, which begins a vicious cycle that cannot be broken unless proper access to clean water is provided.

{photo by Gil Garcetti}

Women across sub-Saharan Africa suffer from inadequate access to safe water. In addition to the personal struggles this creates, their children often suffer from life-threatening bouts of diarrhea and many are malnourished. President Sirleaf summed up the problem when she spoke before at a summit on international poverty reduction, “Without more progress in providing access to safe water and effective sanitation, children will continue to miss school, health costs will continue to be a drag on national economies, adults will continue to miss work, and women and girls, and it’s almost always women and girls, will continue to spend hours every day fetching water, typically from dirty sources.”

Sirleaf, despite her position of prominence and power, is well aware that a lack of safe water is the primary barrier faced by women in her nation and throughout sub-Saharan Africa, and she is committed to progress. Sometimes, it takes a woman.

We Can Do Better

{photo by Barbara Goldberg}

Investing in Women

by Nicholas Baldry

There are roughly three and a half billion people in the global talent pool whose earning capacity is restricted due to one simple factor – gender. This is a huge problem throughout the world; with women in developed countries such as the U.S. earning nearly 20% less than their male counterparts. In less developed countries, poor families already struggling for survival are hamstrung by limitations on the earning capacity of the female population.

{photo by Gil Garcetti}

Throughout rural Niger, in fact-across all of sub-Saharan Africa, women and girls are left with the responsibility of spending hours each day collecting water from remote, dangerous, not to mention often- contaminated sources. Beyond this, they are responsible for purchasing increasingly expensive food, and looking after the home and children amongst many other tasks. This means that women not only suffer economic poverty but also an incredible time deficiency. As a result of this massive burden, young girls spend less time in school than boys, and women spend the majority of their time attempting to scrape together the bare essentials of life, dependent on money brought in by the males of the family.

{photo by Ida Harding}

Time poverty is most certainly one obstacle women face in increasing their earning capacity, but a lack of investment to get them started on their own enterprises is also a substantial stumbling block. This is why Wells Bring Hope doesn’t simply “drill and dash” in the communities where we work. We have recognized the enormous potential of the women of Niger, women who have a strong cultural history of banding together to save money and support one another’s ventures. When we drill a well, we also provide micro-loans to the women in the community. The time that is freed by the drilling of a well, coupled with an initial investment and education in developing a savings and loan model that works for the community allows the women to invest in themselves. They can begin to produce food to supplement their families’ nutrition and to sell at market. They can create saleable products such as soap or millet cakes. These additional income streams make a huge difference to families, particularly in countries like Niger where the GDP per capita is only $374.

Of course I as a white, male, middle-class, Brit living in the United States can sit here and tell you why microloans will help low income women in rural Niger to earn more and how that benefits their families, but the best people to tell you what a difference micro-loans make are the women themselves. On the Wells Bring Hope micro-loans page (here) we have videos where some of the women we have already helped tell you in their own voices what a difference that newfound economic freedom has made to them and how it has helped their families. You can also click below to hear our Director of Microfinance and native Nigerien, Hadiara Diallo, and women of villages where we work discuss the impact of microfinance.