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.

It All Starts with Water

By Kristopher Coulston

Imagine spending hours walking miles to search for and collect water – this is the daily routine and a domestic duty for most women and girls in Niger. Education is the key to change, the key to a bright future, but pursuing an education is not a priority when you do not have ready access to clean water. It is the lack of access to clean water that discourages the educational aspirations of Nigerien women and girls, further hampering economic growth and political change in Niger.

As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” It is educational achievement that will empower Nigerien women to take on positions that contribute to the economy, spurring economic growth. A thriving economy would make a world of difference for the country of Niger, but it simply is not possible without ready access to clean water.

Nigerien women joining the political ranks would undoubtedly bring forth positive and everlasting change. As Hillary Clinton has said, “When women participate in politics, it ripples out to the entire society… Women are the world’s most underused resource.” Unfortunately, this is particularly true in Niger. Women who spend hours every day walking for water cannot conceive of a world in which they can enter the the political arena and contribute.

From the flow of readily available clean water will come a wave of empowered and educated Nigerien women and girls. They will be the driving force behind economic growth. They will be the political change-makers. They will be the entrepreneurs and educators and innovators that will bring marked transformation and endless progress to Niger.

It all starts with water.

Read more about the effects water has on women in the political and educational realm.

The Hangandi Festival: Celebrating Body Positivity in Niger

By Shayna Watson

After months of training, the women of the West African Djerma group are ready to compete in the traditional Hangandi Festival. The winner takes home prizes, bragging rights, and the most coveted prize of all – food. Unlike the popular beauty pageants lauded around the world, the Hangandi is looking for the contestant with the most corpulent figure. Djerma women spend months eating, especially cereal crops and grains, and drinking large amounts of water days before the contest. Those who take the festival very seriously even have caretakers that massage their growing body as they gain weight to ensure a nice, round shape and perfect placement of bulk.

Much like women in the West who will go to extremes in the pursuit of the “perfect body,” some Djerma women use unhealthy (and often dangerous) means to achieve the weight gain they desire. Women looking to add bulk have taken to using medication meant for fattening livestock. Doctors in West Africa strongly advise against this method, drawing many similarities to the weight loss pills and crash fad diets that have created a $66 billion dollar global weight loss industry.

Reader’s Digest cited that over 58% of women in the US voiced concern that being considered overweight or plus-sized hindered their daily lives, whether that be in their careers, dating or travel. 58% was the highest rate seen throughout this poll taken in many major countries. More than ever, people are dieting, using medication or investing in surgery to reduce their body weight – with the estimated number of active dieters in the US hitting 97 million this year. While body positive campaigns continue to build, the concern for controlling body size and weight continues to grow as well. Clothing sizes larger than a size eight are considered plus size in the fashion industry. The women vying for the title of the Hangandi festival would laugh at this kind of thinking – weight literally carries weight in West African culture. Your size tells others how lavish your lifestyle is; how able your family is to provide enough food and time for leisure to maintain your figure.

Neighboring country, Nigeria, often holds beauty contests centered around celebrating full figured women. Dubbed “Miss Big World”, these pageants aim to showcase and celebrate the elegance and beauty of plus size women, all while promoting tourism to Africa and the richness of culture. These events hope to reshape how women’s bodies are judged and reclaim the often unattainable standards that are put on weight and body shape. We can’t ignore that there are still some patriarchal overtones to these pageants, with women maintaining a larger figure in pursuit of male admiration (or sometimes demand) and external opinion. Most Western beauty standards are about public approval, and even though there is a stark difference in the type of figure that is valued, the Hangandi still hinges on the judgement and endorsement from others. However, it is very refreshing to see full figures not only embraced, but celebrated and rewarded.

 

A Taste of Nigerien Cuisine

by Jennifer Dees

The U.S. offers a wide variety of restaurants: Italian, Mexican, Indian; so many fast food places you have to close your eyes not to see them. It’s intriguing that people consider these cuisines a staple in the United States, but don’t think much about their origin. I’ve recently started wondering what West African food tastes like, particularly food common in Niger.

I started by learning about Nigerien etiquette. If you ever dine with Nigeriens, there are a few rules you should know. First, don’t eat in front of another person without offering to share, and if someone offers you something, it’s best to accept. When arriving at someone’s home, inquire about their health and family before discussing anything else. At the dining table, wait for those older than you to begin eating. Eat and pass the food only with the right hand. Traditional tea ceremonies come in three rounds, with more sugar added each time: the first cup is bitter as death, the second mild as life, and the third sweet as love. This tradition represents the strengthening bond between host and guest, so be sure to drink each cup.

I continued on to learn about common meals in Niger. A full meal includes a starch, grilled meat, and vegetables topped with sauces. In my search for the most authentic Nigerien food, “millet” appeared over and over. Millet grain is a staple food because it grows quickly and is versatile enough to survive droughts, infertile soil, and dry air. With irrigation and soil supplements, crops can leap up to four times their normal growth, which is another reason why better access to water is crucial for sustainability. Because of its popularity in Niger, I wanted to try it out. The recipe comes from The Global Reader, and I included pictures to show how it turned out for me. Millet is much less common in the United States, but I found it in an organic grocery store. Normally, millet is pounded into flour and made into a porridge, called “tuwoin the Hausa language. I didn’t pound it for this dish, so it has a consistency closer to rice.

Instructions 

  1. In a large, dry saucepan or Dutch oven, over medium heat, toast the raw millet for 4-5 minutes. I stirred the whole time: the important thing is not let the grains burn.
  2. Add the water and salt to the pan, being aware that the water will sputter and maybe splash since the pan is hot. Stir the millet well, increase the heat, and bring to a boil.
  3. Once it boils, decrease the heat to low, drop in the butter (if using) and cover the pot. Simmer until the grains absorb most, but not all, of the water (the millet will continue soaking it up as it sits), about 15 minutes. Don’t lift the lid or stir too often. Too much fussing will cause the grains to break up and change texture.
  4. Take the millet off the heat, and let sit, covered, for about 10 minutes. Then fluff with a fork and add more salt, if needed.

Millet is usually paired with a sauce, so I made one out of spinach and tomato sauce from International Food 4U. I cut their recipe in half and ended up with 3-4 servings. The gist of it is to stir the ingredients into boiling water until the spinach is tender.

Instructions

  1. Wash the greens and tear into small pieces.
  2. In a large pot or saucepan, place the greens in water and add the oil.
  3. Boil greens until almost tender.
  4. Add tomato paste, tomato puree, and diced onion.
  5. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until greens are tender.

I also decided to try fried plantains. They’re a popular snack throughout West Africa, usually spiced with something hot like chili pepper. The recipe comes from Cuisine En Folie. Make sure to fry them when they’re green or else they’ll be too mushy. The thinner they’re cut, the crunchier they are. I’ve never eaten plantains before, so I was surprised how similar they taste to potato wedges. They’re also incredibly filling. I snacked on them while cleaning up and realized I was almost too full to eat the main dish!

Instructions 

  1. Slice the plantains
  2. Place flat in boiling peanut oil (enough to cover the plantains)
  3. Wait until both sides are dark brown
  4. Remove and sprinkle with chili pepper

And here’s the result! The millet is good enough to eat on its own, but the sauce added a tangy flavor to the slightly nutty taste of the millet. The plantains I ate just like chips. I came across several other Nigerien recipes. Based on the success of this first dish, I look forward to making more!