Microfinance Training for Women – A Passionate Belief

{From left to right: Kate Cusimano, Ida Harding, Esperance Klugan, Barbara Goldberg, Jamie Gates, and Jan Doak}

Earlier this year, members of Wells Bring Hope’s Board and Advisory Board had the opportunity to meet with Esperance Klugan, Director of Operations, West Africa Region and former Director of World Vision, Niger. Esperance has a unique background, combining the worlds of finance and humanitarian help for women.

Prior to taking on the position of Director of World Vision Niger, he had fifteen years of experience in establishing and managing microfinance programs for women. It is something he strongly believes in. “I know that it works. I’ve seen a number of mothers’ lives transformed through microfinance where we have drilled a well in a village. We free the women’s time, a lot can be done.”

The microfinance program for women is based on the idea that giving microloans is not enough. Women must be educated in how to handle money and in the basic principles of business. By forming savings groups, women are giving training and guidance on how to start their own small businesses. They each contribute a small amount of money weekly, and pool the resources, loaning to each other. With this support system, women are able to practice with their own money and build confidence in their abilities.

As these women expand their businesses and repay their loans, they don’t just improve the economic circumstances of their families, they help to transform lives throughout their entire village, providing real hope for their futures. Esperance has seen this first hand, “I’ve seen women transformed to the point where you go to the same community, talk to the same women, but they are different women, confident, and proud of their accomplishment. It’s extraordinary. And husbands take great pride in what their wives are doing and the whole family dynamic changes for the better. They are equals, partners.”

Esperance plans to expand the microfinance program using the savings group model, to seven countries over the next five years. “This will affect thousand of villages…water alone is good, but it’s not enough. When people have safe, clean water to drink it’s good, [but] it’s just the beginning. It doesn’t address the issue of malnutrition fully. Click here for more information about microfinance support for women in Niger, West Africa .

Well # 1,000 in Niger

by Kate Cusimano

On November 11, 2015 Brigi Rafini, the Prime Minister of Niger commemorated the drilling of the 1,000th well by our partner, World Vision. Wells Bring Hope is responsible for over one-third of those wells, having funded wells that are currently serving a quarter million people.

In his speech, the Prime Minister specifically addressed his thanks to the Hilton Foundation for having initiated the Water, Hygiene and Sanitation program in Niger. David and Dana Dornsife were also thanked for their assistance in acquiring the first drilling machines for WV Niger and their continued funding of wells.

He singled out our founder by saying, “And finally, to Barbara Goldberg of Wells Bring Hope for the passion she bears for Niger and her commitment to alleviating rural women in Niger from the drudgery of water.”

As an organization, we could not prouder of Barbara and all that she has accomplished since founding Wells Bring Hope in 2008. She has tirelessly championed this cause, dedicating her life to bringing safe water to the people of rural Niger, and we are so thrilled that the Prime Minister of Niger himself also recognizes her incredible contributions. Congratulations, Barbara! Now, on to the next 1,000 wells!

Toxic Water, Sick Kids…Right Here in America

By Barbara Goldberg

{source: Click on Detroit}

The cover story in this week’s Time magazine is “The Poisoning of an American City.” When something makes the cover of a publication that’s been in existence for almost 100 years, you know it’s serious.

In the case of Flint, Michigan, it’s about incompetent leaders who betrayed their city when they decided to draw its water from the Flint River instead of buying Lake Huron water from Detroit in order to save money. Residents in this ailing, majority African American, industrial city started experienced burning skin, hand tremors, hair loss, even seizures. On January 20, they declared a state of emergency and the National Guard starting distributing bottled water.

In Niger, West Africa, death and disease from unsafe water happens every day, not because of the incompetence of their village chiefs, but because they simply lack a source of clean water. The clean water they so desperately need is 250-300 ft underground. But they can’t reach it, not by digging.

{source: Gil Garcetti}

That’s where Wells Bring Hope comes in—drilling wells to bring safe water to a place in the world where people are used to babies and young children dying from contaminated water, water that is shared with animals. For a moment, just imagine yourself as a mother living with the constant fear that the water you give your child could kill him? When you visit Niger, you come away saying, “Thank God I was born in America.” When President Obama visited Michigan he said, “I know that if I were a parent…I would be beside myself that my kids’ health could be at risk.”

A state of emergency exists every day in Niger and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. When you think that all it takes is $5,600 to bring safe water to a whole village, roughly 650 people, why wouldn’t you donate a few bucks? Or, better yet, commit to donating a few bucks every month. Just $30 will bring safe water to one person for a lifetime. It’s a drop in the bucket that will save lives.


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 right name brand clothes? 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 was also ranked dead last on the UN’s 2015 Human Development Index.

To make matters worse, thanks to global warming, drought has created yet another crisis. Devastated crops have left 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.

It doesn’t have to be this way. When a well is drilled, the people in the village have access to a safe water source, but the benefits go far beyond this. Villagers are taught drip farming techniques, and the grey water is used to water vegetable gardens that supplement nutrition in times of famine. The food that these gardens provide is just one more life-saving benefit of a safe water well.


More for Christmas

By Nicholas Baldry

{Source: Hideya HAMANO}

It is highly likely that you are getting ready for Christmas just now. I know I am. Despite being an atheist I'm, frankly, very willing to get involved in any festival that revolves around eating vast quantities of food. Heck, I'm not American either, but come Thanksgiving I can be found shoveling vast amounts of turkey into my face like a castaway who has happened to drift ashore on the fourth Thursday in November after months at sea.

If you do celebrate Christmas, in all likelihood Christmas dinner is one of the most luxurious meals you will eat all year. You make an effort with what goes on your table. No oven ready pizza for you this festive day. Some quality meat; a gargantuan turkey, maybe a beautifully glazed ham, perhaps a gloriously marbled bit of beef or if you are of the vegetarian persuasion then a nut roast prepared in a creative manner designed to make you not miss the other stuff.

It's not just main dishes. Tables groan under the weight of mountains of sides. Desserts are piled so high you can hardly see your elderly grandmother on the other side of the table. Chocolates – yes, I know you said you'd only have one but it's mid morning and half the box is gone, how did that happen? Good wine, of course. Luxury! Luxury! And more luxury!

By the time you've troughed through this gastronomic orgy, no doubt you'll be feeling more than a little corpulent and perhaps a little thirsty. You will most likely waddle over to the faucet for a glass of water. And there it is. The greatest luxury on your Christmas dinner table. Looking innocuous among the shredded remains of the feast is a glass of clean, refreshing water, one that you can refill at any time. It's not just a Christmas miracle, it's something we look upon as a right, not the privilege it really is.

So if you too wind up eating the shame- inducing quantities I intend to eat, please think of those who do not experience feasts like Christmas or even clean water to drink. So this holiday season, please give the gift of clean water. Happy Holidays!

Heat Wave in Effect

By Jessica Isaac

{Source: Jessica Isaac}

I woke up this morning to the news that my daily routine may start getting a bit more challenging. See, I like to put on my running shoes and hit the pavement for a jog as early as possible, mostly to avoid heat exhaustion, but also to take advantage of that sweet spot between being awake, yet not alert enough to talk myself out of it.

Here was the news I received from the National Weather Service: “Excessive Heat Warning remains in effect. Maximum temperatures will reach 102 to 108 degrees in many locations in the valleys of Los Angeles.”

It was 8am and the temperature was already 90 degrees and steadily climbing. If I was going to stay true to my cardio commitment, I would need to be prepared. Surely, I should drink at least double my morning intake of 12 ounces of water, so I filled up my Brita filter pitcher as I guzzled my first glass.

{Source: Enid Martindale}

Then there was the air conditioning. I should make sure the AC was on so I would cool down quickly before my post-run shower. Check. With all my ducks in a row, it was time to muster up the motivation and brave the heat. 30 minutes later, feeling sweaty but accomplished, I resumed my usual workday in a comfortable 76 degrees with a tall glass of cold water.

So why am I telling you this? It’s not an attempt to brag about my “disciplined” exercise routine or my central AC.

It’s easy to forget that certain comforts we’ve come to expect as US citizens are not naturally occurring. Rather, they are luxuries that the whole of the human race is not afforded. This morning, the National Weather Service advised me to, “take extra precautions if you work or spend time outside [and] when possible, reschedule strenuous activities to early morning or evening [and] drink plenty of water.”

What if a strenuous 4-6 mile walk in the direct sunlight was the only way anyone in my household could drink water? What if I didn’t have a cool, indoor space to recover when I began to overheat?

According to World Vision, during Niger’s hot season temperatures regularly reach 50 degrees Celsius (that’s 122 degrees Fahrenheit!). Nigerien women make this blazing 4-6 miles trek everyday with heavy buckets of water just to provide their families with barely enough water to survive the day.

If you are living in comfortable temperatures or enjoying a hydrating beverage in these continually sundrenched weeks, try not to take it for granted. Consider donating to help drill a well in a rural village in Niger that lacks easy access to a clean water source.


Annual Fundraiser

On Sunday, September 27th, local philanthropist Stanley Black welcomed Wells Bring Hope back for our annual fundraiser. Although it was a warm day, the canopy of trees provided much needed shade and the 2 ½ acre estate was a feast for the eyes. Cute little girls scampered across the lawn and wondered at the playful statues that they passed.

Guests nibbled on lots of delicious food from 2 French Chicks and the wine was flowing. Two yummy iced teas, peach and mixed berry, were a huge hit!
There were close to 50 silent auction items to choose from, fantastic restaurants like Fig & Olive, Upstairs2, Michael’s, and Hinoki & the Bird and hotels like the Lodge at Torrey Pines and the Fairmont Miramar.

While everyone chatted and perused the auction, our fantastic volunteers kept everything running smoothly.

At the close of the silent auction, guests moved to the back lawn, to be welcomed by Founder and President, Barbara Goldberg. She talked about the success of WBH’s economic development program for women, with women becoming mini-entrepreneurs after just 3-4 months of training. She also discussed how the team who visited Niger in February saw the impact of global warming and how it has led to children dying from dehydration in villages with no safe water.
After Barbara's remarks, Cultural Ambassador to UNESCO, Gil Garcetti, the man who inspired Wells Bring Hope, presented an award to honoree, Ida Harding, Wells Bring Hope’s Director of Volunteer Management. Ida has been with WBH from the start, and her passion for our cause makes her a “magnet” for others to join and support us.

Following Barbara's and Gil's remarks, Grant Snyder, auctioneer extraordinaire, took the stage to auction off some amazing trips—to Puerto Vallarta, Hawaii, Napa, a Wyoming dude ranch, plus two business class tickets to anywhere in the world courtesy of Turkish Airlines.

Thanks to our wonderful supporters and tireless volunteers, the event was a huge success! We raised enough for 25 wells, thanks to the help of Marsha and Mark Hierbaum who generously provided $25,000 in matching funds!

Dirty Water

By Vanesa Martin

The Sahel region, which includes Niger, is currently in crisis due to a host of interconnected issues affecting the area, including, unstable weather patterns, disease, an inconsistent food supply, along with political unrest and violent conflict. The area has recently been flooded by refugees fleeing from the conflicts in Nigeria and Mali, all while struggling under the continuing threat of the Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram.

Government officials and military authority figures are under constant pressure, and in the face of such daunting obstacles, it is understandable that the international community sometimes forget that this region is home to many thousands of people with no access to clean water from a reliable source.

Safe water is simultaneously a need and a luxury unknown to many, and the lack of it claims the lives of 1 out of every 7 children in Niger before they turn 5. To put that into a more familiar perspective, let’s consider the fact that our modern day kindergarten classrooms have 30 students or more. At least 4 of these children would become gravely ill and die due to a lack of clean water.

To add to the tragedy, women and girls walk hours every day to obtain this often deadly water. It’s a cruel irony, sacrificing school or rest or work to walk to distant lakes, rivers, and wells for water that is potentially unsafe. These walks are arduous, upward of 4-6 miles, and are embarked on by the women and girls of the family. It is not uncommon for the females who make the trek for water to face sexual assault along the way.

It is for all of these reasons that Wells Bring Hope is so aptly named. The organization’s mission is to bring safe water to those communities who do not have access to it. Along with water comes sanitation, healthier diets, additional crops, and the chance for girls to stop walking and receive an education.

It’s been said that water is the source of life. We look for signs of water when investigating for life on other planets, and we established our earliest civilizations near sources of water. For the people of Niger—especially women and girls—water is a symbol of empowerment, freedom, health, and most of all, hope.

Join us at WBH by volunteering or starting a Water Circle today!



Looking Beyond

By Shelton Owen

As another school year starts up, I find myself slowly but surely falling back into the familiar routine that occupies August through May. This routine usually involves me groggily rolling out of bed after pressing snooze a few times on the alarm clock, attempting to make it to every possible sporting or social event, and staying up late to cram for a killer math test. As most privileged American teenagers, I sometimes think of school as a hassle rather than a blessing, as a requirement rather than an opportunity. The truth is, I get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of my own little microscopic world that I, mistakenly, block out the 7 billion people sharing this Earth with me.

In Niger, the so called “routine” of youth looks a bit different. For much of Niger's youth, school is a nonexistent or limited opportunity, cut short by the priority of survival. If a girl, in particular, makes it past primary school and goes on to secondary school, she is one of few and extremely fortunate, because meanwhile, the rest of Niger's female population is trekking miles in the blazing sun to gather water, water that is often contaminated. In fact, the “exceptions” who attend secondary school only account for 8.4% of total female population.

The female attendance ratio for primary school looks a bit brighter, coming in at 31%, but still has extensive room for improvement. The drop in participation from primary school on to the next level can be credited to a number of factors. The most common of these is young girls' role of gathering water trumping their commitment to education. When it comes down to gathering the liquid life thrives on or acquiring literacy, the decision makes itself.

Poverty and poor sanitation combine to build up barriers in the education system. As a result, Niger's female youth experiences these obstacles firsthand, with a minimal literacy rate of 15%. Aside from the quest for fresh drinking water, young women of this country are, due to cultural practices, subject to early marriage and pregnancy, which can lead to serious medical consequences. The statistics below highlight the significance of such situations:

-74.5% of children are married by age 18
-50.9% give birth by age 18

So, let us all step back for just a second and take off the blinders. When we open our eyes and look beyond our city's borders, our state's borders, and even our country's borders, suddenly our little world doesn't seem so small after all. It is then that we are capable of attaining a global perspective and recognizing the prevalent issues our neighbors in Niger face.

Thankfully, organizations like Wells Bring Hope contribute to raising awareness and educating fellow mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters, about the burdensome needs to be met, and the methods to do so. Whether it be writing a blog, offering monetary donations, or simply retweeting on social media to get the word out, anyone can dare to go beyond their comfort zone.

Join us at WBH by volunteering or starting a Water Circle today!

Walk for Hope

By Cassandra Ballard

I made it alive. I successfully finished my 100 mile hike in my goal of 8 days. The journey was not without trials, though. There were moments where I thought continuing was not an option and failure was a sure thing. Now, as I have almost recovered from the physical injuries, I am able to look back on my once-in-a-lifetime journey and see it for what it really was.

I started planning this ambitious trek when I was looking for the stillness in life, the simplicity. I wanted to shut out the excessive noise that so often comes with careers, being an adult, and living in a city like Los Angeles. Not only did I find complete peace in my journey but, I found the core of who I am and my strength. When one is faced with survival situations and stripped of all distractions that come with life, one is forced to rely on self-strength and God. I quickly had to face my own limits and push past what I thought I could not. I couldn't help but think of the women of Niger and what their strength must look like.

The mountain is unforgiving. I encountered things you find in books and movies: bears within feet from me, a bee-infested mountain side, swarms of mice at my camp when the sun went down, relentless mosquitoes, elevation gains that required your hands and feet, walking on the edge of a mountain inside a wind tunnel pushing 45 mph, and dealing with the most painful blisters that appeared early in my hike on every single toe. These are only a fraction of the obstacles I faced. The most prominent trial, though, was a drought that lasted two days on the mountain. I was forced to conserve what little water I did have in order to cook meals and the lack of drinking water quickly became terrifying. Of course, this only made me hear the voices of every Nigerien woman who lacks water on a daily basis. When I thought I could no longer walk, they told me I could. They told me I had to.

I went looking for self-discovery on the Wonderland. In addition, I found the crisis these women and girls are facing right now. I saw a glimpse of what life must be for them…and it must seem hopeless. It is solely up to me and you to make sure that not a single child has to go one day without water. I am honored to carry their burden until change happens. I am honored to have walked their walk.

To read more about Cassie's journey or to contribute to her Water Circle, go to wellsbringhope.org/walkforhope.