A baby cries. It’s late. His mother rushes to soothe him, but she can’t give him what he needs—food. She knows that he’s hungry because her own stomach hasn’t been filled in days. She doesn’t know when they will eat again. Her husband has left to find work in the city and hasn’t sent anything back. She hopes her in-laws will be able to give her some millet in the morning. It won’t be enough to stop the baby’s malnutrition, but maybe it will prolong his life a bit longer.
Nearly 50 percent of children in Niger are chronically malnourished. Drought is common in much of the country, which means crops are hard to grow, leading to a lack of food. Yet Niger, a predominantly Muslim nation, has the highest fertility rate in the world at a rate of seven births per woman, leaving mothers with many hungry mouths to feed.
Often, the only line of defense is the community health center. But because Nigerien women are typically uneducated, many times they don’t know that the health center is an option. When their children die, they say it is God’s will, unaware that a nurse could have provided them with the nutrition and medicine they needed.
Amina Moussa has a 7-year-old daughter and a 20-month-old son. Due to poor economic circumstances in Niger, many men leave their villages to find work in the city or in other countries. Amina's husband is one of them. Although she hopes that her husband will send money occasionally, the truth is that she is mostly raising their children alone.
When her young son got severely sick because of malnutrition, she took him to Niamey, Niger’s capital city. Doctors there treated him and then sent him home, telling Amina to take him to her local health center. It was there that she made contact with Samaritan’s Purse. A health worker weighed and measured her son, and, after determining that he was acutely malnourished, enrolled him in a nutrition program.
The Samaritan’s Purse program provided supplemental food and medicine to Amina’s son. Along with these necessities, our staff also taught Amina how to provide nutritious food for her son. She is one of nearly 7,000 Nigerien women who benefited from our work each month in 2016.
After reaching and maintaining a healthy size and weight, Amina’s son graduated from the Samaritan’s Purse program in October 2016. She is worried that although she now knows what sort of food to feed her children, she still may not be able to provide for them. But now she knows to bring them to the health center before the situation worsens.
“We see many women; they just come and ask, ‘Can you weigh my child? I want to know if he’s lost weight or if he’s healthy,’” said Hamsatou Oumarou.
“We see many women; they just come and ask, ‘Can you weigh my child? I want to know if he’s lost weight or if he’s healthy,’” said Hamsatou Oumarou, a nurse at Amina’s local health center. “They come because they’re educated and they now know to go to the health center, which before doesn’t happen. Before, you have to go and tell them.”
Samaritan’s Purse is also implementing other projects to provide long-term solutions for women like Amina. We are distributing goats and sheep to provide milk and income for struggling families, and we are teaching good sanitation and hygiene practices to prevent illness.
The project has changed the attitude of a lot of women in the community. Before the Samaritan’s Purse program began, there was no Christian presence at all in the community. Now the women interact with Christians regularly. Although Niger is a tough place for evangelism and even those who convert usually stay quiet to avoid persecution, some of the women have taken to heart the ideals that they have learned.
“The first thing that the project taught us was showing compassion to one another, the same thing the project did to us,” said Biba Gorel.
“The first thing that the project taught us was showing compassion to one another, the same thing the project did to us,” said Biba Gorel, whose 16-month-old daughter is enrolled in the nutrition program.
Please pray that more mothers and children in Niger will receive nutrition assistance and that they will come to embrace not just Christian ideals but also the one who can ultimately save them, Jesus Christ.