Wednesday, 30 May 2012

#ShareNiger : Fatima

It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the things that I saw out in Niger. Lots of people have asked me how I coped but it really isn't about me at all. 
I was there to meet women like me, mothers and to tell their stories in the hope that people start to listen and do their bit to help.

Women like Fatima Soumana.

#ShareNiger Fatima Soumana
Fatima arrived to our meeting on time with an eight year old boy in tow. Her unexpected charge had been found wandering down the main road to the city the night before and had been brought to her.
He'd been travelling with a nomadic religious group and had been left behind when they moved on. His parents weren't with the group, they had sent him away to gain his religious education. 
Of course the reality of that is a little different. These boys are pushed into begging and made to work. I guess that is a religious education of sorts.

Seeing this poor lost boy in front of me was heartbreaking.
He's lucky to have Fatima. She will care for him until his parents can be found and the situation is resolved but she won't just take care of him, she will educate him, love him, keep him safe and give him the security that an eight year old boy so desperately needs.

Boy currently in Fatima's care
As the government employed child protection officer for the Tera region, that's Fatima's job... but it's also her life. Known locally as the ‘Mother of the voiceless’, she's made it her mission to protect the children of Tera from violence, child labour and underage marriage and since 1994, that's exactly what she's been doing.

The legal age for marriage in Niger is 15 for girls and 16 for boys. It's a law that dates back to colonial times and it's regularly flouted. 
In reality girls are married off as young as seven years old. There are many reasons for early child marriage in Niger but the food crisis is making it worse. It's not difficult to see that one less mouth to feed would ease the burden on overstretched families.
Fatima recently saved a seven year old girl who was sold off as her family couldn't afford to feed her.
Its not an isolated incident in Niger.

When a girl is sold, her parents receive a dowry payment, this can be money or animals such as goats. There are many reasons for underage child marriage but culturally it's more prevalent in the Fulani and Tuareg tribes who will often have promised a child at birth.
My daughters are 8 and 10, they are little girls. The girls in Niger deserve to have a childhood, just like my girls do.

Girls like Fatima B.

In April this year, 12 year old Fatima was sold by her father to a man.
The price? Twenty goats. Her father needed the money to order to feed his two wives and ten children.

Sold for 20 goats
Famina B was sold by her father for the sum of 20 goats
Fatima said: 
"The first I heard I was going to be married was when the neighbours told me. I was really unhappy about it. What do I know about being a wife I’m just a child?
The person my father had sold me to was 20 years old and my cousin. Nobody told me about it, and I never discussed it with my mother or my grandmother but I planned to run away if it went ahead.
I heard on the radio that young girls are losing their lives when their parents marry them off, because they have children when they are far too young and may die in childbirth. I was very afraid that this would happen to me.
I don’t understand why my parents gave me away to be married so young but I would like to get married and have children when I grow up."

Fatima ran to the court house crying and asking for a divorce. The judge contacted Fatima Soumana and she pushed for the marriage to be annulled.

"I was so happy when the marriage was cancelled as it meant I can be a child again. I like to play dancing and clapping games with my friends.
I’d like to help other girls in the same situation as me as it is not good for girls to be married so young.
I’ve never been to school and I’ve been working since I was ten years old cleaning houses. I lived with my father and my stepmother but she made me do all the work in the house and didn’t treat me very well. I ran away and now live with my grandmother.
I worked cleaning a house for three years, the lady I worked for never paid me but at least she fed me. I swept the yard and fetched water and firewood.
I now live with my grandmother and work everyday cleaning for a lady. I earn 2,500 (£3) a month and give that money to my mother. I’ve never thought about what I would like to be when I grow up and it is not possible for me to go to school because if I did who would look after my grandmother?"

These words should not be coming from a 12 year old girl.

Early child marriage isn't talked about in Niger. Even the hypersensitive subject of female genital mutilation is more openly discussed and we need the media to break this taboo now.

But what does Fatima’s mother think about the situation?
She said: 
"I’m so pleased that this marriage was cancelled. I want my daughter to be able to choose the person that she marries and it should be somebody that she loves and who makes her happy.
What can a child bring to a marriage with a man? Children know nothing of the duties of marriage and having sex with a man is sometimes difficult even for an older women, how can a child be expected to do that? If a young girl gets pregnant it is difficult for them to give birth and often they get fistulas and then they are spoilt forever."

Today the British government has promised to match every £1 donated to the World Vision West Africa appeal with another £1 from their existing aid budget. 
We want to raise £5m to help the people of West Africa and this is a really positive step for the appeal. Every donation helps and if every working adult in the UK made a donation of just 17p we would raise £10m.

I would like to thank the guys we met out in Niger, Adamou, Amadou and Fatima. You guys have inspired me. x

Get angry and do something about it.

See my interview on CNN International news here.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Silent Sunday : 20 Goats

Fatima is 11. She was sold by her father into an underage marriage for the sum of 20 goats.

You can now donate to help the women and children of Niger via the World Vision West Africa page. Even £1 will help to make a difference to the lives of girls like Fatima.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Share Niger : How to dig for water

Here's a short SocialCam taken at the river site where we saw the women digging for drinking water. Can you imagine having to do that?


Please help our campaign by sharing this post using the hashtag #ShareNiger

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

ShareNiger : Welcome to hell

I’d already heard stories of the Komabangou gold mine but whilst describing the workings to me World Vision’s Justin Byworth had purposely not told me what it was really like.

We travelled by car from Niamey, a journey that took nearly three hours across dirt tracks disguised as roads, dry rivers and then across country with an armed escort. Our destination, the government de-commissioned gold mine of Komabangou and the frontier village that has been created around it. 

Welcome to Komabangou

Situated 60km away from the nearest town, thousands of families have travelled here, not in search of untold riches but simply in order to survive. Proud, hardworking families whose crops have failed due to the drought and are now living in what looks to me, like the edge of hell. 

It’s hot in Komabangou, really hot, 49 degrees hot and the work in the gold mine is backbreaking, monotonous and rarely fruitful. That is how desperate these families are. 

The landscape is lifted from a sci-fi movie; only this is reality for the people living here with no possessions, no money, no food, no water and very little hope. 

We met Fatimata at the World Vision run health clinic, her son, Soumaila (2) is suffering from sever acute malnutrition. His tummy is distended, he has an umbilical hernia, his eyes are lifeless and he struggles to sit unaided. He weighs just 8.1kg. 

Soumalia #ShareNiger
Soumalia suffering from sever acute malnutrition
Fatimata gave birth to Soumalia alone on the floor of her home without medical assistance or anyone to help her. I asked if she had been afraid, she laughed before telling that its how all babies are born here. 

Soumalia has been receiving the Plumpy Sup supplement from the clinic for the last week and his weight has improved but he has not. Whilst we were there Soumalia was referred to a hospital in Terra, 60km away but with no money or transport things don’t look great for them. 

Fatimata’s husband Ali, works in the mine but they are struggling. They have an older daughter Aicha (6) and Ali has a second wife with three more children. 

Fatimata and family #ShareNiger
Fatimata and family outside her home
Some days they eat two meals but most days just one. When they have little money that meal will be two tins of cassava flower that cost 27p each. The two tins will be shared between all eight members of the family. 

When Fatimata wakes in the morning the first thing that she thinks about is where she is going to get food for that day. If she has no money, she will ask friends in the village to lend her some food. There is a strong feeling of community in Komabangou. 

Things weren’t always like this for Fatimata, back in her home village of Sourghaybangu, 400km away her family are landowners but the drought has been so sever that their crops failed and the goldmine was their only option. Fatimata told us quite simply that if they had stayed in their village then they would already have died from starvation. 

Komabangou isn’t the gold rush. The environment is harsh. The work is dangerous and the tunnels collapse on a regular basis. The average life expectancy of a miner is just 45 years.

Mine shaft #ShareNiger
Mine shaft with winch
The men are winched down very narrow tunnels into mines up to 125ft deep where they chip away at the white quartz with their tools before winching buckets of rocks back to the surface for processing. 

Gold mining #Share Niger
Fatima Ali (14) gold mining : Image Mike Goldwater
Processing is smashing the rocks into a fine granular consistency before washing, sieving, washing, sieving, washing, sieving… 
It’s hard to imagine that they every find any gold here but that’s just how desperate these people are, any scrap no matter how minute is worth searching for. 

Gold #ShareNiger
Hard work pays off. This 10grams of gold is worth £245
Doctor Abdul Karim Issaka of the World Vision clinic is very worried about the effects of the food crisis. He says: “Since December the number of severely malnourished children has been rising. I see on average 50 children a month who are malnourished. Around 20 of them are acutely malnourished. Two children died here last week from malnutrition.

There is only enough Plumpy Nut left for two more clinics in Komabangou.

Plumpy nut supplies #ShareNiger
Plumpy Sup and Plumpy Nut supplies are short
Please help #ShareNiger by mentioning the hashtag on Twitter and if you would like to make a donation to the World Vision West Africa appeal, please visit their page. Donations of any amount are welcomed.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

How to make my day

I just opened my email and found this.

You are the best mum

I'm clearly way too emotional because I cried my eyes out!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Suicide Isn't painless...

Back in January I posted about my own battle with post natal depression and how I very nearly killed myself. Tomorrow, May 5th is the 18th anniversary of the day that changed my life forever. Its always an odd day for me. It doesn't get easier with each passing year but actually more painful as I move closer to it being half a life ago.

Of course I wasn't the only person deeply affected by what I did and today I have a guest post, written by one of my best friends, Kirstie.

Kirstie was a very big part of my life during that time and I know now how painful it was for her to see me crumbling before her eyes, knowing that she couldn't do anything to help me. 

Here's her story...

18 years ago I experienced a life changing experience, one that nobody, no one or any book could prepare me for, an emotional roller coaster or just 'life?

Let's just say that it was one of those experiences that you never, ever expect to happen to you, you know, the type that you see on the front of those shitty magazines in doctors waiting rooms on the front of 'Bella and Chat magazine', and on occasion one that has been mirrored in an episode of casualty or Corra, the far fetched ones that you watch in that fictional mindset that isn't real!

I was 21, and through a friend grew very close to someone, a mate that was relatively new in my life, she was a fresh energy, an enigmatic person that drew me in immediately and connected something somewhere for some reason, someone who would become poignant in my journey of life and naturally unbeknown at the time to me, a soulmate, a new best mate, Sian, some described her as bonkers, to me she was just a funky Smiths fan, dancer, mother of the cutest little boy you ever saw! 

To this day I have still not understood fully with the sight of hind why our paths did cross back then, and why now, randomly, and not as often as our lifestyles permit, we will hold that unique bond we have been blessed to experience.

Anyway, 18 or so years ago i moved out of home and into a little box room with Sian and her little man, situated within close proximity to my workplace, it seemed like a perfect solution, independence, helping a mate out, you know the score, coming and going as you please, no hassle from the parents. It was like being a student without the escapism of real life and bills!

As time went on I felt like I had become an auntie, bezzie and housemate quite easily. To this day would like to assume that i am right. I loved having a little man wander into my room and on occasion looking after him was like having that little brother that didn't annoy you etc.  

Time went on and we were best mates, there was no doubt about it, we were inseparable, like sisters almost and I will, to this day, having never had a sister, and having little, if any involvement in Sian's life would say if I could at the time have chosen one it would have been Sian.

I remember the day 18 years ago like it was 18 seconds ago... Just a normal day until the phone rang.  "she's jumped off the Haymarket" it was Simon, Sian's one off boyfriend at the time, "it's Sian she's in hospital".  Temporarily paralysed in shock the were no words, I couldn't talk, naturally assuming the worst panic set in, frozen in shock, my best mate, my housemate, mother of little man, nah, she couldn't, she wouldn't. Why? So many thoughts and scenarios flashed in front of me, the laughs we shared, and she does this, totally unexpected, incomprehensible, why, how!

Leaving work in the drizzle, one of those shitty days, crappy fine drizzle, horrible fine rain that drenches you, if my memory serves me right I went straight to the hospital, the drive seemed to take forever, tears flowing and adrenalin pumping me through the traffic, a drive which seemed like the longest drive ever, after arriving at the hospital I lied saying I was her sister so that I could see her, moments before she had been bought out of surgery, she was in the room, battered, dried blood surrounded the silhouette of her feet that i must say in no way resembled feet in any way shape or form, she was alive, but just, was it fair that she survived, a desperate unpredictable act that previous to her no one had ever ever survived , by a miracle, thankfully she did.  

As my eyes focused and through wiping my tears upon focussing I realised the extremity of what no magazine, book or episode of casualty could ever ever emulate, never ever had I seen anyone in such a battered shell, nor did I ever contemplate that in my 21 years I would, before my eyes i saw a sad sad, once strong, beautiful woman who I adored as a now frail, vulnerable ,desperate hopeless bed bound cripple, completely broken, splintered and shattered like a bag of sugar.

The worst aspect for me, as well as the obvious was telling Sian's mum, lying that she was in hospital and that she had a broken leg to protect her, as per Sian's instruction.  Months went on and a long rehabilitation was inevitable, hours or surgery, operation after operation, numerous surgeons rebuilding that body resembling a dropped bag of sugar, a once confident dancer facing facts that she would never walk again.  Being dependant on others kindness and diligence in the long painful hours ahead.

As a bestie on the receiving end my life was consisting of running around, hospital visits until like running at full pelt into a brick wall, I was smacked head on by an emotional train, Sian said she didn't want anything to do with me anymore.  By this time I moved out and we lost contact for a long time, exactly how long my memory fails me.... That to be honest bares no relevance in the present light of day, we are still mates with a unique undestructable bond, there for each other although we speak sporadically if at all, those days are not forgotten because once again she has defied all expectations, three more kiddies, numerous businesses and a very respectable mom, business woman and home maker, not only walking but more recently dancing again!

How can you tell someone you are so happy for them and proud of what they have achieved by themselves through hard work, grit and determination?

One thing is for sure her story sits within my soul every where I go, helping others to comprehend their situations of despair, inspiring those whose path crosses mine, and when I walk past the spot a shudder hits my spine.  I came out of it ok, bruised mentally and a dented pride at the time, but as the years pass I appreciate and understand the dignified and painful decision that was made to cut all ties in a protective way to recuperate independently and becoming nobodies burden, the guilt she felt eating her emotions back then is deep under the surface of what is exposed at face value that is, an inspiration, that is today to all Sianie To.

Love you like you will never know 'sista'x


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...