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Niger: Boulangeries, baguettes and begging

My Sunday mornings usually start with a walk to the boulangerie (one of the legacies of the French colonial period) to buy a freshly baked baguette. It’s not far, but it’s a hot walk and I’m usually dripping with sweat by the time I get back home.

The walk along the dusty, sandy road, takes me past some craftsmen selling an array of interesting wares: plastic geese, 6ft cuddly giraffes, furniture and stone carvings. The usual banter between me and the tradesmen goes something like this:
“Hello.”
“Hello.”
“Come and have a look.”
“Thank you but I don’t need any geese today.”
“Next time then Madam.” And on I go.

At the cross roads before I get to the boulangerie is a group of women and children who sit in the shade at the side of the road taking a break from begging. There are four young girls and two older women. They’re a bedraggled bunch. The young girls are unwashed and too skinny. They’re always in the same dust covered clothes. On my way to the boulangerie we nod to each other and say our good mornings. They know what’s coming so they don’t bother getting up to ask me for money.

At the boulangerie, I buy two baguettes and start my hot walk home. As I pass the group of women and children they jump up and come running towards me. I pass a baguette to one of the girls and tell her sternly that she must share it with the others. She eyes it up and down, looks at me and then nods in agreement. I watch out of the corner of my eye as I continue on my way to check that she is sharing it. It’s become a bit of a routine for us. It’s only a small part of what they really need but at least it’s something and it makes me feel a little better.

Even in the short time I’ve been in Niger, I’ve noticed that there are an increasing number of women and children begging at the crossroads in Niamey. Usually at this time of year – the time when food from the last harvest has run out but the next harvest is yet to come – men leave their villages in search of work. This year, because of the increased hardships families are facing because of the food crisis, women and children are leaving too, searching for work and begging.

The worrying thing is that the situation in Niger is getting worse. Results from a new survey came out at the end of last week, show that more than 500,000 additional people are food insecure than previously estimated.

My baguette won’t feed this many people but it’s some comfort to know that Save the Children is already scaling up work to reach more vulnerable children and their families. So they won’t have to come to the cities to beg.

Please support Save the Children’s Niger appeal

Find out more about the Niger food crisis

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