Niger: a mother fighting for her children
It’s baking hot and the sun is beating down as the car pulls into the main square of Kadao village in Niger.
It’s my first full day out in the villages of rural Niger, and despite all the background reading and briefings, I’m not quite sure what or who, I’ll find. It turns out to be a question of who I find.
When I first meet Rokia, she seems to be the quiet one in the bunch of women who have gathered around my colleagues and I, the visitors.
It’s not until later that morning that she opens up and starts to tell her story.
Rokia isn’t sure how old she is, but guesses she’s probably between 25 and 30.
She has a number of children but the one she’s most concerned about today is her young daughter laid out on her lap, who has recently entered a feeding programme supported by Save the Children.
The girl is barely two years old and is already malnourished. She lies listlessly in her mother’s arms, with the all-too familiar flies buzzing around her face.
No money, no food
Rokia explains that she simply doesn’t have the food to feed her daughter to keep her healthy. Her husband has left to find an income, and there’s no money to buy food.
An insect infestation last year combined with only a scattering of rainfall has meant the crops they would usually produce haven’t yielded – leaving the family ever-more reliant on the market to buy food.
At the same time, large price increases have made even that food out of reach for Rokia.
“The biggest problem is that we don’t have any food at home,” she tells me. “We spend the whole day without eating, the whole night without eating.”
As a mother, Rokia is most worried not for herself, but for her children.
“You have a child and you don’t have any food. You have to leave to find food to bring him.”
Determined to feed her children
Much of the morning has already passed when I meet with her, and I’m told she was out in the early hours trying to find firewood to sell in Aguie, a town several kilometers away with one of the region’s largest markets.
“You go into the bush and try to find something to take to Aguie to sell. With the money you make you try to buy something to bring back for your children to eat.”
It’s this last phrase that really hits me. This is a woman whose husband is gone, who has no food of her own, next to no money to buy food elsewhere, and whose children are going hungry. But every day that goes by, Rokia is trying.
She goes out every morning, and does whatever she can so that she has something to bring back, something that will keep her children’s suffering at bay for one more day.
As the translator explains the next question to Rokia, I look up at her face. She looks tired and worried, frequently glancing down at the daughter in her arms. But she also looks determined.
She knows how hard these next few months are going to be, but she is a mother fighting for her children. I only hope that with the right support, it is a fight she can win.
Written by Annie Bodmer-Roy, Media Manager for Save the Children, Niger