Animal and agriculture projects change lives in Guidan Gado
In Niger, the statistical odds are stacked against girls. Consistently ranked at the bottom of the human development index, Niger also has one of the highest birth rates in the world. Facing cultural and economic pressures, parents often allow their daughters to marry at a young age. Nearly three in every four girls will be married before they turn 18, and 44 percent will drop out before completing primary school.
In an effort to encourage girls and their families to value girls’ education, Samaritan’s Purse began a program called goats for girls. School-aged girls received a goat for breeding in order to supplement their households’ livelihoods and reduce the risk of girls dropping out of school for economic reasons.
In 2013, Samaritan’s Purse launched an integrated project called Raise a Village in the rural community of Guidan Gado, bringing a holistic combination of project activities to meet the community’s physical and spiritual needs. The village is located in a semi-arid area of central Niger, far from the nearest town.
Prior to the project, the community struggled to get access to clean drinking water, often using contaminated water from seasonal ponds for household consumption. Through the project, Samaritan’s Purse was able to provide clean drinking water and support villagers’ self-sufficiency through education on sustainable agriculture techniques, livestock rearing, and dry-season gardening. An evangelist was also placed in the community in order to share the Gospel of Jesus among people who have never heard.
The following are stories of hope and light pushing through in a hard and dark land.
Breaking the Bread of Life
If you ever have the opportunity to visit with rural evangelists in Niger, you will quickly find out that nearly all of them have a few things in common: They are great at finding ways to integrate into communities, they love the Lord, and they love to talk. Garba, an evangelist employed by Samaritan’s Purse, lives in the village of Guidan Gado, and he is no exception to the rule.
He moved to the village in order to meet the deep spiritual needs of the community alongside the other project activities. Located many miles away from any local church, there has been no Christian presence in or around the community. As is often the case when new people move into a village, the residents were skeptical of Garba, but he didn’t allow that to stop him from loving on his neighbors and seeking ways to get invited into their homes. As he participated in the other project activities, Garba prayed and sought ways to become integrated and accepted in the community.
“I remembered a skill that a missionary had taught me while I was in Bible school,” Garba said. “This skill was nearly unimaginable to me and my seminomadic people group. We are known for herding animals only.”
While classmates were learning how to tailor clothes, Garba learned how to construct a clay oven in which to bake bread. As he practiced his baking skills, others laughed at him.
“People told me no one would ever eat my bread, let alone pay hard-earned money for it,” Garba said. “Imagine the disbelief of people upon seeing a cattle herder attempt to sell bread!”
However, God had a plan for Garba. Today, everyone in the community knows him as the bread man; the bread sells as soon as a fresh batch is ready. His is the only bread around for many miles. The baking, and breaking, of physical bread has allowed Garba to gain a hearing among his neighbors, and he is able to openly share with them the bread of life.
It’s no wonder that Jesus often used bread in His illustrations. There is something deep inside humans that connects when breaking bread with one another. There is even greater significance when one person shares the Gospel of Jesus with those who don’t believe, sharing bread that satisfies the deepest longing of the soul.
Hope for a Brighter Future
Assama lives in the village of Guidan Gado. She was the recipient of a goat as part of the goats for girls campaign. A year after Assama received her goat, her mother proudly shared that Assama still regularly attends school.
“Four girls have been sent from our village this year to the nearest town [more than 45 kilometers away] in order to attend secondary school,” she said. “My hope is that Assama will continue to work hard in her studies so that she too may continue her education and obtain her diploma.”
Assama stood in the midst of a growing crowd of neighbors curious to see what the excitement was about. She covered her face in embarrassment, unable to refuse a huge smile. Her mother stood behind, encouraging her to demonstrate her writing skills. Assama quickly rushed into her home and came out with a piece of chalk and writing tablet.
As the crowd of onlookers stretched their necks to peek at her writing, Assama quickly wrote across the surface. Turning the chalkboard toward everyone, she covered her face, not wanting to meet the eyes of onlookers as she displayed her work. In a country where the literacy rate among girls ages 15 to 24 is below 25 percent, Assama is fighting against the odds. For many people in Niger, education doesn’t hold high value. But for this determined young girl, education is the hope for a brighter future.
God Can Make a Way
On the other side of the village from Assama, a woman is hard at work under the shade of woven grass mats, held up by wooden poles stuck firmly in the dry, sandy ground. Despite the eight or more goats and sheep scattered about, her compound is neatly swept and clean. Although she has experienced great hardships in life, her brilliant smile reveals little of her difficulties. Her joyful spirit instantly greets visitors.
Balki is the mother of five children, widowed by her husband’s death only a few years ago. Her family was selected to receive three goats for breeding as part of the livestock activities, and one of her daughters, Hasia, was selected to receive a goat from the goats for girls campaign.
“Before Samaritan’s Purse came to our village, I struggled to meet the needs of my family by farming a small plot of land and selling small homemade food items in the market,” Balki said.
She shared her story while continuing to process furah, a drink made by mixing milk or water with pounded millet flour.
“I have always made furah to sell, but it was always very small quantities since I was unable to purchase or have sufficient ingredients available to sell on a larger scale,” she said. “However, now that Samaritan’s Purse has given us these goats that you see, we have plenty of milk for the children to drink and for me to increase production. I have also cultivated a good millet harvest this year, which will contribute to the ability to produce and sell more furah. I am now better able to take care of my family’s needs as a result.”
Like Assama and her mom, Balki’s hope is that her children continue in school in order to gain a good education and a better future. Girls in Niger face seemingly insurmountable barriers, whether cultural, physical, or environmental, to obtaining a proper education and ultimately greater empowerment in life. Samaritan’s Purse in Niger strives to support families’ livelihoods so that parents’ number one priority is shifted more on their children’s future and less on mere survival. More important, though, is the desire to see people gain a far greater hope and eternal future in Christ.