Through off-season gardening, tree nurseries, and education, Samaritan’s Purse is helping a community in Niger develop a healthy, sustainable lifestyle.
Abdoulaye Toudou is the Samaritan’s Purse community development agent in Niger
My wife and I are community development agents for Samaritan’s Purse in Niger. Our job is to live in the heart of a rural village and share the love of Jesus with two specific communities.
When we first came to these communities, we found them in the midst of crises. They didn’t have access to clean water and were suffering from a lack of adequate food because of the rapid population growth. There is an average of 12 children per household.
My wife is a teacher and educator; she works with women’s groups to establish a system of savings and loans among them. Before we came to these villages, the women had no source of income. After a little more than a year, we have started to see incredible results.
In the beginning, the community was very discouraged because of a lack of water. However, the village chief was motivated by the potential that he saw in the project and encouraged the community to participate. We introduced farmers to the idea of off-season gardening and tree nurseries.
“We have never planted tree nurseries before, but now I know that neither the lack of water nor anything else can get in the way of the success of the tree nursery that we have started,” the chief said.
The chief mobilized the community, and farmers started with an off-season cultivation site. They organized themselves to prepare the ground and dig shallow pits for irrigation. They then planted vegetables such as onions, okra, and tomatoes, and began their tree nurseries by planting Acacia and Moringa tree seeds in tree bags.
They continued to care for the young plants and assured that all of them received adequate water. I was present throughout the initial planting and was able to share the Word of God with the community each morning as they came together to work in the garden and tree nursery.
After one month, the trees had started to grow and were transplanted. The Moringa trees were planted in beneficiaries’ households, and the Acacia trees were planted on a demonstration farm. Once the seedlings had all been transplanted, the chief decided to purchase more tree bags and Moringa seeds with his own money to plant trees throughout the year.
“No one can stop us from cultivating this land,” said an elderly farmer with 15 children. “Before we were blind in thinking that we needed more resources to be able to conduct off-season cultivation, but now we see clearly and know that we can do it. Thank you, Samaritan’s Purse!”
The off-season cultivation site has continued to expand, and not only do farmers participate, but the women are also using money from their savings and loans group to invest in gardening and Moringa trees as well.
Health and Nutrition
My wife has accompanied off-season cultivation activities with health and nutrition education. She taught women’s group the importance of essential nutrition practices, such as exclusive breastfeeding for six months and complimentary feeding for young children.
“Before this project, I had absolutely no knowledge of exclusive breastfeeding,” said the chief’s wife. “My first five children were not exclusively breastfed and they suffered from different sicknesses and malnutrition. When your wife spoke about the consequences for those who do not practice exclusive breastfeeding for a baby’s first six months, I was pregnant with my sixth child. I decided to adopt this new practice despite opposition from my parents. At six months, you could tell the difference between my baby and the rest of the children in the village; he is healthy. Your wife then taught us about enriched porridge, and my child grew even more than I imagined he could. The impact that this has had is that my husband is able to take a break from spending all of his money at the pharmacy to buy medicine and that other women have decided to practice exclusive breastfeeding as well. There are six of us now who practice exclusive breastfeeding.”
The health and nutrition promotion has also taught the women how to incorporate the crops they grow into their daily diets. My wife held cooking demonstrations and shared the nutritional importance of Moringa, which contains calcium, iron, protein, potassium, amino acids, and vitamins A and C.
“Before this project, we knew nothing about Moringa or its importance,” said a mother of 14 and president of the women’s group in the village. “After your wife taught us about Moringa, we decided to plant some of the trees. Now each woman in our group has about 15 trees that she cares for. Before, we thought that this was something that only people in big cities use. Now, we have seen that the health of our children has improved because of the Moringa. Plus, we have succeeded in transforming the Moringa into a powder that we can add to our families’ meals.”
The women have now started selling Moringa powder in their village. It has impacted more families with Moringa’s nutritional benefits and also allowed the women to earn a small income. The women have even been in contact with the local health center to sell the powder to patients.
Surrounding villages began to notice the changes taking place in this one and started visiting to ask about the success. Visitors were sure that external funding was the source of their success. However, the community and village chief met their questions with spiritual answers, and the visitors concluded that, “Jesus is the source of all of their success.”
These activities have given me multiple opportunities to share the Gospel with the people of this village. Doors have been opened and several people have shown interest in Christ, particularly the village chief.
“After I watched a Christian film with you, I abruptly had to leave the village because my younger brother was evacuated to a hospital in the city,” he said. “You gave me a letter to present to a pastor in the city. I spend one month in the city with my brother, and the pastor shared the Word of God with me during this time. This really changed my manner of thinking about God. With the activities of Samaritan’s Purse, I have benefited not only from agricultural improvements but also from the Word of God.”