A food security and nutrition project in Niger helped families who had exhausted their food stocks and taught them how to care for themselves.
Zakari Allo is a project coordinator at the Samaritan’s Purse office in Niger.
Samaritan’s Purse Niger recently concluded a four month emergency food security and nutrition project for 22,811 vulnerable beneficiaries. We conducted the project during the lean, or hungry, season, when families have exhausted their food stocks. Last year’s harvest was insufficient and didn’t provide enough grain to last families the entire year. During this period, families’ food supplies are scarce and they often only eat one meager meal a day.
The project included two key components: free food distributions for vulnerable households and supplementary rations for pregnant and lactating women and for children from six to 23 months. We also measured women and children for malnutrition. If they were found to be malnourished, we referred them to the local health centers for proper treatment.
I grew up in Niger, but this project opened my eyes to the critical needs around me. Malnutrition is a huge problem. Many times, mothers and fathers don’t know how to take care of their children. When their children become malnourished, they don’t know where to take them to get help. Sometimes the children die.
A lot of times, the parents themselves are malnourished as well and don’t know how to rise out of the problem. People tell me they can’t do anything because they don’t have anything.
I saw several small children that were severely malnourished and truly suffering. They were literally on the brink of death. It broke my heart. These beneficiaries were the vulnerable of the vulnerable. I saw the real need that they had and knew that we had to help them. I understood then that, as Christians, it’s our responsibility and duty to do something for these people. It’s a response that should be in all of our hearts.
This revelation motivated us to work hard on the project to really make a difference. In this area, the people have become dependent on aid. They don’t want to work for their food. Each time we held a food distribution, we educated the parents on how they can work for food for themselves.
We also taught the women how to cook certain foods and where they could get nutritious foods for their children. Through household follow-up visits, we saw that some of the women had started to adopt the teachings and apply them.
Through the supplementary food rations and measuring for malnutrition, I saw a physical evolution in the children’s health. Not only did we provide them with extra vitamin-enriched food, but we also sent malnourished children to the local health centers where they could get the treatment that they needed.
Children who were in the red or severe category of malnutrition moved to the yellow or moderate category, and children who were in the yellow or moderate category became healthy. At the beginning of August, there were 22 children who were severely malnourished in one commune. When we came back a month later, only seven children were severely malnourished.
Niger is considered a Muslim country, but the project had a huge impact on the local authorities as they were impressed by our Christian integrity and character. The mayor in one of the locations wrote a letter of satisfaction for Samaritan’s Purse, recognizing us not only as a Christian organization that has been an example for his community but also for all kind of activities we are conducting in their location.
This positive testimony opened many doors for us that would have been otherwise closed. For example, after seeing such a positive witness, one of the village chiefs openly asked us for a Bible.
Overall, I’m happy and proud of the work we did, and I’m convinced that this project saved lives.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me … And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25: 35, 40, ESV).