An intern in Niger has seen abject poverty and desperation--but through her experience, she has seen God work in the lives of those who need help most.
Floramae Esapebong is a public health intern at the Samaritan’s Purse Niger office. While in the country, she has seen atrocities and seen how God is using Samaritan’s Purse to improve lives.
Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world. The majority of the population is dependent on subsistence farming for its food. In recent times, long periods of drought, floods, and instability in neighboring countries have exacerbated problems in this country where challenges already run deep. Prior to my internship, I had read all I could read about this country that would be my home for over the next five months. Although that gave me an overview of some of the things I would encounter, it’s all so different on the ground.
I had the privilege of going to the field almost as soon as I got here, and as we drove out of Niamey through the villages, I was disheartened by the abject poverty and squalor. From the children running around either naked or in threadbare clothes to those who were so malnourished I could literally count their ribs, they have been etched deeply in my mind.
It all looked gray and bleak, and although it was planting season, the land panted for showers of rain that would not come, for crops that would not grow, and for food that would not be harvested, at least not this year.
As I took it all in and tried to process it, I marveled at these kids chasing each other around the compound, never knowing where their next meal was going to come from. Yet they had not lost their “joie de vivre” (joy of living). After last year’s floods washed away the crops in the field, I learned the rains had come earlier than usual this year and because of the long periods of draught, most farmers had taken this to be a sign to plant their crops. After a few showers, the rains stopped and then the millet that had started to shoot dried up. This meant some farmers had no more seeds left to plant when the actual rains began in August. This translated into another year of food insecurity for them and their families.
More than ever I wanted to be here, helping these people, impacting lives, and making a positive difference. I felt honored to be playing a role in their nutrition and trying to improve their healthcare. It didn’t matter if it was only making sure they got their supplementary food on time so the mother of a severely malnourished child would not have to walk seven kilometers or more in the scorching heat and not be able to get their ration of food, that a child who had been enrolled into a malnutrition program would eventually graduate because he had put on some weight, that a mosquito net was distributed so a baby would not have to suffer from or die of malaria, or even that the women in the communities were educated in our Essential Family Practices program that would achieve real behavior change, both individually and collectively.
On August 26, 2013, we took another field trip where we ran into some major difficulties. Our car got stuck in the mud; we could not make it back to the Samaritan’s Purse base so we sought shelter in one of the local health centers. We had run out of food and water, and that night as I lay on the hard tiled floor on a mat that offered no comfort but which I was grateful for, I thanked God for His goodness towards me. And just before I closed my eyes, I thought about that woman I had seen bearing a stick over her shoulder with a bucket of water suspended on each end of the pole. I marveled at her strength and resilience.
Once again, I was reminded of how blessed I am. All I have to do is turn on the tap for water. I didn’t deserve any more than these people to go to a top university or live in a big house with air condition, electricity, food in my fridge, clothes on my back, and all the comforts I enjoyed. I felt greatly humbled. It was all by God’s infinite grace, and more than ever I knew the “challenges” I experienced on a daily basis paled in comparison to the hardship all around me.
All in all, this is without doubt a life-changing experience, one that is continually being made more colorful by the support from the dynamic and hardworking Samaritan’s Purse Niger team. However, my biggest blessing yet is being a blessing to that mother, husband, or child when they needed it most. Their smiles of gratitude are the biggest reward of all.