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Liz Scarff

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What's Your Tipping Point?

Posted: 01/06/2012 00:00

I've written and re-written this blog post a number of times. I have about half an hour of power left on my laptop battery so I don't have much time.

I want to tell you the stories of the two strong women we met recently in Niger. But I'm finding it very difficult.

I'm here with World Vision for #ShareNiger, their social media campaign using live reporting to tell the stories from the West Africa food crisis. I've travelled the world, from Pakistan to the West Bank, and met countless strong, dignified people who are suffering at the hand of injustice. But what do you say to somebody who looks you in the eye and tells you that they think they might die? And when you see what little they're existing on you know it is no exaggeration.

This is a food crisis. The humanitarian community call it slow-onset. That means it creeps along, slowly but surely getting worse until it is declared a famine.

Roukayatou, 36, and her family are profoundly affected by the food crisis. Her husband Hama Amadou has left the village to work in the gold mines as their crop failed last year and they have no food reserves at all.

Every year he goes to work in the mine during the dry season but this year he left early as the crop failed early and he knew they would have no food.

This year not only has she not heard from him for six months he hasn't sent back any money. She has heard he may have gone to Cote D'Ivoire to find work.

Roukayatou and her five children are currently living on four tiny bags of World Food Programme baby cereal.

That's just four 1.5kg bags for one month for five people.

She says: "I have been part of the women's gardening group here in the village for seven years and usually the vegetables provide an income and food to feed us.

"But this year I had an accident - I fell off a donkey and cart. This meant that I could not get to my garden to water the vegetables and my Moringa trees. They all died leaving us with no food."

A combination of circumstance and the hand of fate have left her and her family with nothing. The balance of life is so delicate here. The accident became Roukayatou's tipping point.

On the other side of the village lives a lady called Ramata Hama and her story couldn't be more different.

Ramata is part of a 52 strong women's gardening club that was started by her mother, Zeinaba Abdouramane, 76, in 2005.

She has a sizable area of land on which she grows cabbages, aubergines and rice. Each member has their own plot that they tend each day watering and weeding.

The garden provides both food and income for the families allowing them to send their children to school, buy animals, and most importantly eat throughout the food crisis.

Ramata never went to school. She says: "I don't understand what happens at school and I cannot read or write.

"The garden has made a huge difference to my life. I now have food to eat and an income. I don't have to wait for my husband to give me money, I can buy clothes when I need them, school supplies for my children and food."

World Vision built a well in the garden and provides training on growing techniques. Next month they are installing a new watering system to increase productivity.

Ramata says: "My mother noticed that the harvests were getting worse so she called together the women and suggested starting a gardening group. We all went to the local mayor, Amadou Kadri, and asked for some land, he agreed and we formalised the group with a certificate.

"People were suffering because of lack of food. Some of the women were being forced to go to Niamey to find work. They have to take their children with them which means that they will no longer be in school.

"Before we started the gardening club I had no income and no activity. I'd cook millet for my family to eat but often if we had no food I'd just sit outside my house with nothing to do or eat."

Last year the crops in Tera failed due to poor rains and grasshoppers. As a result the cereal bank is empty and as the food crisis worsens many people are going hungry.

"I used to sometimes have just two meals a day and they would be a porridge made of millet. I remember the last two food crisis well but this one is worse. In previous years people would have a little food, but this year the crops failed much earlier leaving people with nothing. To make it worse the prices of food are too high in the market."

Women like Ramata are the future for Niger. Through the garden she now has food to see her through the crisis, she is running her own business and as a result is able to put her children through school.

Ramata's tipping point was a great idea from her mother.

With help from charities like World Vision that idea becomes something life-changing.

It is brilliant projects like the gardening group that help to break the cycle and tip the balance back in their favour.

#ShareNiger has been my tipping point and like Jax Blunt, from liveotherwise, I'm going to give up my daily morning coffee and donate the £2 to help those I've met.

What's your tipping point?

 

Follow Liz Scarff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lizscarff

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