It's taken me a little while to get back to my blog. I tried to post everyday while in Niger, but because of the painfully slow internet connection, a few accidentally deleted blog posts, and very minimal (no) free time, I didn't get to post as much as I would have liked.
I arrived home at midnight on March 13th, and since then I have been trying to pull together my thoughts. How do I articulate how I have changed? How do I begin to comprehend what this trip has given me? How can I passionately convey to others how great the need for clean water wells is all over the world?
In Niger, I was a photographer, videographer, and interviewer. I had the privilege of speaking with women from different villages, ethnic groups, and walks of life. I heard stories of triumph and stories of heartbreak. I sat with a group of women in a savings group in Koporou and was blown away by their grit and business prowess. Each woman had started a small business with the money they were loaned, and not a single woman had defaulted on her loan. The women sold small cakes, breakfast meals, spices, chickens, goats, and soap. I will never forget the looks on the women's faces when they described being able to buy their children clothes and school books while helping to provide financially for their families. The women felt that their relationships with their husbands had changed to be more positive and equal. A woman's life after the drilling of a well and membership in a savings group was completely transformed.
I also heard stories that could make one weep with anguish. In Simiri, I heard the story of a mother of seven. A year ago, her son got very sick. His condition worsened. While his mother kept bringing him to the local clinic, there was nothing the clinic could do because the reason for his illness was the unsafe drinking water the village was forced to drink. There was no clean water nearby, and so the boy was forced to keep drinking the water that made him sicker and sicker. When the village finally collected enough money to have the boy ride in a car to a hospital in the capital, Niamey, he was gravely ill. Five minutes away from the hospital, the boy died in his mother's arms. No mother should lose her child, especially to a completely preventable illness.
In Torodi, not a single child was in school. Not only no schools within an approximately thirty mile radius of the village, but there was no water within a ten mile radius. Women and young girls as young as two years old make the eight to nine hour journey everyday to fetch unsafe water. Due to the desert heat and the weight of the water, one woman collapsed on the ground and miscarried her first child. Another woman told me her story of losing her ten month old daughter due to malnourishment and unsafe drinking water. Another woman told me her story of losing three out of six of her children due to unsafe water.
I would get into the car after a long day of intense interviews and playdates with the brightest, most beautiful children I had ever seen and hold back my tears. My only comfort was knowing that these tragedies will diminish with the installation of a fresh water well.
I found joy in the opportunity to interview school aged girls about their dreams and desires. The girls wanted to be doctors and teachers, so that they could give health and education to their communities. The girls wanted to be soldiers and police women to protect their families. The girls wanted to be community leaders and directors to help usher in a new generation of competent, capable, female trailblazers. The girls were passionate about getting an education and breaking the cycle of poverty.
Two girls I talked to in Bago, ages thirteen and fourteen, were the only two girls left in their village going to middle or high school. They walked fourteen miles a day, six days a week to go to school. There was no water near their school house far away, so they are forced to beg in surrounding villages for water on their way to and from school and during the day. And yet, the determination in the eyes of these girls was a force to be reckoned with. You can't help but be inspired and in awe of these girls.
In the midst of suffering and salvation, I was immersed in a culture that prioritizes connection, family, generosity, and affection. I may have been in one of the poorest parts of the entire world, but I think I was also in one of the strongest, most beautiful, and loving places.
After going to Niger, was I more grateful? Yes. But more than feeling grateful or lucky to have been given a good education and clean drinking water all my life, my priorities have shifted. The people of Niger reminded me the importance of sacrifice for the greater good. They reminded me to love with all my heart. They reminded me that even in the darkest of times, one can find light and goodness. They reminded me life is more than running from one place to the next. Life is about what you do for others and who you choose to share your journey with.
This trip tested my faith and patience time and time again. From a bomb scare at Charles Degaulle in Paris to my eardrums almost exploding in Chicago, I wasn't sure I could make it through what ended up being 88 hours of travel time. I didn't know if I could power through my own fears and emotions when I saw unimaginable suffering. But ultimately, this trip reminded me of my inner-strength and the person I am fighting everyday to become.
The photos I attached below are 418 of more favorite trip photos all taken by me (except for the ones with me in them-- those were taken by the absolutely fantastic Joelma.)
I hope you continue to read my blog for video from my Niger trip, some upcoming adventures I have planned, and a really exciting mini documentary on self-compassionate and self-esteem in a few months. And as always, keep your questions coming. :)