Each year, Project Compassion, which runs through the six weeks of Lent, brings hundreds of thousands of Australians together in solidarity with the world’s poor.
This year, the Archdiocese of Perth’s e-Record is publishing the stories of the works of Caritas Australia during the six weeks of Lent to emphasise how the international aid and development organisation is working with partners around the world to empower vulnerable people to establish sustainable food sources and develop income streams for life.
In Niger, West Africa, almost three million people are living in extreme poverty. More than 40 per cent of the country’s people either can’t afford to buy food or can’t access it. Without the food they need, many people are living on the brink of survival, and bringing up children can be heartbreaking.
Thankfully, Mariama is receiving the essential food and help she needs to save the life of her malnourished daughter, Fati.
For most of us, it’s almost impossible to imagine what it would be like to live from day to day without enough food to eat.
But for Mariama, a 29-year-old sole parent living in Niger, West Africa, this is the reality she and her family face most days.
“Our feeding rhythm depends on whether my mother gets to sell her vegetables,” she explains. “My mother sells on the side of the road because she cannot afford to pay market taxes.”
This tiny, inconsistent income means that Mariama and her family exist from day to day, often without money to buy food and water.
“We normally store our food inside sacks,” tells Mariama.
“But we currently have no food to store.”
Raising a child in these circumstances is extremely difficult. Mariama does the best she can for her 2-and-a-half-year old daughter, Fati; however, Fati is often sick.
Recently, Fati became malnourished so Mariama took her to the Nutrition Centre, supported by Caritas Australia and run by local partners CAFOD (UK Caritas) and CADEV Niger (Caritas Australia’s local partner in Niger). The Nutrition Centre cares for malnourished children like Fati, and provides them with medical care, nutritional supplements and food so they can recover and gain weight.
In Niger, more than half the children under five years old experience malnutrition, so the need for the Nutrition Centre is enormous. Around 509 malnourished children are admitted each week, 15 of them severely underweight. “Those who come to the Centre are mostly the poorest of the poor,” says Sr Francesca, a staff member at the Nutrition Centre.
The eight-week program of food and care that Fati is currently receiving has almost certainly saved her life. The nutritious food she’s given is essential to her recovery – helping her medicine to work well, building her strength and increasing her resilience to disease.
Now, Fati is gaining weight and a burden is lifting from Mariama’s heart. “My worries are beginning to disappear,” she says. “My daughter has begun playing and running around with other children. She is making great improvements.”
As Fati recovers physically, Mariama’s spirit and dignity are being restored through the counselling she receives at the Nutrition Centre. She attends daily classes that empower her to provide improved nutrition and hygiene that will help maintain Fati’s good health.
Mariama has also taken a sewing course, and will use her skills to earn an income, so that she and Fati can look forward to a more secure, hopeful future.
“My dreams for Fati are that she gets her health back, goes to school and becomes a nurse or teacher,” smiles Mariama.
“I would like to say a big thank you to Australian people for all their support to the Nutrition Centre,” she says. “Without your help, the Sisters would not be able to support us and poor children like Fati.”
Please donate to Project Compassion 2015 and help save the lives of people living on the brink of survival in Niger, giving them access to nutritional support and essential food for life.
Published by The Record on 27 February 2015.