By Mariana Chokaa, Communications Manager; World Vision Niger
Despite the heavy rains in the small community of Lossa in the Tillaberi area of Niger, a small crowd has gathered to mark World Breastfeeding Week with World Vision in August 2013. Most of those present are women, but among them is one young girl - with a baby boy strapped to her back.
“When I wake up in the morning I go and take my shower; I take my brother with me and I bathe him. Sometimes I bathe him first then myself, sometimes I bathe myself first then him,” she says with a smile.
Eight-year-old Naisatou, lives with her family in Lossa. She has a younger brother, 15-month-old Ali, whose body does not do what other children’s bodies do at his age. Ali is completely dependent on those around him to help him around.
“After this, we have breakfast but I have to help him eat since he cannot eat himself,” she continues with an air of seriousness beyond her years. “Then, I take him out to play with me.”
Their mother is looking on and listening in on the conversation. “Yes, it is true. He loves to spend time with his sister, even more than anyone else,” she says. The mother’s name is Halima and she is a “Femme Relais” with World Vision. This means that she is part of a team of women who go from door to door visiting mothers in their communities to find out about the health of their young children. They test children for malnutrition, and when a child does not appear well, they quickly refer them to the local health centre.
“I noticed that when Ali was six months old, he could not sit, he still could not even drink or eat and always had to be forced. I knew something was wrong with him,” she says. “He is our only son, so I sometimes feel very sad about his situation. His father too is very sad because this is his son but we have no money.”
As a Femme Relais, Halima is at the World Breastfeeding Week event to show her support for breastfeeding and to encourage other women to breastfeed. She has the exposure and the knowledge to know that breast milk is good because she has worked with World Vision health and nutrition specialists. World Vision is well known in the community of Lossa for the work it does. The Femme Relais are also well known and respected. World Vision counts on women like Halima to continue to provide that crucial link between the community members and health providers.
Having a sick child at home has not stopped Halima from wanting to help other women. Instead, she and her daughter take care of Ali with more love than can be described.
Having a sick child at home has not stopped Halima from wanting to help other women.
As the World Breastfeeding Week event ends, Naisatou ties Ali to her back, as she talks to him. Yacouba, the father of this family, is out in the field with all the other men hoping to sow some seeds that will produce food for his family later this year.
Life goes on for this family. Though her own son’s situation is unclear, Halima continues with her mission to help all mothers in the community to raise healthy children.