One of the greatest needs of women that is under-represented in poverty situations, overlooked in development projects and a risk to their health and hygiene is one that is also not often talked about. Their periods. Menstruation is a regular part of life for half of the World’s population, but it is also one of the least talked about, often hidden behind veils of shame. In developing nations, when a woman has her period and no access to hygiene products, it usually means they stay at home, missing work, school and regular life for days at a time while they stay hidden.
In the past decade there has been a resurgence in support and focus on providing women at risk with access to hygiene products and training on menstruation and healthy sexuality in general. Every cycle of girls at our school we teach them about their periods and have given each group a set of washable, fabric based hygiene pads that were donated to us by the Days for Girls organization. They were very popular and met a strong need in the community.
As our grads have finished the school and been looking for ways to continue to grow their businesses and also grow the sustainable business side of our school, these hygiene projects stayed on our mind. In 2016 we had a team of ladies come over to teach us a pattern and process of making re-usable washable pads. We sourced multiple local fabrics and did liquid absorption tests to ensure we could use the best performing fabrics locally available. We strongly believe in supporting local markets and importing as little (or nothing) as possible so the project is locally reproducible. We want these girls, this school business, to be able to do it all on their own.
Fast forward a year and we found a partner who connected us with a couple NGO groups who showed interest in making orders for these fabric pads. Many International Aid organizations have funding that is designated to be spent locally, and meeting the hygiene needs of women is a need that isn’t going away. There are internally displaced groups of refugees and people fleeing violence who are living in camps with no access to hygiene materials, there are villages of women who suffer in shame in silence, women suffering from fistula in the country who need good products for hygiene.
The original test order was for 100 kits. 70 of these went out to a refugee camp, and 30 were given locally through another NGO. Another order for 250 is currently underway for the the Belgian Development agency for schools in a conflict hit region. They are working on funds to order 1000 kits as well.
This is one more step towards our goal of helping the school to be launched as a sustainable, self-run and self-supporting cooperative business, with our grads at the centre of it. Our desire is to see these students and the staff grow in their capacity to be successful and confident leaders in their lives and businesses. Involving them in every step along the way means soon they can do it on their own. We want them to understand the relationships between costs, salaries, prices and profit. We want them to be able to do the whole process of producing the products themselves; buying materials, measuring and cutting fabric and sewing the product. According to our team there, currently the sewing is all done by the grads, we showed them the process of sourcing and buying materials and they will be able to do that themselves next time and now we need to work on client contact and finding more contracts. Soon we hope their current contracts and partners will parlay into more naturally without our help as well.
Will you join us in praying that these hardworking young ladies will find continued connections, partners to grow their markets? WIll you pray they continue to work together as a team, encouraging and supporting each other.
Long lasting development is hard. We are so proud of the success of these girls and the impact they are having on their own families, their communities, and now reaching into at risk villages and camps around their own country.
Once these kits are given to our Aid partners, these reach women in need across the country. Thanks to the IRC for giving out these kits in the Diffa region and for the photos below of the distribution.
All of our students and staff celebrating the end of another wonderful year!
Last week we celebrated another big day at our school for Girls. The end of year! Yet another year has passed of working with these beautiful young women, forces of nature in their community for change, knowledge and hard work, leading a new path for their families to a stronger future! We are so proud of each of them!
And every party has to start with food planning of course! We purposefully planned the party just before Ramadan started so we could celebrate with a big meal of the girls choosing. They wanted fried chicken, fries, baguette and bissap juice.
Early in the morning we all gathered to peel 30 kilograms of potatoes, 10 kilograms of onions and prep the meat and sauce. Everyone pitched in and chatted and cut and cleaned for lunch prep.
Cutting onions and taking selfies
Willienke and Chantelle cutting fries
Lunch is served!
Oumou asked me to take this picture. She loved the fried chicken!
Sitting and enjoying the meal with friends
We also set up a photo booth backdrop to take portraits of all the young ladies as they were all dressed up. Each year we have matching outfits done in our team uniform fabric, a common practice here for special events to show “belonging” and a special connection and celebration. The girls went all out this year and even used their creativity to make matching shoes, earrings, necklaces and clutches! We will print their portraits and get them delivered to the girls, a keepsake they will treasure. They rarely have printed photos of themselves. We love seeing the joy, close bonds and confidence in these photos!
Friends for life
Friends who have been through a lot together for the past 3 years. A bond forever
First year girls who are just starting to realize the gifts of a safe, all girls school facility to grow and learn.
Nafissa made her own matching earrings and necklace for her outfit.
Not to be left out from the party, the children of our staff, who are also often present at the school, got in on the fun! I love how these children, representing 3 countries and 4 different maternal languages, have become great friends over the years. What a blessing to each one of them, experiencing the inclusive, large Kingdom of God and His people!
Little people mirroring a world without problems of race and color.
After the meal the girls started their own dance party with a stereo system one of their brother’s brought over. I love to see them rejoice, dance, laugh, make up moves, fall over, giggle and do it all over again. It was amazing to stand back and watch. Girls who were so shy at the beginning of the year came forward to dance with joy. One girl from a very poor family had never been to a party like this and she was glowing and laughing. A day she will not forgot. They celebrated all their hard work this year and how far they had come as friends!
After the dance party we settled them all down for a presentation ceremony. We recognized the efforts of all our staff and presented 9 certificates to girls who had achieved excellence in certain areas of academic growth or character growth this year. They received a certificate and got to choose a necklace and earring set from a tray we had purchased of assorted jewelry.
Bintou receiving the award for “most improved” third year girl.
Ramatou receiving the award for best first year academic success.
The last part of the party was a blur of photos. Everyone taking photos with their friends, their teachers, etc. One of the biggest successes of this program is the way we focus on building relationships and teaching them to love, support and encourage each other. These ladies have come so far and true bonds of friendship and mutual respect have been borne out of that effort and time.
Chantelle with three sisters, all of whom completed 3 years in our program and who are now launching a sewing tailor shop together as a business!
We have 4 expat staff and 8 national staff, all of whom love these girls and our school. We are thankful beyond measure for these ladies and their effort to see our students, previously at risk girls, grow and shine and establish strong, successful lives.
Laura and some of the girls
The vocational skills teachers and our expat staff. Cooks and nurse and translator not shown in this picture. What a great staff we have!
Girls are fun loving and silly all around the World!
That’s a wrap on the school year!
Thank you for all your support this year! We appreciate each donation, each text, each prayer, each visit. You are a special part of this project and we look forward to sharing how these girls grow and the new directions this school will take in the future as we come alongside them start businesses and access markets to use the skills they have learned and take care of their families long term! God is good!
This March we had the joy of hosting a team of ladies from Alberta, Canada. These ladies came to the Girls School to work alongside our staff and girls and to teach the girls a few new projects. As always, they focus on quality and straight lines and ways to increase both the productivity and quality of the products that the school produces. Every year the girls look forward to this trip of visitors that we run once a year. There is lots of laughter, dancing, charades to get over language differences and genuine love and joy is born between them. I love to see the way this heart connection is forged across the World! On this team were Tamara (it was her third visit to us here in Niger), her teen daughter Danielle for her first visit, Jacky returning for her second visit and Wanda as a first time visitor as well.
Jacky made little pouches with sewing notions inside and embroidered their names on each bag.
Danielle learned that teen girls have many things in common all around the World. Here they are teaching her a new dancing game.
This year at our school we have two different levels of Girls. We have a first year class who are just learning hand sewing basics and embroidery and had barely started working on the sewing machines, and another group of third year girls who are very proficient on the machines and will graduate in June. The first projects we did with both groups of girls and they were simple tablecloths with napkin sets and keychain lanyards.
This was Ramatou’s first week using her new sewing machine. Exciting to see her glee and enjoyment of this new machine!
Overseeing the napkins and tablecloths. Nice simple straight lines and ironing and basic skill development for the newer girls.
For the second stage of the sewing projects we gave the first year group of girls the week off and focused on more advanced skills and quality for our girls who are in third year and will graduate soon. We made scrappy patchwork lined pouches (which are adorable!) and patchwork angled table runners. Teaching the importance of even seam allowance might seem trivial, but it sure makes a difference once you start to see all those strips sewn together and try to cut them into shapes! We also loved seeing how the girls really loved the mixing and matching of bright African fabric into useful items. Some of them even went home one night and came back the next day having used their own fabric and machine to whip themselves up similar bags!
Wanda doing some stitch ripping to help out one of the students.
Samira and Fatiya really got the hang of cutting the strips to layout our scrappy angled table runners and they loved this color combo!
The finished product of our smaller size scrappy pouches. Lines and a strip of jean across the bottom gives a nice modern touch!
The larger size pouches with decorative stitching and heavier batting for lining so it keeps it shape. I love these!
And of the weekends we also fully enjoyed some of the fun adventures to be found in and around Niamey, visiting the last West African herd of wild giraffes, visiting the Parc W wildlife reserve and going hippo spotting on the river.
An amazing sight of a large group of hippos, sunning on sandbars in the Niger River.
Every year we are thankful for our visitors and for the time and effort they put into encouraging and teaching both our staff and students. A wonderful partnership of like minded individuals across the World!
Showing off some of the products they made during this three week special skills course with our visitors. We are proud of the effort of each one of them!
When Paul was starting up the mens shop, there were many people who discouraged him, saying that trying to teach Tuaregs to weld would never work. They said they wouldn’t learn, that they were too proud for a labour oriented job, and that they were too uneducated. But we knew otherwise. Our hearts yearned to see these Tuareg men, many of them young fathers, learn a skill that could give them pride and honor and provide for their families for years to come.
A major project has just been completed by the shop and we couldn’t be prouder of all the hard work and growth that these guys have achieved. The pictures speak for themselves, showing the beginnings in a dusty field and broken down VW bus to an amazing, fun playground that patients at CURE International Chilren’s Hospital will enjoy for many years! Not only was a major project realized, but the apprentices have grown immensely in their skills, grown in their love for each other and in their team work!
I am happy to attach here the original words written by the project head from the hospital, Julie Korn.
Our playground is finished!
We have recently finished work on the playground for our hospital here in Niger, and it looks great. The kids at the hospital had to learn how to use some of the equipment (I don’t think any of them had ever been on a slide before, and some of them even looked pretty suspiciously at the steps!), but now they love it and are already spending as much time at the playground as possible.
The idea for this playground came from our sister hospital Beit CURE Malawi – a few years ago they opened up a playground with a renovated/renewed ambulance, and when I saw the pictures I knew that we needed to do something similar here in Niger. After all, we are a children’s hospital and children need a place to play. At that time, I had an intern here from Gordon College, Zoey Meyer-Jens, learning about art therapy, and we worked together on the project proposal. We even went together to the junkyard and scoped out an old Mercedes van and brought it back to the hospital to be the playground “ambulance.”
After coming up with a design, I was able to work together with Paul McIver and Charles Corbin and Paul’s team of Nigerien welders (from Niger Vocational Training School) to bring the playground to life! They worked long and hard on this project, and essentially had to custom-make everything in the playground except the van (and even the van had to basically be totally rebuilt). In the end, the results speak for themselves! The playground is a beautiful addition to our hospital that will provide our patients with room to play, to have fun, to use their imaginations and to express themselves.
In addition to support from CURE International, this project was funded by Amy King, a friend of Maureen Sloan who has been a passionate advocate and source of encouragement to CURE Niger since our hospital opened. This project has also funded by the Gordon in Orvieto program, directed by my brother-in-law Matt Doll. The students of the program did multiple art exhibits, and the proceeds were given towards this playground.
Thanks to everyone who took part in providing these kids with a place to play!
“The streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.” Zechariah 8:5
A dusty field with a broken down rusty bus is the starting point.
The cement pilings have been dug and poured and the anchors for the shade sail are ready to go! Shade it required in Niger’s heat!
The kids at play in the old bus. A lot of work went into taking out all the rusty edges and making it safe. Added benches, and other fun features and a new floor and way to climb on top.
Kids, in various stages of surgery and recovery and casts, enjoy playing in the new bus
If you would like to see more pictures, check out Julie’s original blog at : https://joshjulieblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/09/our-playground-is-finished/
*please forgive the lateness of this blog!*
The school year at NVOC has officially come to a close as we celebrated the hard work of the girls on the last day of school. We hosted an open house for the community, displaying the various sewing projects that the girls have made. Many moms came, letting their daughters lead them to the dresses that they had sewed, and these mamas looked on their children with pride. We sold many items that the girls had made as well. Beautiful skirts and dresses. This was a beautiful thing to witness.
On the black board were the health topics taught this year: pregnancy and childbirth, vaccinations, understanding your menstrual cycle, child marriage, breastfeeding, being an honorable woman, and what it means to make goals and persevere. These were only a few of the lessons that we covered, and it has been exciting to see the girls reflect upon them in class and apply them in their lives.
Outside in the courtyard, we had the chance to celebrate these bright young women by awarding eight students with a certificate of merit. These certificates championed girls who had regular attendance, were most improved in their subjects, had demonstrated great perseverance, and had brought joy to the class. Each girl has worked hard, but these eight ladies really shined, and it was an opportunity for not only the NVOC staff to congratulate them, but also for their peers to cheer them on. It was fun to watch the girls, because for almost every award that was described, they would immediately know who was about to receive it and would begin encouraging her. One girl received the attendance award because she had not missed a single day, and her peers knew of her dedication. They all cheered when she stood up and this attitude continued throughout the morning. The beauty of friendship and encouragement was in the air.
But this final day has not come without struggle. These cheery, adolescent girls do not have the innocent and carefree lives that we imagine children should have. This year we have seen girls deal with sickness and injuries, potentially abusive situations, abject poverty, and difficult interpersonal conflicts. In some situations, they have confided in the staff at NVOC and we have walked with them through these hardships. In others, they have decided to turn away and did not desire help. It has broken our hearts to witness and walk through these moments with the girls, and unfortunately, this is the reality of life in the world’s least developed country. Yet amidst these struggles, we have seen rays of hope.
These hardships have birthed tremendous growth in the girls, and part of our year-end celebration was to recognize this. Yes, they have grown academically and vocationally, but the most brilliant growth we have seen is in their character. One young lady badly hurt her leg this year, but she continued to take the (now slow) walk to school every day because she was committed. She is one of the most hard-working girls in the class and her dedication has been recognized. Two other ladies that should be mentioned are the mamas of the group. They both have a child under two, yet they attend school nearly every day (with their daughters!) and are engaging and growing. They have persevered through the difficulties of single-parenthood, but not without support. Their peers take turns throughout the school days looking after their children, so that their friends can have a break. There is a sense of family at NVOC that has grown through these hardships, and it has made the girls stronger, more unified, and even more beautiful.
These are the reasons it has been a joy to teach at NVOC. As an intern, I only got to be a part of a small portion of the NVOC story, but what a sweet privilege and joy it has been.
Would you be praying for the girls? For their safety this summer in their health, relationships, and homes. Please also be praying for wisdom in the NVOC staff as they consider what the next year will look like. Finally, please pray for the hearts of these beautiful ladies, that this year would carry them well into their summers, and that their worth as young women wouldn’t stop in the classroom, but would begin to be valued in all areas of their lives!
Written by Laura Trabadello