Christmas falls during the cold season here, which means the harvest has been collected, most people have food to eat and malnutrition rates are relatively low.
Many regions in Niger reported good harvests this year, however; due to the meagre harvest last year a large portion of the population accumulated significant debts in order to survive. This means that a better part of the harvests collected this year are already spoken for, and the low of the malnutrition season will not last long.
The low season gives the malnutrition centre time to breath, take stock and put a major emphasis on training staff. The lull in activities also allows us to better develop relationships with the mothers and their children in the centre.
Getting to know people is a gateway to their stories and, as a lover of stories, I am continuously amazed, astounded and inspired by the ones I hear.
There are times, like today, when the glimpse of the story I get is gut wrenching and heartbreaking.
We received a call from a local NGO that they were sending four children needing hospitalization to our centre.
About an hour later, a car arrived and three mothers and three children got out of the car. The fourth woman remained seated.
When I asked where the fourth child was, the driver told me he was “in the back.”
The vehicle was small, and I was confused. A nurse solemnly explained the fourth child had died during the journey.
The car then turned around, and drove out of the centre with the mother and her dead child inside – the child she had hoped would be saved by the voyage. Merry Christmas.
I am witness to many preventable deaths here in Niger – but this one to me is the essence of unforgivable. Death due to malnutrition is one of the true injustices of this century – and I wish/pray for the day no child has to die of it, and particularly never in a car en route to help.
The low season also means we need to let a lot of our staff go.
One of the nurses passed by my “office” the other day to say goodbye as it was his last day of work.
We chatted for a bit about what he had learned during his time with Medecins Sans Frontiers, and I asked if he was sad about leaving the centre as it is quite difficult to find nursing jobs in Niger.
He patiently explained to me that as important as working is, a good human being knows it is better to not have a job and have fewer malnourished children than to have a job because of a famine. Enough said.
And in this rural Nigerian desert town, I will get dressed up in an elf costume today and go juggle at a party for street children where a Muslim man will be dressed up as Santa Claus.
Realities never cease to amaze me.
Trish Newport is a Whitehorse nurse who works for Medecins Sans Frontiers/ Doctors Without Borders. The article was written between November 2010 – May 2011, during a mission in Niger.