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Fati: Taking Action for Her Son

Niger, April 10, 2007

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Fati Issia sits with her seven-month-old son, Moctar, at the Dar es Salaam health clinic in Niamey. Photo: Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps
  • 
  <span class="field-credit">
    Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps  </span>
    While on the scale, Moctar scans the room with wide eyes. Photo: Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps

Niamey, Niger - Fati Issia seems alone in the crowd.

In the midst of the boisterous waiting room at Niamey's Dar es Salaam neighborhood health clinic, she sits quietly while other mothers engage in conversation. She holds her seven-month-old son Moctar on her lap.

This is her first time at the clinic. It is also her first week in Niamey, Niger's bustling capital and largest city.

Fati did not come to Niamey by choice, but through need. The food crisis that's enveloped the entire country is also debilitating local economies. As crops withered in Fati's home village, so did jobs. Fati's husband couldn't find work.

Fati and her husband made a difficult decision to take Moctar and leave everything they'd ever known to come to Niamey in search of opportunity. It has eluded them so far, as it has thousands of other hopeful newcomers to the capital city. Fati, her husband and Moctar are currently living with relatives in a poor section of the city where shanties built on the sides of sandy streets are a common sight.

While food crisis and unemployment remain beyond her control, Fati is taking control of one critical part of her family's life: the well being of her young son. She is one of thousands of young mothers that are seeking nutritional and health advice at local clinics supported by Mercy Corps. This support is helping train hundreds of health workers to gain the skills they need to help protect children like Moctar from the constant peril of Niger's cycle of hunger.

It's not easy for a young mother, especially one as demure as Fati, to come to a place like this and ask for help. But she is committed to giving Moctar a promising start in life - and Mercy Corps is helping.

A healthy new beginning

When we arrive to visit the clinic, Moctar is already on the scale and ready to be weighed. He is alert and curious, surveying the room through eyes wide with amazement. He grabs a slip of paper and carefully examines it.

As Fati sits anxiously in an adjacent chair, a nurse weighs Moctar. I ask the young mother how she found out about Mercy Corps' therapeutic feeding program.

"A female neighbor - a new friend since I moved here - told me about it," she says self-consciously. "She's been bringing her children here for a few weeks, and they're doing better now.

"She told me the people are nice here."

The nurse turns to Fati and begins to address Moctar's condition.

"He weighs 5.2 kilograms [about 11 pounds]," the nurse says. "For his age and height, it means that he's moderately malnourished."

Fati listens as the nurse thoroughly describes the program: what she must do at home, how often she should feed Moctar, what food to give him and how often to bring him back to the clinic. Fati nods her head in sincere, thoughtful acknowledgement of each piece of advice.

After the consultation and a time for questions, the nurse writes instructions for Fati to take into the next room, where Fati will pick up supplemental food.

A woman wearing a vibrantly colored head wrap politely takes the slip of paper from Fati and peruses the instructions. As she measures out cups of UNIMIX - a high-calorie, vitamin-rich porridge - and protein-packed vegetable oil, Moctar turns his head and beams a sweet smile at her. The woman gently laughs and hands bags of food to Fati.

As she leaves the Dar es Salaam health clinic for Niamey's dusty streets, Fati Issia might be questioning what tomorrow holds for her family. There are many needs to be met every day, so many hard questions to consider. But tomorrow and in the months to come, Mercy Corps will be meeting the needs of more than 40,000 children across Niger, including Moctar.

And that's one less thing that mothers like Fati will have to worry about.