Children suffer most in hunger crisis


June 6, 2012

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    Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps
  <span class="field-credit">
    Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Lauretta, 12, had to quit school in order to help her family at home. While her mother forages for food, Lauretta watches her younger brothers, collects firewood and fetches water for whatever they may be able to cook that day. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

Lauretta dreams of becoming a teacher. But she hasn’t been to school since January, when she had to drop out in order to help her family at home. While her mother spends all day searching for food to feed her children, the household duties have fallen on 12-year-old Lauretta, who looks after her younger brothers, collects firewood and fetches water to cook whatever they may be able to eat.

“I miss everything about school,” she said. “I miss my friends, I miss class, but most of all I miss the chance that I might be able to become a school teacher someday, so I can help my family by earning an income.”

Lauretta’s family is one of millions in Niger and beyond, who are trying to survive the desperate hunger crisis that has swept across West Africa’s Sahel region.

SEE PHOTOS: Surviving the Sahel hunger crisis

Her father had to leave their small village to go to the capital city of Niamey in search of work. They are farmers and lost their entire harvest in October due to the drought.

Lauretta’s mother was left alone to care and provide for her three children. With no food in the home, and no money to afford the high prices in the market, she has been forced to forage for any food she can find in the countryside; they are surviving on wild seeds, tree leaves and roots. Every day, Lauretta and her family are not sure if they will eat. And Lauretta has been forced to shoulder burdens that no child should have to.

Mounkella Adamou, the headmaster at the primary school in her village, noted that 25% of his students have had to drop out of school since the beginning of the year, when the food crisis began. He predicts that the number will dramatically increase in the coming months as the situation worsens.

“The girls have been the most affected in this crisis, as they are typically responsible for filling their mothers’ role now that the women have to forage for food daily,” said Adamou. “I am very concerned about how they will recover from this crisis if they stop school. I fear many of the girls will never return to school, even after the crisis passes. Once they stop coming, they often never come back and then ruin any chance of a better future.”

I came across many stories like Lauretta’s on my recent trip to Niger. So many young children are at risk of suffering the most as families struggle to survive the dire circumstances.

Mercy Corps is helping people earn an income through our new Cash for Work program so they can buy food and keep their children in school. The projects they participate in prepare the land for planting, building toward a stronger harvest in the fall. Until then, we are also making unconditional cash transfers available to those in the greatest need.

We’ve also seen the positive long-term impact of projects that repair wells, establish community gardens, and connect producers to the market. In areas where Mercy Corps has been doing this work for several years, the communities are faring much better, despite the drought.

Our teams are on the ground, working hard to create lasting solutions that build more resilient communities, while also addressing the emergency needs of the most vulnerable people in this perilous climate. And they need our support.

You can help hungry families survive the crisis in the Sahel. Donate today.