Tuesday, April 8, 2014

GUEST POST: Reflections from Helen, "Africa Through Fresh Eyes, Part 2"

I joined the Eliminate Poverty NOW team a little over a year ago. Had I been asked before that if I would ever go to Africa – I would have said no, maybe, or probably not. Fast forward 15 months – and I’ve been twice!
FOF Overseas Team - John Craig, Helen Greenberg, Dov Pasternak, and Robin Mednick

The first trip in July 2013 to Kenya was life altering. Nothing could compare – right? Wrong!
I just returned from Niger, in Western Africa, to be part of the eyes on the ground team to the Farmers of the Future program - the largest project we support - the objective of which is to change attitudes toward farming and encourage the adoption of intensive farming practices in the country of Niger.

One purpose of our trip was to visit the Sadore Village and the Farmers of the Future pilot sites to witness their progress. We were to meet with Professor Dov Pasternak, the FOF visionary whose dream is Farmers of the Future; our local team – Hamani Djibo and Sidi Mohamed, and our Canadian charity partner, Robin Mednick of Pencils4Kids. The only way I knew these people before that time was through photographs and conference calls. The other reason we were going was to speak to a number of government and agency people about the prospect of up-scaling Farmers of the Future to a total of 15 sites from the present 4.

 John Craig, Sidi Mohamed, and Dov Pasternak         
I was a bit nervous in anticipation of the trip – after all, I was going to one of the poorest countries in the world with a reputation for unrest, so far away from home with reportedly unreliable communication infrastructure, and then throw in a little fear of the unknown. But I let go as I did last year for my trip to Kenya and Uganda. I was going with seasoned travelers who had been there before, so I put my trust in them.
Robin Mednick, Hamani Djibo, and Helen Greenberg
In the weeks prior to departure, with the help of the local team, we put together a jam packed agenda of meetings which included visits to the village sites, meetings with local government officials and ministries of the national government, and other NGOs for funding possibilities.

My reflections of this trip can be broken down in two parts: the team and the project.

Meeting everyone face to face was exciting. The warmth and camaraderie was immediate. I was seamlessly enveloped as though I was part of the group for years. Another marvel was to see these people in action. Each has a strong personality bringing different strengths to the table, but, interestingly enough, those differences mesh -  making them work together like a well-oiled machine. In my opinion, Farmers of the Future couldn’t be in more capable, determined, dedicated, and passionate hands.
Helen and Robin with women from the Sadoré village

Meeting with the mayor of Liboré

Wedged in among the high level meetings it was imperative that we visited the villages where there are thriving women’s tree nurseries, vegetable gardens, and mother plantations. It was gratifying to see the progress (which I had only seen in photos – not doing them justice) that the women have made since John and Robin’s last visit in December 2012. The mothers in these villages are headed toward elevating the standard of living for their families by raising high yield, high nutrition, and high income producing crops. Now they are able to feed their families and send their children to school. Dov describes poverty
as a magnet – these women are moving out of its gravitational pull.

We met with the First Lady of Niger, the Agricultural Minister, the Leader of the 3 “N” initiative (Nigeriens feeding Nigeriens), USAID, and the Swiss Cooperative among others. We were warmly welcomed by all, and left knowing we had their support toward the scale-up of our program. We were riding high all week.

I came away from this experience with a new understanding for the strength of the human spirit – what motivation can accomplish, an appreciation for the gentle, kind culture of the Nigerien people, and a renewed sense of hope for the work I do.

John, Helen and Robin with the women gardeners at the FOF site

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