August 22, 2005
Habiba Souleymane (her name has been changed to protect her confidentiality) has just received a food ration at the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) ambulatory feeding center in Chare Zamna, which is located west of Zinder, Niger. Although this 30-year-old mother is used to Niger's crushing heat, she could not take any more. This morning, she managed to find a place for herself and her 2-year-old daughter in a truck leaving her village, Kari Bakoi, and headed for Zinder, a 12-mile journey. Like dozens of other women and children who had also made a long trip, they waited patiently starting at 7:30 a.m.
Habiba knows a lot about malnutrition. She remembers the terrible food shortage of 1984 and seven years ago, she lost a child to hunger. Today, she wants to do everything possible to save the daughter that she and her husband can no longer feed. "We are destitute," she says. "There is no more millet, so we are surviving on a little manioc flour. That's all we have left. My daughter has been ill for two months and I can't go to the Termini health center because we don't have enough money." As poor farmers, they depend entirely on the harvest from their field, where they have planted millet, sorghum, and a little corn.
In Termini, Habiba was told to go to the Zinder hospital, but there, too, you have to pay before receiving treatment. "They told me to go to the CRENI [intensive nutritional recovery center] in Berni, who they took my daughter and me," she says. "We spent nine days in the center and today I came here. My daughter is better. She's started gaining weight again. She likes the plumpy'nut [the peanut-based food given to malnourished children]."
This morning, she had another medical exam and despite a little fever, her overall condition is improving. For Habiba, the situation is beginning to improve slowly, too. "My daughter is better and if we continue to get good rain, the harvest will be good, Inshallah. If I want to be able to work in the field with my daughter on my back at harvest time, she has to be healthy otherwise she won't be able to take it. It's very hard with this heat."
She knows at least four malnourished children in her village who have not yet come to Zinder for treatment. The children's mothers do not want to take them so far away or simply cannot. For the time being, Habiba will go back to Kari Bakoi and rejoin her family. She'll bring a liter of oil, pouches of plumpynut for her daughter, the bag of millet, beans and the bar of soap she just received. She still has to find 200 CFA (roughly 50 cents) for the ride back so that she will arrive before nightfall. That is yet another hardship.
© 2013 Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)