This was a special year for all of us heading to Niger for the first time in 3 years. The pandemic managed to keep us at home all that time. In the end, there continued to be training progress despite our absence. We were excited to see what that progress looked like so we could update the program as needed.
This was also the 5th anniversary of this team traveling to Niger together. The traditional gift for a fifth anniversary is wood. This seems a most appropriate material for us. We certainly represent beauty, strength, and durability and catch fire at appropriate times. (Like when you have spent a bit too long riding in a vehicle over hill, dale, and mostly dusty trail.)
We arrived in Niger laden with new teaching tools for the matrones. These eased our job, allowing for more hands on, personal instruction and interaction. The new teaching guide offered images of information all in one place to help reinforce learned concepts. Jen developed a fertility wheel that was well received. Those who understood were amazed; those who didn’t wanted to know more. It was great, though.
Because our team grew a bit, it enabled us to cover a great deal of territory. A good thing, too. There was a lot to do. Jen assisted with the evaluation of our matrones while initiating a research project. She worked hard to support the team effort generally, and to offer up novel ideas on what might work in the future for program expansion.
Jamilla and Ilias were just the very best translators we could have asked for at this stage of the training. Communication has always been challenging. We have managed to get by but having someone who could speak both English and tribal languages was an absolute game changer. Everyone understood each other much better and could ask each other direct questions. Freed from much of the interpreting, Leslie was able to oversee all the other important things she typically does with fewer distractions. This allowed her to focus on what supplies we had/didn’t have, track the statistics of the records the matrones turned in, log all the information, and sleep well at night (we hope).
With a team of 3 ex-pat trainers, along with our recently identified super-trainer matrones, we managed to move 60 women through the steps of the program and review new materials including films freshly translated into Tamasheq and Fulfulde. Oh, the joy of hearing the matrones cheer and clap at the end of the films! That was wonderfully reassuring that this is a good direction for us to continue to explore.
We had our usual drivers for this trip. The men make up a team to get us safely wherever we need to beat any given time. There are no roads so, travel can be dicey. Knowing where to turn when there are no signs and calculating whether a fully loaded vehicle will successfully traverse a dry riverbed, demand specific navigational skills. (Sometimes skills that our guards are still learning.)
There is a large team made up of cooks, wood scavengers, fire makers, meal preparers, tent erectors, and evening entertainers. Our lives would be far more difficult without them. We may sometimes help with tasks, but generally, when the sun is setting and we are tired from traveling, someone is there to move our luggage and set up our brand-new tents. Yes. In the morning they break the camp site back down and reload the cars days in a row. This means the kitchen must be put in place, then dismantled, dishes washed, dried, and packed multiple times when we are on the move. Everything comes along.
And there is a large armed team that escorts us from place to place and who shoo away people when they get too close for comfort. Some join us in evening entertainment, with song, dance, and games. They are the reason that we can safely travel in Niger.
The bottom line is that it is through the generosity of others, who are often behind the scenes, that allows us to continue carrying out missions. They are among the most important team members of all. John Massey, a Brit, financed 2 training missions led by nomad trainers when we couldn’t get to Niger. He has also been central in helping get the films we use translated and dubbed into Tamasheq and Fulfulde. He and Leslie worked hard to make that happen and their efforts paid off so sweetly.
Dr. Bob Skankey continues to fund the matrone project (his baby) and other projects as well. He no longer travels to Niger, but the nomads still ask about him. This year they gazed toward the sky and clouds. We laughed. Uh, no. Dr. Bob has not departed.
We are funded by many donors at a variety of levels. Some offer time, others money. Some give us supplies allowing us to distribute them directly to the matrones. Laerdal donated birthing mannequins for use in simulation. This year a physician in Agadez helped supply much needed medicine for us, and Esterbrook Pharmacy back in PA donated medication as well. Without all the kindnesses and donations extended to us we would be unable to complete the missions.
It is humbling and inspiring to have the support that we do. As they say, it takes a village. In our case, it might be more like a small town.
Heartfelt thanks to everyone who helped us in one of our very most successful missions to date. Merci beaucoup. Tanamert. (The extent of my French and Tamasheq.)