She is 46 years old. She has an average size family.. here in Kayes (Mali) that’s 8 children. Her husband left months ago to search for work in the villages surrounding Dogofry, although so far, he has been mostly unsuccessful.
I met Niame while visiting an Oxfam cash voucher distribution in Dogofry, about 2 hours drive from Kayes. Here, 150 beneficiaries are receiving a voucher to buy food and other essentials. The voucher is meant to provide for a month... it’s worth less than 5 New Zealand dollars a day.
“When the drought hit, the harvests were really bad and the rains were not good. Before the drought we were eating two to three meals a day. After the drought we could barely manage one meal, so sometimes we would eat sometimes we wouldn’t” she told me.
As we were sitting there, chatting under the shade of a tree in the 35 degree heat, outside her one room home, people started to gather. Within five minutes, at least 30 women and children were standing around us watching.
I ask her who they are all.
“Family” she says.
It turns out, family here is much like whanau back in New Zealand. The women and children are her sisters, nieces, nephews, aunts and cousins. And that means with her cash voucher, she will attempt to feed everyone.
It’s hard to comprehend what it would feel like to only be able to feed your children once a day, or often not at all. Human emotion is universal, and I know the feeling of helplessness and frustration Niame feels, is no different to what I would feel in the same situation.
I ask our Oxfam translator why more can’t be given to these people.
Families are thoroughly identified through a series of vulnerability tests.. taking into account income, number of children, access to clean water, how many meals a day the children are able to eat.
Then she tells me the statistics.
More than 4 and a half million people are facing food insecurity in Mali alone, never mind the rest of the Sahel region. How can you help everyone?
I do believe in taking responsibility for yourself, and working to improve your own conditions. But the longer I speak to Niame, the more aware I am that she truly is doing everything in her power to get out of her situation.
When there’s no food, her children must be taken out of school to work, so that the family can eat. It’s a cyclical problem - and one she is aware she must change. But keeping her family alive is her first priority. And I’m certain it would be mine, too.
To donate to Oxfam's work tackling the Sahel Food Crisis, visit www.oxfam.org.nz