A strange thing happened on the way to Doutchi…

I’ve spent the last week or so working in Niger in West Africa, reporting on the growing food crisis there for Tearfund.  We had a very productive trip, and met some fantastic people who are working with some of the poorest communities in the world to try to provide some food security.

The food crisis in the whole Sahel region is growing rapidly, and we interviewed a number of families who are in very desperate positions – only eating one meal a day, children (particularly the youngest) who are malnourished or severely malnourished, husbands who have left looking for work to send money back to feed the family.

Last year’s harvest was, in many cases, only 20% of its normal levels, and following on from a poor harvest the previous year, has left people across large areas of the country without enough food to get through to the next expected harvest, which should be in September.

I’ll post some of those stories once Tearfund have had a chance to work through them, and use them in their materials. In the meantime, I thought you might like to see a couple of pictures of an amazing on the go repair that was made to our vehicle on our second day out:

Sandy road

We were driving along a road that eventually petered out and became a track through the sand – the whole area is the southern border between the Sahara and the Sahel. We managed to extricate ourselves after getting stuck in the soft sand heading out. But on the way back, we were still about 40km from our base in Doutchi when Joshua, the driver for the partner pulled over to the side of the road:

Underside of Toyota with bit dangling loose…

That bit that’s dangling is the widget that makes the steering work…  Seems quite important to me (and I’ve got an Engineering degree, so I should know).  By driving very slowly, we made it to the next town along, a couple of km away (utilising that important piece of physics – and life – that most things like to carry on in straight lines unless there’s a compelling reason not to).

Once there, a number of people volunteered their involvement:

All together now

Not sure I was helping much at this point

Impressively, although the correct locking nut wasn’t in town, there was enough knowledge and parts to jury rig the steering, using rope as a lock nut:

All tied up

With extremely careful driving (on what were very rough roads), we made it back to Doutchi without any problems – we were only delayed for around an hour, which isn’t a bad comparison to calling the AA/RAC on a motorway in the UK. I was dubious about it working to be honest, but was hugely impressed that it did (need to stop worrying…). The truck then went through two more repairs to keep us going  – the nut was replaced with the correct one for the next day’s work, and for the final day, we had two completely new steering strut replacements, delivered out from Niamey, five hours away.

Obviously, given all the other things going on in the country and the region at the moment, this is relatively minor. But it gives a little taste of the difficulties that partner organisations face just getting around to the people they’re working with and helping.  And we were consisitently impressed with the work the partners were doing  – not just in terms of actually helping people, but in how they were doing it – with grace, a lightness of touch, and love.

There’ll be more about Niger in a week or three I’m sure, but in the meantime, if you want to donate to the fund that’s responding to the growing crisis in Niger and the Sahel region, this is the link to Tearfund’s giving pages.


richard hanson :: photographer :: sheffield