“A world that cannot be compared to ours”

by Sven Ramones, 2011/12/02

In the West African country of Niger, humedica has been running a hospital together with the partner organisation Hosanna Institute du Sahel since 2009. Tanja Osterried supported the humedica famine relief measures at the hospital as a logistics coordinator during the severe famine in 2010.

Since 2010 on a mission for the people in Niger: Tanja Osterried. Photo: humedica/Sven Ramones

The 44-year old industrial business management assistant has been working in Niger and for the longstanding humedica partner Hosanna Institute du Sahel (HIS) since October 2010. We could rely on HIS as our partner in the framework of various emergency and disaster relief projects in Niger, such as famine and flood relief.

During a visit at the humedica headquarters in Kaufbeuren, Tanja took out some time for a short interview with us. She gave us an insight into the current situation in Niger, as well as into her work, her impressions and the experiences she gained in the country.

Tanja, one of the humedica projects in Niger is the operation of a hospital in the district of Kollo. To what extent does the hospital contribute to medical care for the population?

Kollo is a provincial town, which is located at about 35 kilometres south east of Niamey. It is true that there is a district hospital, but unfortunately, medical care is not of a particularly high standard there. The hospital run by humedica and HIS is specialised in children and mothers. For the inhabitants of rural areas in the region, the hospital offers high-standard medical treatment.

In Kollo itself, it can be consulted by the town’s 15,000 inhabitants. However, people from the entire surrounding areas, from distances of up to 100 kilometres, come to our hospital, so that we cover an area of a total number of about 450,000 inhabitants.

Valuable medical care for the people in the region around Kollo, which is possible thanks to the humedica doctors and nursing staff. Photo: humedica/Anna Zwick

In the meantime, the hospital has come to be considered a model hospital, since it operates on a very high hygienic level and disposes of a very well-equipped laboratory, where important analyses can be conducted and which therefore contributes substantially to diagnosing diseases. Those persons who cannot afford treatment are given medications for free. For everyone else, costs are kept as low as possible.

Furthermore, the hospital disposes of a maternity ward and runs health education workshops. For example, mothers can take part in hygiene trainings and receive other important instructions while waiting for their treatment.

What is the current situation like in Niger?

From a food perspective, the situation is dire, because this year’s wet season was very short. Niger is located in the Sahel zone. In that region the wet season usually lasts three months, from June to August. This year, however, it rained only for one month, which has affected the agricultural sector in particular.

Many of the crops, such as corn, have not even reached maturity. There was an immense crop failure; in some cases there was no harvest at all. You could say that the famine is affecting the people even now. Some of the people from rural areas flee into towns, in order to find food.

The Nigerien Ministry for Health held a coordination meeting with different organisations – among them also humedica – in order to discuss who can do what and how. So, the first warning bells have already gone off, and the United Nations promised financial means in order to oppose the famine.

Which challenges are there in Niger – in general and for you personally?

As I’ve already mentioned, Niger is located in the Sahel zone. Three quarters of the country are desert, which certainly is one of the largest challenges. Desertification is continuing, not least because of ongoing deforestation, since people still need much wood for cooking. Due to long dry seasons, hunger is a well-known problem to the people of Niger.

Hunger and undernutrition are chronic problems in Niger. The projects run by humedica are intended to bring relief in the long run. Photo: humedica

Unfortunately, the circumstances have aggravated during the past few years, a fact that can also be attributed to the extreme climatic conditions. During the year it is very hot. And when it finally rains, people are faced with floods. Then there is soil erosion… it’s an unfortunate concurrence of various circumstances.

Furthermore, Niger is one of the least developed countries, with a very low education level and illiteracy of 80 percent. About 80 percent of the national structures are based on humanitarian aid, i.e. external help. This is definitely extreme. A lot needs to be done in the field of development politics.

For me personally, there are all the things I am faced with in every-day life. For one thing that is certainly the prevailing poverty. People live on less than 1 euro a day. And you even notice that in the capital. In rural areas, like in Kollo, it’s even worse. It is there in particular that you encounter undernourished women and children.

Do you remember an event that was particularly touching for you?

I am dismayed again and again, when seeing extremely thin and undernourished children. I myself am not particularly tall, and I don’t weight much. When I realise that a pregnant woman in our undernutrition programme is taller than me, but weighs almost ten kilos less, then I find this really alarming.

In these moments I often wonder how this woman is supposed to survive pregnancy. Many children are already undernourished at birth. Seeing undernourished children, women, or entire families really affects me deeply. I often wonder for how long they will be able to live on like this.

What kind of experiences have you taken with you to Germany?

Families are affected by poverty so extreme that we cannot even imagine its extent here in Germany. They are the ones who receive help by humedica in Niger. Photo: humedica/Zarah Falkenberg

It is impressive to see how cheerful and willing to help the people are, although they themselves often don’t have much, or nothing at all. Experiencing their gratitude and hospitality was also a very touching impression.

It is a completely different world that cannot be compared to ours. When seeing this poverty of an extent we cannot even imagine here in Germany, then I realise how privileged we are, and how high our living standards. Living conditions of the people there, and the abundance we are used to here – that is two absolutely different worlds.

Dear Tanja, thank you for the interview. We would like to wish you all the best and God’s blessings also for your future.

In order to be able to continue our work and the relief measures for the people in Niger, we depend on your support, dear friends and sponsors. Please support the hospital project by means of a targeted donation via our online form, or by means of making a donation to the account below:

      humedica e. V.
      Donation reference "Hospital Niger"
      Account 47 47
      Bank Code 734 500 00
      Sparkasse Kaufbeuren

You can also make a fast, secure and direct donation by means of sending a text message: send a text message containing the reference DOC to 8 11 90 and support our work with a donation of 5 euros, with 4.83 euros of this amount being directly channelled into the humedica project work. Thank you very much!

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