I’ve started to see new faces on the side of the road here in Niger. On the corner by Chateau I, on the way to the Save the Children office in Niamey (the country’s capital city), there are a few regulars.
An older blind woman with a young girl who leads her to cars, a middle-aged blind man who, with his teenage guide, is seen quite frequently around town, and a 20-something-year-old man with one arm who sometimes rests his arm in your car window and makes small talk while begging.
Then we have the phone card guys—a group of about 4 teenage boys trying to sell their packages of phone credit while people are stuck at the traffic light—if the light is working.
But in recent weeks I’ve noticed more people have started camping out at these traffic intersections in Niamey — and most of them are mothers with kids or just kids on their own.
The number of groups of children with broken flip flops carrying around tin bowls that are strapped to their back singing to taxis and 4x4s for money seems to have multiplied.
One reason must surely be this year’s harvest, which was so poor that a lot of families are having a hard time making ends meet. In Niger the average mom has 7 kids.
That’s a lot of mouths to feed when you’ve run out of your stocked crops and the cost of food keeps increasing. So we see more children in cities like Niamey, hungry and begging for a meal.
I’ve lived in Niamey for almost a year now, and I’m never sure what to do when someone asks me for money. It’s the worst feeling to hear a kid ask you for some money because they are hungry, but it’s even worse to think about the possibility of whatever you give them benefiting someone else.
In Niger, you can find children who travel to cities in order to beg on behalf of a religious leader or trusted family member. These kids sleep in mosques or behind buildings, and survive on scraps.
Something must be done to protect these children on the street, whose lives will only get worse during this year’s food crisis. They need safe places to sleep, food in their bellies, and the chance to have an education and good health.
Save the Children is working to help families feed their children during this tough hunger season with a cash transfer programme that targets the most vulnerable families in the areas where we are working.