by Anastasie Obi

In some West African countries there is a very special culture called "joking kinships". It’s even an intangible cultural heritage in Niger, a social praxis that consists of making fun of members of same or different social groups and even to slur them without worry about getting them upset. This is intended to ensure social harmony. It’s a picturesque tourist haven for fans of dark humor. Can you imagine however, a child laughing at being called Nakasasu (the Damned), because of his Disability?

murna-yaraIt’s an interesting socio-cultural atmosphere, considering that this unusual and entertaining social practice is expressing in an environment hit by the deepest poverty, war conflicts and critical humanitarian crisis. Displaced people, refugees and talibés (beggars) flock uncontrollably to Niamey, the capital of Niger. Amongst them are children with more or less severe disabilities. In Niger, about 40,000 school-age children with disabilities don’t go to school. In a context where the needs are bigger than the national and international capacities deployed to try to halt the critical situation in this region, an Association stands out with a program that deserves a lot of support. OPEHN / MURNA YARA is a local NGO that is one of the actors fighting for vulnerable children to give them access like any other child, to an education that will allow them to achieve their potential and aspire to a happier life, a better future. The Organization for the Sponsorship of Disabled Children in Niger is localised in Niamey, but deploys with the support of some charitable institutions, its actions in four other surrounding districts of the country, including Tillaberi, Dosso, Maradi and Tahoua.

This program is mainly a socio-educational integration facility for disabled and/or needy children. It includes some stages in which they identify the different out-of-school children who are in urgent need of the program. Thereafter, it’s the medical-social diagnosis, important for the educational orientation of these children. Of course, there is also the training of teachers whose prerequisites will help teaching these children. The most touching is their concern to bring forward the family in the process of schooling these children through parental sponsorship. Parents/guardians are trained to learn for instance, how to help their disabled children to better express themselves independently in their family and ethnic framework. Considering from where they are starting, you can easily guess that it will create a real harmony between them, and the satisfaction of participating will replace helplessness and shame. In addition, monthly financial support equivalent to €50 is provided for most basic needs of children which they cannot fully assume due to their own financial disability.

murna-yara In this effort of socio-cultural integration and cohesion, Murna Yara is involved in school monitoring and home visits to help families better care for their children with disabilities. They work with families, but also with the school of these children. The NGO is aware that it’s not enough to completely change their situation. They are hoping for additional support to enable them to achieve at least their most urgent projects for more and more children who cannot actually benefit from this program. It’s important to let you know that since the implementation of this type of programs in Niger through associations struggling to improve the situation, mindsets dooming these children to social imprisonment are gradually changing. Fewer and fewer families are hiding their "Nakasasu" children, considered to be divine punishment. We could even witness distressing scenes like for instance, these children falling in the street and no one helped them fearing of being contaminated. It’s mindsets that still exist in some areas unreachable by NGOs like Murna Yara due to lack of funds. Their wish is to be able to extend their actions throughout the national territory.

One of the uniqueness of this NGO is exemplified by Mr. Oumarou Manou Mouhamadou who, in addition to being the initiator and coordinator of the NGO Murna Yara, is an inspiration for these children. He has lost his vision when he was child due to glaucoma and can still be proud of his impressive career. He was inspired by his difficulties during his schooling. "I told myself that I want to setup a sponsorship organization for disabled children, to allow them to have the minimum for good studies... I contacted friends who agreed to come with me and we created the NGO”.

To find out how to support their program, please contact one of the Murna Yara managers at: (+227) 21 76 79 06 / (+227) 96 49 48 18 / manager(s) to contact: Moussa Souley (Chairman of the Managing Board), Mahamadou Oumarou (National Coordinator), Maâzou Noma (Secretary-general of the Managing Board).

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