What I know comes from my collaboration with children and their families
Letter to Friends around the World # 107

I stopped my education before high school. But I can do what I do because I work at the grass roots level. What I know about poverty comes from “collaboration with children and their families over a number of years."

In my country most girls leave education too early. Motherhood then follows. Many of these women are unable to read very well and can find it difficult to manage household accounts, etc. Education is the key to everything. I start by identifying young people who have been away from school the longest and encourage them to study. Whether or not they are still of school age. Because even if you don’t go to school, you still need to learn how to support yourself in the future.

I also encourage mothers to learn a trade, promoting the establishment of small-scale revenue-generating activities for women. For example, I teach women how to sew or to dye and give them a little money to get started, with the aim of enabling them to generate enough income to support themselves and their children. As the women we are supporting are illiterate, we have to come up with simplified business management methods and tools; we focus on ensuring that they understand how much they make in sales, how much it costs them to produce what they sell, and hence how much is left for them to spend on their own needs. Sometimes you meet someone who says, "I can't do anything, I don't know how to do it". But if you listen carefully and point them in the right direction, the problem goes away. It is as if you give them back their ability to take action.

Eat healthy food and you will enjoy good health, which will mean you are fit to work and to fight against poverty. If you are ill, you won’t be able to work and poverty will win. Growing your own fruit and vegetables is a concrete way of fighting malnutrition. I got involved in doing this in order to fight malnutrition in children by giving them a healthy diet. We were supporting a child who was having difficulty putting on weight and was not growing normally. When we consulted a doctor, we realised that his diet consisted entirely of rice, which is all that impoverished families living in Mauritania can afford. Here in Nouakchott, it is difficult to find spare land to cultivate. But we encourage people to grow vegetables in pots or on a patch in a communal garden.

Composting is also a novel way of creating employment. I once attended a course on growing vegetables and how use them to create compost. Which is another way of making money. Simple actions that add value. By supporting basic education, taking time to listen and promoting good health, we can all become a movement.

Aminetou Sidi, Mauritania

 Association Santé Mère et Enfant, et Lutte contre la Malnutrition