Just about a week to go. Time to introduce another charity. Meet Amman Imman: Water is Life
Back in 2009, I had the good fortune of meeting the father of Amman Imman’s founder, Ariane Kirtley, Michael, through my parents as I was visiting my parents in Washington DC for a few days. He told me about Ariane’s non-profit and I was immediately hooked on the idea of doing a photo documentary on the work that Amman Imman was doing in the Azawak Region in Africa – which spans Mali/Niger. I applied for a grant, which unfortunately did not come through, and then the Kirtley’s visits to Niger were postponed due to a rise in Al Qaeda threats and then I returned to the US. So that project was put on the back burner
I am pleased to say, that we have connected again and that we can help Amman Imman through this bike ride. I hope to one day visit the Azawak region together with Amman Imman to do the photo documentary that I had in mind – and hopefully that will be another day and another story.
Please meet Ariane Kirtley and some of the team of Amman Imman and find out more about their work:
Ariane, joined by her husband, Denis and sons, Fassely and Soriya, as well as other fabulously committed family and friends, has devoted her life to improving the living conditions of the Azawak Valley of Niger. She founded Amman Imman: Water is Life in February 2006 to bring life giving water to her brothers and sisters in the Azawak.
Ariane’s name mirrors her roots, planted firmly on three continents: Kirtley the American born, Ariane the daughter of a French mother and Alzhara, “desert flower” in Arabic, signaling that she blossomed in Africa, the continent she loves above all others. Ariane crossed the Sahara Desert for the first time when she was six months old — in a basket tied to the back seat of her family’s Land-Cruiser. From those earliest months until she turned ten, her home was in North and West Africa, including the country of Niger (and also Mali, Senegal, Gambia, Ivory Coast, Morocco and Algeria).
A 2001 graduate of Yale University, in 2004 she also earned her Masters in Public Health from Yale. In summer of 2003, she returned to Niger to intern for CARE International on a public health initiative which culminated in her Master’s thesis on the subject for Yale. In May of 2004 Ariane was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to return to Niger in order to research the special health needs of women and minority indigenous populations in the Sahel.
As a Fulbright Scholar, Ariane traveled to the pastoral region of the Azawak, Niger’s most remote and unknown region. In the Azawak, Ariane discovered the human face of climate change: people literally dying of thirst because of their inability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. These were the most generous and dignified, as well as the most vulnerable populations of her travels throughout West Africa. She had never before witnessed an area with so few resources and infrastructure, where individuals live on the brink of disaster on a daily basis due to circumstances beyond their control. Most importantly, she had never seen half a million people in such distress receiving so little assistance from the rest of the world.
She rapidly grew to love and consider her newfound Touareg and Fulani friends of the Azawak as family. Thanks to the tremendous encouragement of her family and friends, Ariane founded Amman Imman:Water is Life for the children of the Azawak.
Most of us I don’t think can start comprehending what it would be like to live in the Azawak Region and the problems they might go through on a daily basis. Please take us through some of these struggles and what a day in the life might look like?
In the words of Laurel, a colleague:
They attach themselves to ropes and descend into the hot, cavernous earth, digging with their hands. If they are lucky, they dig 50, 100, 200 feet down until they find what they are looking for: water to clean off their sweat and dirt-soaked skin; to quench their thirst; to share with their friends and families.
Each excursion down to the depths of the earth brings up a little more than a bowl of water, which they then, in most cases, toss into a small trough for their animals. Hundreds of waifish, thirsty donkeys, camels and cows wait for this dirty water, brought to them by sweaty boys, men and women. They drink it ravenously.
The unlucky explorers find nothing at all. They dig only to be buried alive in their pursuit for water. Touring Niger’s Kijigari Village with Amman Imman (Water is Life), an organization working to build sustainable sources of water for thosein Kijigari and the surrounding region, I saw the many graves. They stand decorated with tall piles of debris in the place of proper headstones, often kept company by the animals that were once the livelihood of the village, but are now struggling for survival alongside the villagers themselves.
At the far corner of the village, there is a dwindling thread of hope. Women use a pulley system to gather water from adeep well built for them about 30 years ago. As I flung the top half of my body over the edge of this well, however, I saw that it was almost bone dry. As temperatures reached almost 115 degrees at midday, I saw that their precious water would soon disappear.
By drilling what are referred to as borehole wells in the Azawak region of north-central Niger, Amman Imman is trying to outrun a changing climate, which has shortened the rainy season to just two months, dried up all of the groundwater, and taken some of Kijigari’s underground explorers as well as many of the region’s children as its victims. In the past five years, it has turned a lush, grazing landscape into a desert and, for lack of fertile land, has forced its nomadic families to change their lifestyles and to settle.
It is no wonder that when Amman Imman completed the borehole well in Kijigari Village this past July, local families danced with joy for days. They sang songs of thanks that they had a clean, enduring supply of water, so that they would never again see a friend or family member die from the thirst. They rejoiced, knowing that now their little girls could go to school, rather than spending their days, sometimes traveling up to 35 miles roundtrip, with their feet in the hot sand, on the backs of their donkeys, trekking for water.
Zainab, a woman who sits on Kijigari’s newly-formed management committee that oversees the borehole said the water problem is especially hard on women, since they rely on it to cook, to clean, to take care of the small children, and it is the young girls who spend the most time fetching water.
“Water is our greatest problem,” she said.
Each borehole well taps in into live aquifers 600 to 3,000 feet below the earth’s surface, providing water for up to 25,000 people and animals and serving as a catalyst for community development. In Tangarwashane Village, for instance, the site of Amman Imman’s first borehole well, a new school has popped up and apartnership with International Relief and Development has resulted in a reforestation and environmental protection program.
In Kijigari, local men made over 4,000 clay bricks, forming an adobe shelter for the borehole’s engine, and a wall that surrounds the borehole to protect it from damage and to keep it clean. Eventually, the women plan on growing avegetable garden within the wall parameters.
With water, there is life.
Now, it is time to take MDG 7 seriously; to ensure the other half million people living in the Azawak are as fruitful and no one is 200 feet below the earth’s surface desperately searching for water.
Our biggest hurdles have been:
1) Raising money to do our work. And to this day, we still have difficulty raising money to pay our salaries and build our team and resources necessary to do our work. 2) The threat of being taken hostage by AQIM, the Al Qaeda branch of North Africa. We’ve had to spend money to pay armed guards to protect us, but even with these, there is no guarantee for our security. 3) The extreme poverty of the people we work with, and the harsh conditions we encounter, make implanting projects all the more challenging. It takes years of hard work and perseverance to ascertain the sustainability of our work.
Our biggest success has been building five boreholes and saving the lives of so many people. We continue to work with all of our borehole communities, to bring other life sustaining and improving assistance. Seeing the children that we’ve helped grow and flourish is always such a reward. Also, working with students across the world as our partners is also a huge success. We are not only changing lives, but we are also changing the minds and hearts for our world’s future leaders.