This January, I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Mali and Niger to monitor the implementation and progress of various Muslim Hands projects. I accompanied a group of my colleagues from the UK and France and together we were able to see the impact of our work on the ground.
Mali and Niger are beautiful countries with diverse populations, rich traditions, cultures, and languages. They also hold complicated histories of war, colonialism, and conflict. My visit to each country enabled me to contextualize the headlines and reports I’d read beforehand. It is easy to read about events in distant places and feel disconnected from the everyday realities of people confronted with these challenges. Meeting the beneficiaries of our water wells, orphan sponsorship program, vocational training, and many other projects, provided me with a deeper perspective on the impact of this work. Access to clean water, medical care, education, and a means of livelihood may seem simple but these are critical elements of development.
The most impactful aspect of my trip was the opportunity to hear the stories of so many women. I was able to meet with women doctors, midwives, residents of refugee camps, and widowed mothers. Although they all come from varying circumstances, the common thread is resilience and the possibilities that arise with opportunity.
A majority of the projects I observed on the ground are sustainable and ultimately intended to increase the capacity of individuals and their families beyond immediate relief. I understood the need to learn from local women and beneficiaries when establishing programming and providing support.
They have invaluable knowledge and expertise in relation to the needs of their communities. This was most evident when we spoke with widowed mothers who attend sewing classes at our vocational training centers and recipients of Hope Shops. They shared their stories with us and expressed the ways such opportunities will enable them to increase their income and support their families for years to come.