A Letter from Jim and Jodi McGill, serving in Niger and South Sudan
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As everyone is too well aware, the world has become a different place since our last letter. The PC(USA) has called all Mission Co-workers back to the US. However, Niger had already closed its borders and its international airport, so we remain in Niamey, which is also closed to travel into and out of the city except for approved reasons. Niger has only had a total of 570 cases since the first case on 19th March, with a current average of about 50 per day. The numbers are artificially low due to insufficient testing ability and fear of testing but certainly nowhere near the numbers in the U.S. and other countries. Social distancing is preached but not practiced very well, but gratefully we are currently only seeing individuals and not entire communities falling ill from the virus.
School by “Distance Learning” has begun after a two-week Easter break. Jodi is taking our four children to her empty nursing school to have some semblance of “real school” and where there is a generator so they can at least continue to have ceiling fans going during the frequent power outages.
Before the shutdown of the city, Jim was able to survey Mailo, the site of the new Bible College, with his co-worker, Ayouba Jadi, to determine water solutions. After visiting Mailo, Jim and Ayouba visited Dogondoutchi, which is near Mailo, with Michael Ludwig and the Community Health Evangelism (CHE) director, Pastor Issa Harouna. Four very enthusiastic CHE Evangelists were trained during the week on how to improve sanitation in their communities and to make slabs for both adult and children’s latrines.
Dogondoutchi is also where we are finishing a Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) latrine for the girls and a latrine with urinals for the boys. Unfortunately, the ending day of the training was the same day that the government enacted the border closures, so we had to leave the latrine work for post-virus times.
Our plan is to call community leaders and/or heads of households, focusing on women, to come in individually or in pairs to first practice how to implement the methods of prevention when they go into their communities, and they will become informal trainers. There is messaging related to protecting oneself from the virus on radio and television. When you call someone on the phone, instead of hearing a ring, you are reminded of the COVID-19 safety actions. But, discussion and application on how to apply those messages in the settings in which people actually live is the challenge. The pastor of the Congregation will work with the SMART Centre staff of 1 (we are just beginning) in this training, and will also distribute a COVID-19 package which will include very simple and replicable (SMART) handwashing stations with soap, as well as water filters for families and community-made masks that the trainee can then distribute to their neighbors. This less-than-traditional training method is different from how we usually interject interventions within communities, but we must remain innovative to keep ourselves and all the people we serve and work with as safe as possible while delivering supportive messages and protective measures to all within our community.
When the government of Niger closed all educational facilities, whether private or public, the nursing school had one week left to complete its first semester. We counted the break as part of their spring break and are now working out methods to use WhatsApp to send and receive information and have some group interactions. Our plan is to complete the remaining hours of classes and begin the second semester in the same manner, until schools are allowed to open again. Of course, this means that the students’ practical experiences in the lab and clinic sites will be delayed, but later is better than never.
Please pray for leadership for the school since this crisis has also made it difficult to look for any replacement for Jodi. We ask your prayers for those working in WASH, as handwashing interventions in communities that prevent the virus from spreading, places them in similar situations to health care professionals who treat those who have become ill.
We continue to plan to return to the U.S. early June 2020 for our itineration term and look forward to seeing many of you during the months we are there. A friend has offered to help us coordinate our visits, for which we are very grateful. If you are interested, please send an email to us at email@example.com AND copy Hugh Morgan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jim and Jodi
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