With a new food crisis looming in West Africa, Stephen Pattison of
UNICEF UK's media team is in Niger to witness UNICEF's vital work to
prevent child malnutrition.
Today was a day that was dominated by children. This might sound odd because I'm here working to tell the story of vulnerable, malnourished children. It's just that the children we've been meeting have been young and almost always in hospital or with their parents in a clinic. Today they were noisy, excited and all around us.
We made two visits to see the same family and they very kindly agreed to talk about why they had moved to the capital. The father, Oumarou, was a farmer but this year's harvest only brought in enough food for three weeks. He had moved to Niamey to seek work hauling things by donkey and cart. His son had never been to school and he had a very young daughter.
A settlement on the outskirts of Niger's capital. Families move to the city when food runs out. © UNICEF/Niger/Stephen Pattison
It was a strong story as a new report here has shown that nearly half of the food insecure families in Niger now live in urban areas. This in a country where over 80 per cent of the population is rural. UNICEF is very concerned and we're working with the government to tackle this.
We returned later in the afternoon to film and by this time there were a lot more children around; curious excited and full of energy. The problem was that they all wanted to be on camera. When you're trying to film an interview and scene shots this isn't great. The only way to resolve this was by mass distraction through our own cameras.
My colleague Chris and his camera were very popular! © UNICEF/Niger/Stephen Pattison
So began a great game of offering to take pictures and video in return for the children being quiet during the interview and not rushing the main cameraman. There were local staff there who could manage the interview, but the children were interested in us.
If you take pictures all the time, though, you risk your own stampede and also quickly losing novelty value. So my colleague Chris and I quickly learned the importance of only taking and showing pictures in return for good behaviour - a game the children also really enjoyed. Fingers on lips and a big 'SHHHH' was followed by the reward of a photo or video.
We weren't always successful though and the most wonderful moment though was when the children realised the main cameraman was on the roof of a house filming and ran en masse singing and cartwheeling across the sand hoping to be in his shot.
When photos and video finally became normal it was time to try and learn everyone's name. This was made confusing by the fact that about six to eight of the boys were called Ibrahim. They couldn't say Chris's name but could say mine, which led to a certain satisfaction.
My final reflection is on the value of life in many ways. We are working with a journalist and as part of a briefing today I mentioned that the family we were going to meet had lost eight children. He was genuinely taken aback by this. I continued to say that the family had a fatalistic attitude in many ways placing the future of their three month old in the hands of God. This came from translation and briefing but he immediately called me up on this point. He was clear that the loss of a child is always a terrible experience regardless of the outward face we put on it.
He was right, which is why our work to prevent a disaster here is so critical.
Stephen Pattison is Senior Media Officer at UNICEF UK
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