On December 8th, 1996, Most Reverend Bishop Jean Marie, Founder of Fraternite Notre Dame, founded our Mission in Niger, a vast, landlocked country in West Africa, of which three quarters are occupied by the desert that encroaches each year a little further over the land.
In this dry country suffering from many ailments, food deficiency is a recurrent problem, the rate of infant and mother mortality is among the highest in the world, the percentage of children, and especially girls, who receive full-time education is very low. Poverty has spread all over, access to water remains a daily problem, malaria continues to cause havoc, especially among children. The religious Friars and Nuns, Servants and Handmaids of Our Lady, go first to bring to this misery the smile of the Immaculate Mother of God and witness with our Muslim brothers, a majority in Niger, to the merciful love of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer.
In Niamey, Fraternite Notre Dame's Mission is located in the area of Banifandou II, a working class district in the suburbs, where many poor and destitute families are living.
Thus, the Servants and Handmaids of Our Lady dedicate themselves at the service of children living in difficult family situations: orphans, children born to mentally ill mothers or to young single mothers.
For these little ones who, since the first hours of their life, did not get a chance of knowing their own parents and sharing a family life with them, the religious friars and nuns created a home where they all live as brothers and sisters in a big family: the family of Our Lady of Frechou.
Many of our little protégés arrive, at just a few hours, days or weeks of age, some of them weigh really little, born premature or babies with malformations, and they need special care. With God's help, they very quickly recover to become quite lively and healthy babies. Well known from the Health Department, Fraternite Notre Dame's Orphanage is a center of reference and even pediatricians do not hesitate to send orphan babies to the Sisters.
Whenever possible, the Sisters suggest that an aunt or grandmother keep the child and in compensation, they support the family with infant formula, baby food, clothing, they also deal with medical care and, for some of them, the education of the child. At the moment, 200 children benefit from this support, most of them are babies. Each day, it is not rare to see 5 or 6 orphan babies brought to the Mission, in need of help.
Some cases are terrible: for instance, this mother who came with four-month-old twins, one of them weighed only four pounds; or little Safia, 9 months of age, weighing only 7 pounds. Some nutritious support helped these children and many others to recover quickly.
Today, when a child suffers from malnutrition, word of mouth starts working and the Health Services agent says: "go to the Fraternite Notre Dame Sisters."
Needy families also receive food assistance. Last summer, when the food crisis was so alarming, we were able to provide food support to 200 persons, thanks to the help of our benefactors.
At the forefront of these families stand the lepers who still fall victims to a disease that casts them out of society; among them, we can see young, single mothers who, unfortunately, are too quickly condemned and rejected by their family and by society.
To these young mothers, the Sisters and Friars of Fraternite Notre Dame not only bring in-kind support, but also moral and spiritual assistance, in order to prevent them from falling into despair and committing any act against nature, such as infanticide (still very frequent, unfortunately) or abandonment. They are many, these young mothers who have kept their child and who, today, are studying or working while keeping their child.
For more than 9 years, Fraternite Notre Dame's medical center has been providing health care to most destitute persons, but also to regular patients. Since we opened, more than 95,000 persons were given health care in our facility.
Today, the dispensary has become a Clinic, working 24/7, acknowledged by the Health Department and offering general medicine; prenatal screening; gynecology; pediatrics consultations and vaccinations for children.
A laboratory with the necessary equipment, a ultrasound device, an x-ray machine about to be installed allow the population to have access to health care in their immediate vicinity at low cost. In Niger, health care is usually very expensive and many patients die because they cannot afford medical treatment. In Banifandou neighborhood, the Clinic truly represents a breath of fresh air, and many patients come from other areas of Niamey.
In 2003, 'Myriam of Nazareth' School opened its doors to 14 students. Since then, the number did never stop growing and in 2009, we opened 6th grade, and in 2010, 7th grade. In this country, where the percentage of children who receive full-time education is a challenge and remains very low, the lack of infrastructure and equipment is crucial, the absence of well-trained teachers is terrible; the opening of a school where solid teaching is given became paramount. Most Reverend Bishop Jean Marie very well understood the importance of educating the youth.
In 2010, the Japanese Cooperation financed the construction of 5 classrooms, which now allows us to welcome more students, and in better conditions. Myriam of Nazareth School has good references and success at exams can testify to it.
The truth is, many things remain to be done to help those who suffer in their body and in their heart. Many projects are yet to be implemented, like the construction of a separate building for boys (already in progress), a center for the recovery of malnourished children and a maternity.
As many projects that will show those who suffer in their heart or in their body the smile of the Immaculate One and the all-merciful Love of Our Lord Jesus Christ.