Marième brightens up Mauritanian desert

Published: 29 July 2003 0:00 CET

Richard Gens in Choum

The road to the village of Choum, on Mauritania’s border with Western Sahara, is long and arduous. The corpses of camels that have died of thirst line the route through the desert region of Adrar.

But it is worth it. For on arrival, you are greeted by Marième’s smile. Two years without a drop of rain have not shaken her confidence and her hope for a better future.

Marième Mint Maayif is 72 years of age, but she is not prepared to sit back and relax with her 30 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. There is much work for this Red Crescent volunteer to do.

The livestock, the only source of revenue for local residents, no longer provides enough milk to feed the children.

Once a week, a tanker lorry fills up the village’s water reservoir, and everyone receives a ration to ensure survival.

In 1986, a regional representative of the health ministry came to Choum with the intention of training a traditional midwife. Marième was chosen.

As a result of her training, she also became familiar with the food programme. So with the assistance of the chief medical officer in the regional capital, Atar, and of the Mauritanian Red Crescent, she set up a feeding centre for 50 children.

That led her to work closely with the Italian Red Cross, which completed her training and gave regular donations to her institution, which goes from strength to strength. Marième’s assistant has opened a second feeding centre and another is in the process of being established.

But Marième refuses to rest on her laurels. She has now opened a literacy centre for children and adults. A volunteer teacher gives an hour of lessons every day.

The presence of Marième’s Italian Red Cross-funded feeding centre was a key factor in Choum being selected as one of the communities targeted by an International Federation emergency appeal, launched in February. The village had already been recognized as “highly vulnerable” by Mauritania’s Food Security Commission.

With the help of the Italian and French Red Cross and the Mauritanian Red Crescent, the Federation is strengthening the centre and using it as a base from which to launch food distributions. People like Marième will play a crucial role as they are familiar with who the most vulnerable members of the community are.

Related Links:

Mauritania: appeals, updates and reports
Mauritania: drought and food security emergency appeal
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