May 12, 2015

I Lived Mad Men

By Barbara Goldberg

This week, when I was interviewed by Mother Love on LA Talk Radio, she asked me how I got into my first career, advertising. I told her that my best friend in high school had a father who knew someone high up at a Madison Avenue ad agency and he was going to get her a job there.  That never happened but it planted a seed in my head: advertising sounded very glamorous—a place to be.  It sure was.

As I was watching Mad Men last week, with only two more shows to go, I was astounded to realize how closely they re-created the very exciting world of advertising. It was the perfect backdrop to depict individual angst and the search for meaning in life.

Last week’s episode depicted the agency, Sterling, Cooper, merging with the industry giant Mc Erickson, where I had worked during same period in New York. I watched, wide-eyed as they mentioned “Carl, the associate creative director.” That was my friend and colleague, Carl Abrams, who held that title.  Then they rattled off a few of McCann’s clients, NCR, Hilton International, all of whom were my clients at McCann!  Matthew Weiner must be commended for portraying the accuracy of that time and place.  Too bad he didn’t call me to consult for the show!

Mad Men aficionados will recall that when Sterling, Cooper announced the merger of their agency with McCann Erickson, there were moans and groans from the Creative department. That’s because McCann, being the largest ad agency in the world at the time, was not known for brilliant creative work. Unlike Doyle, Dane and Bernbach and Ogilvy & Mather who were known for innovative and memorable ad campaigns, McCann was run by “the suits,” the account executives who “managed” the clients. That meant taking them out to the best restaurants in town for their famous three martini lunches. I learned quickly that you never tried to plan a meeting with these guys in the afternoon— you’d find them with heads on their desks, out cold.

There was a vicious scene in last week’s episode of “Mad Men” when Joan, who rose to become a successful account executive with her own clients, challenged the top management of McCann. She was crushed, brutally, and even though she walked away with half a million dollars (that’s1970 dollars!), all that she had worked for fizzled. While that scenario likely came out of Matthew Weiner’s head, it was completely in character with the mentality of that agency. Women were not held in high regard.

How did I get to a lofty position of Research Director as a 26-year-old woman?  It’s not what you think. More to come on that...

April 27, 2015

NGO’S Must Choose Carefully Who They Get into Bed With

By: Barbara Goldberg

Someone who recently found out about our cause posed this question: "What are the politics and priorities of the government of Niger?" It's an excellent question because many governments in the developing world are corrupt and notoriously guilty of siphoning off aid funds to enrich their own bank accounts. Some, like Nigeria, do little to ensure the safety of their people.

So what can we say about Niger, the country where Wells Bring Hope works exclusively?

  • It is a democracy and dedicated to preventing Boko Haram from making any inroads into their country.
  • It is part of a West African coalition helping the Nigerian government on wiping out Boko Haram.
  • Since it is the poorest country in the world, the government has limited resources to help its people and so it falls to NGO's like us to help deliver basic human services like safe water. The government greatly values our work and cooperates at all levels.
  • Several years ago, there was a coup because the president liked being in office and even though his term was up, he was determined to stay. They threw him out.
  • From what I know, it is far less corrupt than other African nations, particularly Nigeria which is known for its corruption. Is it immune from corruption? I think not. But neither is our government!

April 24, 2015

What you don’t know about Africa

By Barbara Goldberg

Most of us know little about the continent of Africa, and particularly how it compares to the rest of the world. Take a look at 8 maps that will change the way you look at Africa.

See how the world would look if it was measured by its wealth. Read how modern slavery is defined and where it is concentrated. See the dramatic difference between North and South Africa.

Snapshots of the planet at night from NASA reveal the energy poverty of Africa compared to the rest of the world. And, as you'll read, energy poverty translates to poor health care, stifled economic growth, toxic fumes, limited or no education, and a lack of safety. This, we know and have seen first-hand in our visits to Niger. Take a look at these maps. It's an eye-opener!

April 20, 2015

Can you imagine…?

By Barbara Goldberg

On April 13th CBS NEWS featured this: “Woman walks Paris marathon with bucket on head.”

It featured a Gambian woman, Siabatou Sanneh, who wore a sandwich board that said, "In Africa women walk this distance each day for drinking water" as she carried a jerrycan of water on her head while walking the route of the 39th Paris Marathon in Paris, on April 12, 2015, to raise awareness for the cause of charity "Water for Africa."

Sanneh used the 39th Paris Marathon as a platform to bring awareness to the plight of women in her homeland and on behalf of the charity Water for Africa.  She and her two daughters walk eight kilometers, or five miles every day with a bucket containing 20 liters of water, weighing about 44 lbs. This is what the women who Wells Bring Hope serves in Niger do everyday day of their lives—they walk 4-6 miles carrying 40-50 lbs. of water.

On our most recent trip to Niger we learned something new and unbearably heart-breaking. On previous trips, we sought out women who had lost children due to contaminated water, wanting to talk with them to better understand the depth of this tragedy.

What we didn’t know until now is this: it is not unusual for pregnant women to miscarry because of the physically-demanding work of walking miles while carrying water. A month ago, I met women who experienced this—more to follow on their sad stories.

I also didn’t know that after a woman delivers a baby, in three days she is back out there walking to get water. Can you imagine?

April 15, 2015

Economic Development for Women in Niger: A Success Story

By Barbara Goldberg

I’m happy to report that Wells Bring Hope’s water projects in Niger are all going well, all fully operational, putting an end to death and disease from contaminated water. 328 wells have been funded with four more to come within the week.

Although you may have read about incursions into Niger by the Boko Haram a few months ago, the military successfully pushed them back. Niger is committed, along with neighboring countries, Chad and Cameroon, to eradicating them, not only in their own country but in northern Nigeria too. The area impacted was in the far southeastern part of Niger, where we do not have any wells. Our wells and partners on the ground have not been affected, except for the heightened security measures that were put in place about a year ago. This meant that wherever we traveled, we were accompanied by 10 armed guards from the Nigerien military.

What excited me most on this trip to Niger was the phenomenal  success of the economic development program for women that we helped to set up with our partner, World Vision, 2 ½ years ago. It is designed to educate women in an environment where they can be supported and are able to support each other in learning how to start and run a small business. After women no longer have to walk miles to carry water, they want to work and earn money. However, they lack the skills and resources to accomplish that. The vehicle for making this happen is the “savings group.”

Here’s how it works: about 25 women in a given village come together and form a savings group. They typically meet once a week and a World Vision facilitator works to educate them on business “basics”. Each woman contributes a small amount of money to their “bank” and they take turns making loans to each other.

In just a matter of months, the savings groups show results, with women starting their own small businesses, selling food they cook, raising vegetables, animals and more. The pay-back rate is 100%!

We listened to many success stories, but obviously the greatest triumph is that these women are able to provide economic security for their family where in the past they were always struggling for survival.

There are strong psychological benefits for these women: they are truly transformed, feeling successful, accomplished, proud and confident in their own abilities for the first time in their lives. It is evident in the way in which they hold themselves and speak.

What fascinated us was how marriages become true partnerships, with the women’s contribution helping take the burden off their husbands to support the family. Some of us hypothesized that maybe the men resented the success of their wives, but quite the opposite is true—they feel relieved and greatly appreciate what their wives are doing.

As marital relationships improve, the kids are happier too and feel so proud of their mom’s accomplishments. These mothers serve as role models for their girls who want to do the same when they grow up, and many of the older ones had started helping their mothers after school. The sons want their future wives to do exactly the same as their mothers are doing. Thus, the examples set by these women will serve to end the downward spiral of poverty and continue to very quickly transform lives for generations to come.

We felt proud too, that we helped make this program happen and continue to support it to bring about lasting change in the lives of the people of rural Niger.

April 13, 2015

Around the World in 31 days!

By Barbara Goldberg

I shouldn’t complain. I did a “dream” vacation to Raja Ampat, a remote area in northern Indonesia, flying west from Los Angeles, where, at your toe tips, is the best snorkeling and diving in the world. I spent 11 days on a 120ft boat with a small group and several times a day we plunged into a fantasy world of crystal clear water, pristine corals and exotic fish. After six days more of floating around in another paradise, North Sulawesi, it was time to get myself to Niger.

Getting to Niger from Singapore is NOT something I’d want to do again. After over-nighting in Singapore, I began a hopscotch journey—first to Frankfurt, then backtracking to Istanbul and finally into Niger at 11 pm more than one day later.   The good news—none of my flights were late, the bad—a couple of long layovers. 

Upon my arrival in Niger, I found out that our youngest team member, 18 year old Kate McEvilly was still en route. Due to a tight connection, she missed a flight, resulting in a 55 hour agonizing journey to get to Niger. We welcomed her with open arms and a soft bed to catch up on her zzzz’s.  Kate was a trouper, given that this was her first trip to Africa and the developing world. What a start!!

In a forgotten era, Niger was under control of the French, and so every morning our breakfast buffet included fresh baked croissants, addictive French bread, and the freshest-tasting yogurt, not to mention the scrumptious cheese! We even took some “to go,” much to the dismay of the waiters.

No one goes to Niger as a tourist, unless you are French and going to the very picturesque northern desert. However, since some kidnappings of French tourists a few years ago, even they have stopped coming.

There is only one other tourist site worth seeing in Niger: a giraffe preserve. On previous trips we had no time to visit and the wistful joke between us was, “maybe next time we’ll get to the giraffe park!” We had no hope this year since we’d be traveling with armed guards and they are expensive. However, we had a free day before our work in the field was scheduled to begin and our World Vision partners surprised us with a visit.

Unlike game preserves in other parts of Africa, there was nobody there, not one vehicle or tourist. For many years, theses giraffes competed with the local villagers for food and so their numbers dwindled. In the 19th century, thousands of them lived in West Africa, from Mauritania to Niger. Twenty years ago, fewer than 50 remained because of hunting, deforestation and development and they were heading for extinction.
However, thanks to efforts by the Nigerien government, the herd has come back to about 300 in this game preserve alone! They hang out in an area of about 40 square miles, although they have 650 square miles to roam. 

With the help of our guide, we found them quickly and they didn’t run from us even when we moved as they moved, grazing at one tree or another. We were mesmerized as they ambled slowly on their way, stopping to nuzzle each other, sometimes necks intertwined. The simple, child-like pleasure of watching animals was a very peaceful start to the intensity of the week that was to come.

April 9, 2015

What Matters Is Sustainability

By Kelsey Miller

Poverty in Africa has been a concern of the international community for a long time. For many years, governments, NGOs and global citizen’s energies centered around providing food, water, and shelter through the giving of monetary gifts or tangible products to help people survive. But, while providing access to these essential needs is important for many African communities, giving these things is not the solution for eradicating their poverty.

When any given aid runs out, those problems still exist and those on the receiving end are left in the exact same predicament. Thus, these communities become dependent upon the provisions given to them by the international community. When those who provided the aid see no tangible improvement in the lives of recipients, they can become disenchanted with their mission.

It takes a more comprehensive approach to providing aid to ensure lasting change in quality of life, or sustainability of any project designed to help people in the developing world. Accordingly, addressing structural inequalities and insecurities through aid relief, but with an emphasis on sustainable solutions, makes these countries independent from the developed world. In essence, sustainability means meeting the present needs of those in poverty but it also aims to create manageable processes of productivity, which will guarantee the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The mission and activities of Wells Bring Hope focus on not merely drilling wells but to ensure sustainability and create an atmosphere to promote long-term success on many levels. Niger, where WBH works exclusively, is the poorest country in the world and suffers from chronic water scarcity issues; 61% of rural residents have no access to clean water while 98% lack access to basic sanitation. 

In sub-Saharan Africa, 80% of wells end up failing due to poor technology or construction, lack of rural community involvement and lack of follow up.  To avoid such an outcome, Wells Bring Hope gives oversight of the wells to the community, but, only after it provides both the tools and knowledge for them to do that. By effectively addressing this one main component, i.e. water, it enables the people on their own to take control of their future.

In villages where there is no access to water, girls will often have to walk 4-6 miles a day to get water for their families. When a well was installed at the high school in the village of Simiri CEG, the lives of girls in particular were improved because they did not have to walk miles to retrieve water and thus could actually go school and become educated. In a country where few children go beyond primary school, the Simiri CEG students are now thriving due to access to water.

While giving money and tangible things like food can be a great short-term relief mechanism, sustainability creates conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony. As shown through Wells Bring Hope's success, this sustainable solution empowers villages in Niger to make greater strides in lifting themselves from poverty by fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.

April 8, 2015


By Danielle Johnson

Schistosomiasis (SCH) is one neglected tropical disease (NTD) endemic in Niger. SCH ranks second, only to malaria, as the most common parasitic disease and is the most deadly NTD, killing an estimated 280,000 people each year in Africa alone. Worldwide, more than 207 million people are infected, with approximately 85% of all cases found in Sub-Saharan Africa.

People become infected with SCH after coming into contact with water contaminated with schistosome parasites while bathing or swimming in fresh water, or while performing chores, such as washing laundry or fetching water. Access to safe water and improved sanitation significantly reduces the likelihood of exposure and transmission, as SCH is spread by the practice of open defecation and the subsequent exposure to contaminated bodies of water.

Complications and symptoms of SCH are a result of the body’s reaction to the parasites’ eggs, which can build up in the intestine or bladder, causing inflammation or scarring. The parasites’ eggs can damage the bladder and kidneys which often results in painful urination, blood in the urine and abdominal pain. Damage to the liver can make the abdomen swell and protrude, resulting in a classic sign of infection. Chronic SCH increases the risk of bladder cancer and can lead to irreversible infertility. In children, infection can cause anemia, malnutrition and learning difficulties.

The medication Praziquantel can be used to effectively control the disease, and costs roughly 8 cents per tablet. Safe water, adequate sanitation and snail control enhance the control of transmission in endemic areas, like Niger.

Most people understand that access to safe water and improved sanitation will make communities healthier. Few, however, understand how dangerous unsafe water and poor sanitation can be. Unsafe water kills 1.4 million people a year – 90% are children. 80% of all childhood disease in the developing world can be linked to unsafe water and poor sanitation.

Water is life. Water is health. Every day, close to 1,600 children die from diarrhea caused by unsafe water, poor sanitation and improper hygiene – more than from AIDS and malaria combined. Wells Bring Hope is working to change these staggering statistics, one well at a time. The World Health Organization has reported that no other humanitarian intervention produces a more dramatic effect on life than access to safe water and sanitation.

(Photo Credit: Global Network Neglected Tropical Disease)

April 6, 2015

Newborns, Dirty Hands and Contaminated Water

By Danielle Johnson

The health benefits of securing access to safe water and improved sanitation are well studied and clearly understood; the impact of safe water extends far beyond simply having clean water to drink.  The many challenges created by a lack of access resonate through practically all aspects of everyday life and can present difficulties one may not initially consider. In just one example, without safe water and improved sanitation, mothers and their newborns face dangerous circumstances during and after delivery.

According to the WHO, only 24% of births in rural Niger are attended by a skilled healthcare professional. Women in rural communities most often deliver their babies at home where access to safe water and sanitation is extremely limited. Nearly 70% of Niger’s rural population lack access to safe water sources. This means the most basic act of hand washing to limit the spread of germs and infection during a delivery becomes a real challenge. The staggering dangers of delivering outside of a medical clinic, and in the absence of a medical professional, are even further compounded by a lack of access to safe water. Furthermore, 98% of people living in rural Niger have no access to sanitation, which means new mothers are forced to relieve themselves outside.

If they are fortunate enough to have extra water for their delivery, but must rely on an unsafe source, mothers are forced to wash their newborns and themselves with contaminated water which can spread disease and cause infection. The effects of unhygienic practices and infection after delivery have lasting and devastating effects, causing maternal death up to 6 weeks after delivery. Newborns, in particular, are susceptible to disease and infection which can lead to deadly sepsis. It’s not surprising that infant mortality drops by up to 70% in villages where WBH drills a well.

With more than seven children born to each Nigerien woman, these statistics add up.  The WHO reports that approximately 37% of deaths among women of reproductive age are due to maternal causes. Niger is among the world’s top 15 countries with the worst maternal mortality rates, with one-third of maternal deaths occurring among girls between the ages of 15-19.

Sadly, the Millennium Development Goals designed to decrease maternal mortality rates are far from being realized, giving credence to the claim that women and children suffer the most under conditions of extreme poverty. This is why WASH deserves a front row seat in the formulation of the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. A worthwhile start to this conversation should include an exploration of how to provide mothers and newborns critical access to safe water for delivery and postpartum care, an incredibly basic yet essential aspect of ensuring the health and survival of mothers and newborns in low income countries


March 30, 2015

Why Boko Haram Didn’t Stop Me

By Barbara Goldberg

When you’re president of a safe water nonprofit that works exclusively in rural Niger, West Africa, and a visit is due, you plan the trip. When you’re assured ahead of time by your trusted partner, the large, security-conscious humanitarian organization, World Vision, that it’s safe to go, you don’t think twice.

But when Boko Haram crossed the border from Nigeria into Niger just a few weeks before my scheduled departure, I should have thought twice. I didn’t. Not even when my family and friends begged me to re-consider. I knew that the outbreak of fighting was far away from where we’d be and our partner assured us that I was correct in that assessment.  I also knew that our small team of four women would be traveling with ten armed guards from the Nigerien military, with serious weapons and very serious faces. They protected our perimeter, wherever we went, whenever we moved. That never happened on previous visits to Niger which began in just six years ago. We walked the public markets freely, feeling no threat to our personal safety. Sadly, we were not allowed to do that on this trip.

Scary, huh. What was 73 year old woman doing in a place like this? Someone formerly from Park Avenue and now Bel Air going into remote African villages? It wasn’t exactly part of my life plan. Not something I envisioned doing in what are supposedly my retirement years. (I never retired.)

Back to the country of Niger. It’s strange to think that people working as an armed escort, up close and personal, are risking their lives to protect you. After two days, I felt compelled to thank them, not only for protecting us but for so much more. I told them that in our country, the newspapers reported on the terrorist activities of Boko Haram about once a week. The Niger military has committed to keeping them out of its country, to driving them out of the eastern villages that they recently occupied. I told them, “I know you’re doing this for the security of your country but, in reality, you are fighting for all of us--countries around the world who are threatened by random and unprovoked acts of terrorism on innocent people, many of them children. We all owe you a huge debt of gratitude.

So, did I feel at risk? Was I at risk? Not at the beginning. On the third day, unbeknownst to me, we were in an area of high risk. And we had stayed for too long. Long enough for word to have gotten out that foreigners were in the area and perhaps a good target. Our security team was uncomfortable, and so we left—abruptly. As we passed military checkpoints on our long drives to visit remote villages, we realized that this was a country on alert to attack—a country carefully monitoring the comings and goings along a road linked to Nigeria in the south. I hope that Boko Haram is wiped out in West Africa and especially Niger. The people in the rural villages live in dire poverty and have enough hardship in their daily lives, especially if they live without safe water.

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