My life was a nightmare
The story of Myriama is a typical one, where people - through no fault of their own - are experiencing hardship but are trying their hardest to overcome it. These people often only need a little push in the right direction - like the availability of affordable eggs to make omelets from. And that’s the kind of impact BIO is looking for.
I was born in a village in the area of Tillabery, South Niger. When I was four, my aunt took me to live with her family in Maradi. For the longest time, I believed my aunt was my mother. It was hell. My uncle was a policeman. He used to tie me to a tree before beating me with his belt.
For all intents and purposes, I was working as a house servant. All the household chores were for me.
When I was ten years old, my grandmother paid us a visit. She cried when she saw the situation. She gave me my birth certificate, explained to me who my real mother was, and enrolled me in school. Thanks to her, I can now speak French.
But after a few years, I had to go back to my aunt to work as a servant. It was horrible! I mean, who would ask a child to go out at 2 AM to buy you something, and send it back out when it returned empty-handed?
I started to run away. All my teenage years were devoted to this: escaping. I dragged myself from one family to another. Some of them were nice to me, others horrific.
I married a Belgian prison escapee
Finally, I grew up. I became a free woman, working in a small restaurant in the capital Niamey. I attracted a lot of Europeans because I was really slender. I married a Belgian man. He was nice to me and didn’t want me to work. He paid everything for me. We had two daughters together. But in 2007, I discovered that, actually, he had escaped from a Belgian prison. We argued about this. I wanted him to go back to jail to finish his sentence. How do you get your children to be legitimate if your husband is on the run? He didn’t want to turn himself in, so we got divorced and he went to Cameroon. There he was arrested and now he’s back in jail. We call him every month.
After my divorce I was alone with my kids. We had nothing. I got a job as a housemaid to Europeans, but to have a stable life, I was obliged to find a new husband. I married a Tuareg from Agadez. We had a daughter together, but we divorced after five years. My life with him really was like a nightmare.
I was still with the Tuareg when I opened my store. I had no choice because with him, I had to pay for the kids and for my clothes. I sell food products and I offer lunch at noon. I cook African meals; rice with sauce, millet paste with black sauce and so on. I focus on rice because it is easy to sell every day.
In the past, I have tried to sell omelettes. It was a success. So much so that I had no more time left to prepare other types of food. In Niamey, you can find eggs from Niger, but they are more expensive. Most people use eggs from Ghana or Nigeria. They are cheaper, but of low quality. Also, hygiene during transport is not good. Sometimes, children get sick and we don’t even know what kind of disease they have.
Through a friend I came into contact with a Belgian businessman setting up a new egg farm in Niamey, called Avi Niger. I think it’s a great idea. If it succeeds, it will be good for the people of the region.
People don’t starve, but they are hungry
In the capital city Niamey, it’s fairly easy to find some food. But in the countryside, life is much more difficult. This year is particularly hard for the villagers because there is not enough grass for the cattle. A lot of animals are sold at a very low price. I try to help by sending all my potato peels to the countryside. The herdsmen use it to feed the sheep, the goats and the cows.
In the villages, people eat what they have grown during the rainy season: millet and beans. As they don’t have money, they trade the beans for other food. In Niger people don’t starve, but they are hungry, and they are lacking vitamins. Every day we eat rice, even for breakfast. I am working and living in Niamey, but there are months when my daughters and I don’t eat any fruit.
The fight goes on
For now, every time I get some money, I go to Nigeria to buy merchandise. In Niger the prices are very steep, and I cannot find what I need. I purchase everything in Nigeria: oil, biscuits, rice, clothes for my family, shoes, even earrings.
Soon, I hope, I will be able to enlarge my store in order to sell more products and to make it more beautiful and attractive.
I really wish I have a long life, so that one day, I could go to Europe and find a good job. I will work very hard and then I will be able to help the poor people here. But I will never send money. Sending money doesn’t help the children in Africa. It just supports the rich. My plan is to stock everything that European people don’t want anymore, and to distribute it here. I will order a notebook, so I can prove where every franc has gone.
Myriama is a small shop owner and restaurateur. She looks forward to eggs that are locally produced rather than imported from abroad.
Read our most recent impact stories
BIO has given a USD 12 M loan to Pact Global Microfinance Fund, a Myanmarese MFI with a specific focus on female entrepreneurs. Daw San San Win and Daw Ky Htay are clients of PGMF. This is their story.
In trying to conciliate our aspirations with the harsh reality, BIO is confronted with dilemmas almost every day, especially concerning the environmental, social and governance aspects of investments.
BIO has invested USD 7 M in equity in Agri-Vie II, a specialized food & agribusiness investment fund active in Sub-Sahara Africa. They have invested in Marginpar Group. Mr Richard Fernandes is the CEO of Marginpar Group, formerly Kariki. This is his story.