Family on Focus: Niger


Mr. Serge Xavier Oga reflects on the impact that Western Culture is having on traditional family life in Niger.

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Mr. Serge Xavier Ogo pictured with his wife and two children.


My name is Serge Xavier Oga. I have been working as a Logistics and Safety manager at a refugee camp in Diffa town since October 2017. Diffa sits right on the border with north-eastern Nigeria and not far from the ever shrinking Lake Chad. This whole region has been greatly affected by Boko Haram. I work for the Spanish NGO ‘Accion Contra el Hambre’ [Action Against Hunger].

Life for the families in the refugee camp is very tough. Accion Contra el Hambre provides food, shelter and sometimes money. However, what is provided is not enough to meet the needs of every man, woman and child but each person receives just enough to keep them going.

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Women and children fetch water from a borehole at the Gudumariya Refugee Camp, Diffa. Source: Yahoo.

I believe that a family from the neighbouring Maiduguri Diocese [Nigeria] will attend the World Meeting of Families in Ireland. Maiduguri is only 240km from Diffa and we have a few families from that diocese in Diffa. There are about 50 people attending the Catholic Church in Diffa town. Niger is predominately a Muslim country [over 80% of the total population].

I am a long way from my home! My family live in the city of Miradi which is over 700km (9 hours by road) from Diffa. It is the biggest country in West Africa in terms of area. However, over 80% of Niger’s land area lies within the Sahara Desert. Most of the 21 million inhabitants of this country live in the extreme south and west.

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Source: www.worldatlas.com.

 

The word for family in our native Hausa language is ‘Iyaly’. I have 3 sisters and 2 brothers.

What does family mean to me? In our country, family is the place where the human person is born and receives the keys to life: education, knowledge, wisdom and rules. They also receive the imprint or traditions of our society which are handed down generation after generation. These include how to speak in public, how to greet an older person, how to express oneself and how to be a just person. Family is our healing and life school.

Here family doesn’t mean father, mother and children. In Niger Republic, family has a very wide definition. It includes the nuclear family (mother, father and children), the extended family (grandparents, uncles, aunts, ‘in-laws’ etc.) and the local community or persons who live in your area.

Grandparents in Niger make a significant contribution to the family education system. Generally, grandmothers take care of instilling family values ​​to girls, and grandfathers take care of boys' education. Often children are left to grandparents when biological parents travel to the city in search of jobs. In case of the death of the biological parents, the elders have the responsibility to educate and provide food to the small children.

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Source: www.maps.com

 

What are the big family issues in Niger? I think they are the same across the whole world. The challenges are how to manage the traditional vision of the family in an increasingly modern world. There is a culture shock in Niger. Here, young people no longer follow tradition and grandparents do not understand the path chosen by young people. Some women no longer accept the tradition of having their husband’s mother in their home.  This is not my personal experience I must add! I like to have my mother-in-law living in my house. She is now with my wife in the town where my family is. She can participate in the family decision-making except in the decisions that concern my wife and I.

Our elders tell us that the world is a different place now. Young people who are highly educated or have travelled widely outside Niger sometimes resent our traditions.  They feel that modernity and our traditions are not compatible. We are becoming more and more European in our brain, in our reasoning. Our tradition is dying slowly.

An example of this fact can be seen at our wedding celebrations. In the past, the parties would last for seven days and everyone would bring food. Today, these festivities only last for two days.

I believe that we can embrace modernity while also preserving our traditions which are the foundation stone that the Nigerien family is built on. We must preserve our culture and our tradition.

 

- Serge Xavier Oga


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