Mission and Vision

Amman Imman's is dedicated to empowering and preserving Africa's most vulnerable indigenous peoples and engaging school children worldwide as socially conscious leaders.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Lisa Wexler's radio interview with Ariane Kirtley

WFAS 1230 New York radio talk show host Lisa Wexler interviewed Ariane Kirtley in January, 2014 about her work in Niger with Amman Imman: Water is Life. Here are excerpts from their conversation:

Lisa: Ariane Kirtley is founder and director of an organization called Amman Imman Water is Life. It's a charitable organization that's devoted to building water wells for people in Niger. Ariane earned a BA in anthropology from Yale, a masters in public health in 2004 from the Yale School of Public Health, and then was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to return to Niger to conduct public health research among minority populations. That's where she's decided to devote her life, to improve the living conditions of 500,000 people in this remote area of the world that frankly I never heard of before. Ariane Kirtley, welcome to the Lisa Wexler show today! Hi! 

Ariane: Hello! Thank you so much for having me on the show.  

Lisa: Well, it's a pleasure! ....First of all, you have to tell us because most of us are geographically dumb....where is Niger?

Ariane: It's a land-locked country in West Africa. It borders Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Libya, Nigeria.  

Lisa: Tell me about the demographics, the culture, the ethnicity....tell me a little bit about the people.

Ariane: There are about 17 different ethnic groups that are very culturally distinct. The region where I work are mostly the Tuareg and Fulani people. But you also have the Hausa and the Zarma, and many other minority groups. The national language is French. It's 98-99% Muslim.

Lisa: .....how is Niger doing?

Ariane: It's very challenging.... I work in a specific region of Niger (the Azawak). Because Niger is huge. But all of Niger is considered one - if not the -  poorest country in the world. It is land-locked. It's often 120 degrees. There are very few resources. More recently Al Qaeda has become a real threat. Many humanitarian organizations have left because of the threat of Al Qaeda. They struggle with famine, lack of water --  but it's a beautiful country nonetheless.

Lisa: Tell me about this devotion to the people and what you are doing there.

Ariane: I grew up partly in Niger, but I had not grown up in the Azawak. I went there for the first time in 2005 as a researcher. Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, so I was used to seeing people in poverty, very hungry, dying from contaminated water. But I had never seen people dying of thirst. I went to this region and I saw kids -- these beautiful kids that were so wonderful with me, laughing and playing -- traveling over 30 miles a day looking desperately for water. And I had never seen this type of struggle at all. And the other thing I had never seen --  there was no one there to help them. The government wasn't helping them; there were no NGOs helping them access water. My husband encouraged me to be the first to help them. He didn't know what that would mean. He didn't know that we would completely devote our entire life to the people of the Azawak valley in Niger. But ever since that time we've been bringing sustainable water sources and other types of assistance to the people.

Lisa: How do you bring water to this land-locked country? Are we talking about diverting lakes or rivers? Or do you dig?

Ariane: The people (of the Azawak) used to live off of marshes that would form thanks to the rain. But the rainy season in the past 10 years has gone from 5 months to literally 1 month or less. So, they no longer have the marshes. Underground water is 600 feet or deeper.  So, we hire in-country contractors to come to this remote area of the country and drill 600 feet into the ground.

Lisa: They can go 600 feet down?!

Ariane: Yeah....it's very expensive. The local people try (to reach water), and they'll dig and dig for years. I ran into one community that dug for 8 years and never reached water. But if you have the proper machinery and the financial means to do so you can drill a well basically.....

Lisa: If you go 600 feet down, will you hit water no matter where you are in the valley? 

Ariane: Yes, everywhere (in the Azawak) which is not always the case in other places (in Niger). But here there's water everywhere...it's like a big underground lake, a big underground aquifer that's everywhere, a sustainable aquifer. 

Lisa: How do you keep the water clean when it comes up, when the people's sanitary habits and infrastructure is so poor?

Ariane: Wow, that's a great question.  That's part of our work.  We have to do a lot of work in hygiene and sanitation. The water comes up clean but to make sure it stays clean they have to change certain habits. They are used to drinking alongside their animals. We have to teach them that they have to maintain their containers clean, and they have to wash their hands.  So, that's a big part of our work.

Lisa: Do you have any help now that you've made inroads?  Do you have government support? 
We have government support.  They don't support us financially but they definitely support our work.  We've built up a local team that understands the cultures and traditions.  We work with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education.

Lisa: How much does it cost to build one of these wells?

Ariane: One of these wells costs anywhere from between 170K- 200K to build.

Lisa: How do you fund your organization?

Ariane: We are working with an amazing foundation here in America, the Vibrant Village Foundation. Another part of what we do here in America is we work with over 100 schools. The students in schools are our partners. They raise money for us, and awareness for us. In that sense we not only help children in Niger, but we also help children here gain a greater awareness of the world, and compassion.....we call them our "Heroes of Compassion", and so that's who we work with as well.   

Lisa: That's beautiful. What's your website if people want to find out more about you? 

Lisa: Ariane Kirtley, thank you for the work you are doing. I'm sure the people of Niger are so grateful. It's a beautiful thing that you are doing every single day. I wish you health and wealth -- not the kind of wealth from money, but the kind that comes from knowing that your life's work is meaningful.

Ariane: Absolutley. Well, thank you much, Lisa, for having me on your show, and have a wonderful new year!

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