Zinder – The Blind Side of Niger

After crossing the border to Niger, I turned to Eduardo and asked: “How many blind people have we seen in the last ten minutes? Twenty?”

It seems Niger is flooded with sight-impaired people. Everywhere you look, there ‘s a blind person begging for money. It appeared like a coincidence at first, but after seeing more blind individuals in one day than we’ve seen before in our entire lives combined, we had to start wondering; is it a contagious disease, a freak gene, or an epidemic?

Kelley, a former Peace Corps volunteer from Florida is writing a thesis on the subject. From what she has learnt from hundreds of interviews with local tribes, there seems to be a wide range of reasons for the occurrences of blindess. But somehow, she doesn’t know why yet, there’s a much higher incidence of blindness in Southern Niger than anywhere else in the world.

And it’s extremely sad. In this, one of the poorest countries in the world, where the majority of the population survive on less than a dollar a day, blindness must be a death sentence. Blind parents use their toddlers to lead them around begging on the streets. What else can they do? There is no work for people with perfect eyesight, and much less so for the blind.

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Children and young Nigeriens seem to suffer the most. Women have an average of eight children. And it’s not because of love, but so that the children can provide additional income to the family. It’s not unusual to see a 4-year old pushing a cart of merchandise down the street at an age when he should only know how to play and have fun. With only a quarter of children entering primary school there’s no future for them, either.

Most children in Niger will never know the joy and happiness of childhood that should be a fundamental right of every human being.

They will never have a chance.