Fatima Boscaro, founder of AFENA Flammarion/Michèle Constantini

Cooking lesson

A new kitchen can raise the value of any home, but in developing countries it can also save lives. That is why in 2010 the OECD’s very own staff charity, the War on Hunger Group, decided to contribute funding to fitting a new kitchen in the headquarters of AFENA, an NGO dedicated to looking after abandoned women and children, and based in Niger’s second city, Maradi.

On the face of it, AFENA’s new kitchen is not unlike kitchens found in any developed country. But it is different to most kitchens in Niger in one key respect: it uses gas.

Niger is rich in natural gas, yet most people still use open fires and stoves to cook in their kitchens. Biomass is easy to come by, whereas gas is expensive, says Fatima Boscaro, the founder of AFENA, who spends her time between France and Niger. The trouble is, open stoves are one of the main causes of premature death in poorer countries, both from accidents and air pollution, with women and children being most vulnerable. Ms Boscaro has no doubt that the kitchen project she inspired, though a relatively inexpensive initiative at some €4,500 euros, covering design, sourcing locally made materials and installation, will not only improve lives for the adults and children using her charity, but will set an example for others to follow.

For the War on Hunger Group, such projects make good sense. “We are always pleased to establish new relationships with organisations which carry out effective development projects,” says Michael Benton, who chairs the group. “When we met Ms Boscaro in 2010, we could see how deeply committed she was, and knew she would see the kitchen project through.”

The group, which is nearly as old as the OECD itself, having been set up as a voluntary association in 1964, aims to improve the lives of the most deprived people in the world, with priority given to projects likely to have lasting effects, in health, nutrition, education and production methods, for instance. Only exceptionally does it give to emergency relief, such as flooding, earthquakes and civil wars. The group’s 220 members contribute automatically from their salaries. All contributions go to project support, with no administrative expenses.

Together with microfinance and NGOs, charities like the War on Hunger Group are a small but vital cog in the development machine. And as AFENA in Maradi might say, charity doesn’t just begin in the home, it begins in the kitchen.

For more on AFENA, contact Afena.Niger@yahoo.fr

Contact the War on Hunger Group at WHG.Chair@oecd.org

Afterword: Fatima Boscaro is more than the founder of an active NGO, she is also a firsthand witness to the abusive treatment women and girls in some developing countries can be subjected to. In fact, Ms Boscaro was sold by her family to a wealthy stranger when she was 11 years old, was raped and had children. Unlike many women trapped in the same situation, she managed to escape and later returned to rescue her own 11-year-old daughter who was about to be married the same way she was. Ms Boscaro’s account has just been published as a book by Flammarion, Fatima: Esclave à 11 ans (Slave, aged 11).

©OECD Observer No 284, Q1 2011

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