Rain for the Sahel and Sahara

Rain for the Sahel and Sahara (RAIN) forges partnerships with nomadic and rural desert peoples of West Africa to realize their ambitions for education and enduring livelihoods with a focus on empowering girls and women with learning and earning.
May 14, 2013

Update: Getting Tadek Back on Track After Exile

Tadek students in the garden
Tadek students in the garden

This January, RAIN Agricultural Coordinator Koini Abdourahamane and Niger Program Director Brian Nowak traveled to the northern region of Arlit to follow the progress of the School Market Garden installed last year in the remote nomadic community of Tadek.  The garden is governed and monitored by a community-elected committee, most of whom are local women. The community also chose the school gardener, who is trained by RAIN.  The short-term goal for School Market Gardens is to first generate sufficient funds to pay the gardener a small monthly salary. The long term purpose of the garden is to improve the quality of meals served at school, generate income through the sale of surplus crops to support the garden, and to serve as a living classroom where the students along with the entire community learns drip irrigation and organic farming techniques. 

At the start of the 2013 school year, the school in Tadek supported 29 students, comprised of 6 girls and 23 boys, with 19 students in the primary class and 10 students in the secondary level. School Director and teacher Smaiel Foto Hohame told us about how enrollment has diminished from before the Tuareg rebellion, whose headquarters were located in the mountains near Tadek.  The community was evacuated and the school suffered terrible damage. When people returned to their homes they found the school and its garden ruined. Crime in the area rose – former rebels had arms and no incomes.  

Tadek is comprised of traditional nomadic families who live varying distances away in their moving encampments. The school must be well supplied and provide food to students in order for parents to feel it is safe enough for their children. 

Planting of the garden commenced in February and March. Crops include:

  • 8,113 potato plants
  • 166 cucumber plants
  • 249 melon plants
  • 332 beet and pepper plants

RAIN gardens are organic and training in the making and use of natural pesticides such as pepper, tobacco and neem leaves is offered to gardeners and community members. Surplus crops eligible for sale will be determined at end of the garden season as a session is conducted to identify local markets on the part of the garden committee, PTA and RAIN staff.

It's our hope that re-installing the garden will instill confidence in the parents of Tadek to enroll their children in school to get back on track with their educations this first full year back from exile. With your help, we're committed to providing the support and follow through needed to hold on to this important community resource!

Links:

Apr 12, 2013

The artisans of Seiga

Seiga artisans with Teydeyint  decorative mat
Seiga artisans with Teydeyint decorative mat

The remote community of Seiga is located near a lake in the Tillaberi region of Niger, bordering Mali in the southern part of the country. Seiga and it's surrounding communities of Tooru Tondi and Belkou are comprised of nomadic herders of cows, goats, sheep and camels. The village is now primarily women, as the men migrate in search of pasturelands or work.  The Tillaberi region is one of the most food insecure regions of Niger, and Seiga is no exception. This past year found Seiga highly impacted by the effects of drought with food stores and income at an all time low. Responding to the community’s short-term and long-term needs, RAIN has initiated various herding and animal husbandry related income generated activities (IGA's). These activities serve to build sustainable ways to provide a source of revenue in times of need, and allow women to directly participate in supporting their community. Women from Seiga and the surrounding communities skilled in traditional crafts are now expressing interest to RAIN in forming an artisan co-operative as another IGA with the understanding that 50% of their income will support their children’s schools. 

The women of Seiga primarily work with straw, prevalent among the Bellah (a class of former slave families), creating both baskets and elaborate decorative mats that may be used as placemats, trivets or home decor.  RAIN plans to provide the raw materials and assist the artisans in honing their skills through training sessions.  We are exploring the possibility of partnering with SAFEM (Salon Artisanat pour des Femmes), the primary artisan association of Niger. 

Very few women have the knowledge of how to make the most elaborate item, the Teydeyint decorated tent wall mat. There is a great variety of designs for the teydeyint and the efartay (smaller decorative mat) that may be adapted for a variety of different products. Along with the Bellah people in Seiga is a smaller number of Inaden families, members of the Tuareg crafts class. These families specialize in metal, wood and leather work. Inaden’s heritage as artisans, the Belkou Inaden knowledge of most traditional craft items, and the fact that they remain dedicated to local level production demonstrate the importance of including them in RAIN's artisan cooperative. They will add variety with both Inaden-produced items or with the creation of new items based on the Inaden skill base. 

Currently, most sales are commissioned, but they may also put items into the local Bankilare or Tegue markets. Participating in an artisan cooperative with RAIN will provide much needed additional income and expand the scope of their current sales from local to international.

All the raw materials needed are purchased from local markets and include wood, various raw metals, akof (palm fronds), tezawen (reed grass), leather, naturally produced dyes, yarn and mirrors. 

Items created by Bellah people include:

Efartay: small decorative straw mat
Efartay wan tikan: very small efartay
Eytewel: winnowing pan with sides
Leyfey wan asahar: winnowing pan
Leyfay wan eghaf: cone winnowing pan cover 
Leyfey tilliwan: small, yarn-wrapped winnowing pan 
Lgaraygaraya/Isanam: decorated hanging leather panels with fringe and mirrors
Alaami: turquoise leather panels
Tekurut/Essarer: leather tied stick mat
Tasotit:  simple long straw tent wall mat
Tawana: hanging bowl holder with long leather fringe
Teydeyint: decorated reed-grass tent wall mat 

Inaden examples:

Adefur: leather pillow
Agadut/Agalagut: leather bag to hold water or butter
Enafat: small leather purse necklace
Isamut: large leather bag for grain
Izayan: large leather bag
Tagbat: simple leather bag
Tanuwart: large horizontal leather bag
Tebawunt: large leather decorative travel sac for camels
Tegarut: medium sized leather bag
Spoons, decorated small spice mortars

The women artisans and Inaden families would benefit from the organization of a RAIN artisan cooperative producing a variety of products, overseeing a boutique for supplies, and training children and teenagers in the community in traditional artisan skills for future livelihoods and cultural preservation. As some items needed for production fluctuate seasonally in cost, establishing a store of supplies to build during lower price periods for sale during higher price periods would allow the artisans to work throughout the year unburdened by material inflation. Artisans and older youth can work together to produce traditional and marketable products, both independently and in collaboration.

RAIN is excited about this budding artistic enterprise in Seiga, and with your support, together we can make it happen!  

Seiga artisan with Efartay decorative mat
Seiga artisan with Efartay decorative mat
Efartay close up
Efartay close up
Tekurut decorative reed stick mat
Tekurut decorative reed stick mat
Tooru Tondi girls working on Leyfey wan asahar
Tooru Tondi girls working on Leyfey wan asahar
Inaden family
Inaden family
Igaraygara decorative leather panels
Igaraygara decorative leather panels
Inaden artisan Tibilan Ana sewing an adefur pillow
Inaden artisan Tibilan Ana sewing an adefur pillow
Village of Seiga
Village of Seiga
Inaden crafted mortar and spoons
Inaden crafted mortar and spoons

Links:

Mar 1, 2013

Meet Mariama from Gougaram!

Mariama Mowli (at right) with her mentor Asha.
Mariama Mowli (at right) with her mentor Asha.

The village of Gougaram, remotely located at the gate of the Saharan Air Mountains in northern Niger, has experienced incredible challenges in this already hostile landscape. In addition to constant threats of food shortage and drought, the majority of Gougaram fled during the conflict with the previous government, settling in makeshift refugee camps on the outskirts of the uranium mining city of Arlit. After the conflict, the Gougaram community returned to a devastated landscape with a government military camp established in the center of the village. Distancing themselves from the military, residents settled in several hamlets across a two-mile radius around the local elementary school.

In part due to your generous support, RAIN mentors immediately tackled the challenge of getting their school back on track after returning from the refugee camps. For the past three years, Gougaram women have succeeded as mentors and role models, encouraging their community to focus on education and community development. Twelve women from five different hamlets are engaging their communities in important conversations about the value of education, the pitfalls of early marriage for young girls, and hygiene and health issues. 

Your support also provides the opportunity for at-risk girls in Gougaram to benefit from counseling, awareness raising group discussions, advocacy at the school and family level, and important practical skills training in traditional crafts. The women of Gougaram proudly announced to RAIN staff that all twelve girls in their final year of elementary school graduated this year, thanks to the mentoring program.

In Niger, rural children rarely finish the six-year elementary school cycle, which is based on the French system. Most rural villages that are lucky enough to have an elementary school are forced to send children to towns and cities if they want to continue studying onto middle school. At the end of the 2011-12 school year, twelve girls have set a precedent as role models for younger girls, demonstrating the impact and success of the mentoring program as they braved the necessary relocations in order to continue their education.

We met 15 year-old Mariama, a student in our Gougaram mentoring program, during her winter break. Mariama was proud to show us her leather work, including finishing the final decorations for a tea bag for her aunt was working on. Practical skills training that includes artisan craft workshops are an important way to reinforce local traditional activities while providing the girls with a way to earn some money. 

Mariama explained how her practical skills training allowed her to improve her life while in school. “My father gave me some money upon leaving for college in Arlit. I purchased some leather and made leather key chains to sell in town. So far, I’ve sold six key chains for 500cfa each (~$1 each). I bought food with this money.” The skills that girls like Mariama learn from their mentors help them to continue their education while feeling more independent and responsible.   

These women and young girls are grateful for your concern and the support you’ve given them so they may get a “leg up” in difficult times. Women and children can only show their thanks through their stories, photos, and smiles of success as they take the lead in improving the lives of their families and neighbors. At RAIN, we wish we could share with you the gifts of goat cheese and camel milk offered to our staff during fieldwork missions, as they truly represent the culture of thanks and giving in demonstration of their deep gratitude!   

Mentor President Hawa Hanzou with mentored girls.
Mentor President Hawa Hanzou with mentored girls.

Links:

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