Rain for the Sahel and Sahara

Rain for the Sahel and Sahara (RAIN) forges partnerships with underserved 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.
Dec 11, 2013

New Initiative: Women's Community Gardens

Women discussing what they
Women discussing what they've learned in Mari

Sustainable agriculture is key to lifting rural families out of poverty and chronic malnutrition. In Sub-Saharan Africa, women grow as much as 90% of the region's food. However, custom and family demands often prevent women from spending the time needed to cultivate agriculture.  An optimal solution is a large communal garden with drip irrigation. 

The women in our partner communities become empowered by the process of the school market gardens - they head the committees that make planting and harvesting decisions, become literate in accounting, and learn how to harvest and prepare the crops for sale. It's only natural that the next step would be to empower them with greater food security by investing in their own garden cooperatives. 

Building upon the successful School Market Garden model, RAIN has initiated our first women’s agricultural cooperative in the Tillaberi community of Mari. The Mari garden was installed with 99 women who are finding empowerment and food security, as well as receiving training in organic agriculture techniques and nutrition.  The cooperative garden model ensures consistent watering through group effort. Profits are increased by each member’s participation in money-saving marketing and delivery methods.  Each woman contributes to the monthly salary of a gardener to run the drip irrigation system, allowing her a flexible schedule. Using solar drying ovens provided by RAIN, they prepare, dry and preserve the produce for sale in local markets. They also sell seeds as well. As in our artisan cooperatives, the women keep 50% of the proceeds and donate the remainder to their children's schools.  

The 5,000 square meter Mari community garden is one of the largest of its kind in Niger. From weekly classes taught by RAIN staff Brian Nowak and Halima Aboubacar, we've created a dedicated study guide focused on organic gardening techniques, health and nutrition, and crop selection for profitability. Designed for those who are unable to read, the study guides utilize illustrated flip charts for easy reference with an emphasis on oral instruction and hands-on experience. Already in Mari, encouraging the community with inexpensive ways to boost nutrition has taught the value of a healthy organic lifestyle. The introduction of three season crops and providing the foundation for a seed bank has brought increased crop yields. 

Here in traditional hamlets and familial encampments in the middle of nowhere, the best of humanity is shining through in the face of continued hardships. We'll be continuing with the Mari agricultural co-op as the women learn how to better market their crops and earn more income for their families. In 2014, we hope to bring community gardens to women in more nomadic communities in Niger. During the next three months, GlobalGiving will be featuring a microproject page to help fund this goal. We know that helping our friends in West Africa achieve food security is important to you, so we thought we'd share this exciting addition to our sustainable agriculture programs. Why not give a gift donation to someone who shares your passion this year?

Thank you for all you do for rural and nomadic desert communities!

Wishing you Happy Holidays and great things in the year to come,

The RAIN team

Planting together
Planting together
Mari mom with child
Mari mom with child
Ready to get started
Ready to get started
In session with Brian and Halima
In session with Brian and Halima
The next generation
The next generation

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Nov 22, 2013

Sustainability and New Livelihoods: S&L Groups

Akokan mentor Fourera with knitting machine
Akokan mentor Fourera with knitting machine

Small enterprise initiatives have been an integral part of RAIN’s array of tranformative programs since 2006. In 2011, we initiated a Savings & Loan pilot program with the mentors in the community of Akokan, Arlit. 

We choose the S&L model over microfinance because we feel it’s imparative that members invest their own funds after the initial seed investment provided by RAIN. Members are regularly astounded when they discover how their contributions grow over time. Saving is not a part of nomadic culture, and S&L's serve to teach the concept of saved sums adding up towards a common goal. Once trained, mentors will not only run their own S&L groups, some will go on to become community trainers independently. 

Pilot Program: The Mentors of Akokan

The Akokan women's mentor group of Arlit first began in 2005. Since then, the members have come to know and trust each other, and have created a strong partnership with the local school, supporting themselves and their program with a herd of goats provided by RAIN. The next goal: achieve sustainability for the 16 mentors and 82 at-risk girls for the next two years.

When asked what new activity they would like to pursue to generate more funds, the women expressed that creating a group enterprise would be difficult, that they prefer a program that will allow them to work independently. And so the idea of a savings and loan program to support each member's own enterprise was mutually proposed.

  • A savings credit of $200 was provided by RAIN in November of 2011 as a seed fund for the program.  In order to grow their funds, each of the 16 mentors deposits 30 cents per week ($4.80 per week for the group). After the first four months, the funds saved totaled $275 (a significant sum in Niger). Each mentor contributed, in addition to principal, 10% of the loan amount to the program.
  • The average loan amount is $50, repaid within three months. Income generating activities that these loans have supported include the practice of embouche (purchasing of a small goat that is then fattened to sell), making food products for sale at the local market, making and selling clothes, and augmenting the goat herds provided by RAIN. All members have reported a profit.

"With this activity, I acquired a knitting machine with a value of $160, from which I will continue to profit."
-
Fourera Alassane, Akokan mentor 

Looking Ahead: New S&L Groups

Armed with knowledge from the Akokan pilot program, RAIN will be initiating new S&L groups of 25-30 women in 2014, based on the Oxfam model, tailored to unlettered women complete with a written reference guide and regular monitoring. We hope to initiate S&L groups in all of our partner communities, starting in the food insecure Tillaberi region of Niger. 

During the first year, bi-weekly meetings will be regularly monitored by RAIN’s Tillaberi field agent, Akhmoud Mawala. A native Nigerien Tuareg who resides in Ingui, Akhmoud worked with RAIN Niger Program Director Brian Nowak as a master teacher in our adult bilingual literacy program. Akhmoud is an excellent teacher and trainer.The first three months consist of building the bank with savings, followed by distribution of the loans and repayment. In order to effectively follow the oral monitoring system used by the mentors, Akhmoud will maintain an independent written log of loans and repayment along with individual accounts regarding how the funds were used by each member.

The benefits of S&L groups for mentors and other women in nomadic partner communities are many, including:

  • Women form extra familial bonds with other women in the village, creating a new network of social relationships.
  • Participants become more independent economically through the use of small loans and an annual remittance (access to cash for medical emergency, small business start-up fund, school fees, etc).
  • Members become empowered by independently managing the S&L group for long-term socio-economic support.
  • A growing interest in savings and loans and financial planning is fostered.
  • Men recognize the importance of women’s economic activities and independence at the community and family level.

Savings and loan programs organize mentors, solidify their relationship as community advocates and provide economic assistance. With no access to traditional credit, rural women in particular need support to become more economically independent. With that support, they hold the key to lifting their communities out of poverty. Studies have shown that women invest 90% of their earnings in their families while men spend 40% at home. While many men work or volunteer in RAIN programs, we have found that women have greater appreciation for the importance of education, and are motivated to contribute their time and earnings to improve their children’s prospects.

Our goal is to create in each community an array of learning and earning groups that together raise the economic and educational well-being of the local population. With your help, savings and Loan groups provide long term socio-economic support while fostering program self sufficiency and community independence.

Akokan mentors with goats.
Akokan mentors with goats.
Akokan mentors with Bess
Akokan mentors with Bess

Links:

Oct 11, 2013

Cure Salee Prize Winners and an Artisan Interview

Ouma displays a tote bag
Ouma displays a tote bag

Wodaabe artisans take the prize for RAIN

At the yearly Cure Salee Festival in In'gall, the Wodaabe women artisans who create products based on their legendary embroidery heritage joined Bess in proudly displaying their unique wares for sale. Though there are many throughout the year, September is the "official" nomadic festival marking the end of the wet season and the start of the dry season. For centuries, pastoral people have brought their herds to the salt licks and to take part in salt cures for themselves as well. It's time for reuiniting with other clans, planning for the upcoming season, and to meet potential marraige partners. The local celebrations are fascinating, especially the Wodaabe dancing and Tuareg camel races. It was quite a spectacle: both Wodaabe and Tuareg performers made appearances ifor various competitions -- Tuaregs with donkeys decked in full wedding regalia and camels fully outfitted in their traveling gear and good luck charms, women drumming and men dancing; and the Wodaabe men performing their gerewol dances for potential partners. 

This year, RAIN artisans were awarded First Prize at the festival for a blouse made of traditional woven cotton featuring a hand embroidered cell phone pocket in traditional Wodaabe design. The judges declared the piece a perfect marraige of traditional craft with modern design. The prize? 4 sacks of cattle feed, 2 sacks of rice, 2 tee shirts and $100! Our booth received a special visit from Niger Prime Minister and RAIN friend Brigi Rafini to wish us "Bon Courage!"

Meanwhile, back in Agadez, we had the chance to talk with artisan Ouma Aama.

Ouma Amaa is the head of the RAIN Albaye Leather Cooperative as well as president of all Agadez women artisans. Ouma, a leather artisan in the Tuareg tradition, was absolutely thrilled when RAIN won the embroidery contest.

Ouma: "Thank you, Bess. RAIN is the only organization in Agadez that recognizes and promotes the traditional work of women artisans."  She extends her best wishes and thanks to supporters like you for making this work possible.

Straw + Leather = Fabulous!

In a perfect marraige of two traditions, the women artisans of In'gall, who work primarily in straw, are collaborating with the RAIN Albaye leather artisans to create gorgeous tote bags in vibrant colors of Tuareg tradition: magenta, ochre and deep turquoise. We can't wait to offer these gems of beauty and good karma for sale in the U.S. - visit our website very soon if you'd like to own one for yourself or a good friend. You won't find these at Macy's!

Platform where dyed leather is shaped with a stone
Platform where dyed leather is shaped with a stone
Ouma and her mother, In
Ouma and her mother, In'gall
RAIN founder Bess & Niger PM at Cure Salee
RAIN founder Bess & Niger PM at Cure Salee
Artisan wares on display at the festival
Artisan wares on display at the festival
Wodaabe men dance the gerewol at Cure Salee
Wodaabe men dance the gerewol at Cure Salee

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