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.
Jan 24, 2014

RAIN artisans get a boost from "boutique matchmaker" Andrea Williamson

Andrea Williamson
Andrea Williamson

Niger’s nomads are skilled craftspeople; the artistry trade is traditional to certain castes of people and has long supported them. Traditional skills have eroded over time, and fewer young women learn the skills their mothers and grandmothers knew. Keeping traditional culture alive is part and parcel of what we do. Members of our artisan co-operatives act as cultural ambassadors to the next generation. As they earn more, learn new designs and expand their markets, interest grows in the community.  With help from RAIN, co-op artisans play a key role in designing products and choosing materials for both local sales and the U.S. Now, these efforts will receive a real boost in potential for U.S. markets.

Since 2005, we've been privileged to have Illiah Addoh, master leatherworker and head of the Zinder Leather Artisan Cooperative at Niger’s National Museum, provide training to RAIN artisans in how to create their culturally traditional products within modern contexts. The next step: connecting those products with U.S. distribution channels.

Enter Andrea Williamson. Using her fifteen years of experience in small business sales and marketing, Andrea has focused the last five years as an "international boutique matchmaker" to help artisans in more than 50 countries suceed in U.S. markets. "I became fascinated with the unbridled creativity emerging from these artisans," says Andrea. "from the incredible items fashioned from upcycled materials in the Phillipines to croched and quilted creations from South Africa, artisans come upon frequent stumbling blocks, such as language, import laws, and quality consistency, that keep their products from this channel of distribution. Both the artisans and boutiques in the U.S. then miss out on a great opportunity."

"I'm inspired by Bess' vision of empowering nomadic women in Niger to bring their skills to the next level while providing for their families in the face of such extreme poverty, and am excited about what these women are creating - fabulous leather  purses and tote bags by the Tuareg ladies, and the Wodaabe women expressing their rich culture with colorful embroidered textiles. I feel confident that with a little bit of creativity, we can help to open up this channel for these artisans."

A country like Niger at times seems worlds away to those in the U.S. If we can bring more hand crafted cultural treasures to our friends here - that's another direct connection to the nomadic women of the Sahel and Sahara, with new liveihoods and support for local schools as the result.

Thank you for paving the way to empowerment for nomadic women!

P.S. Coming soon: The RAIN online Shopify store!


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


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


donate now:

Make a monthly recurring donation on your credit card. You can cancel at any time.
Make a donation in honor or memory of:
What kind of card would you like to send?
How much would you like to donate?
  • $
gift Make this donation a gift, in honor of, or in memory of someone?

Reviews of Rain for the Sahel and Sahara

Great Nonprofits
Read and write reviews about Rain for the Sahel and Sahara on GreatNonProfits.org.