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.
Sep 3, 2013

A place for rural students in Niger to thrive

Dafada embroidering
Dafada embroidering

In December of 2012, RAIN took on a student learning center and dormitory in the northern city of Agadez in Niger. The center is a place where nomadic students, especially girls, can find the opportunity to continue their education beyond primary school not available in the remote hamlets in which they live. We know that keeping girls in school is important to you, and would like to introduce you to the students at the center and share some of the programs we have planned for the next year. 

Niger Program Director Brian Nowak and Halima Aboubacar, Specialist for the Promotion of Women and Children, spent extended time onsite this spring to gain a good sense of the students’ needs and interests. These children of the desert are away from home in a foreign place, a city of 30,000 people. They are used to the open air, to the stars and the winds. To learn here, they must feel comfortable and cared for. The Learning Center is a place where they live; where they eat, sleep, bathe and study. It is their home for two to three years.

While scholarship remains the primary goal of the program, we plan to include workshops focusing on leadership and roles in society. Nomadic rural populations in Niger are on the fringe of society, and we feel it's important to instill skills of engagement with which to represent themselves in their country. Another important goal is providing, in addition to academic tutoring, the same life guidance our mentors provide to girls in our mentoring programs. We hope to bring in new mentors, drawing upon the women in our Agadez leather artisan cooperative, to receive mentoring training and meet with the students each week. This year we will be expanding the budding recreational program to include instruction in leatherwork for Tuareg girls as well as the current embroidery activities provided for the Wodaabe students, to be provided by the mentors. The students plan on decorating their domitory with their crafts, and certain items will be brought to market in Agadez to generate spending money for them.  

Last fall, Halima Aboubacar joined the RAIN team. A Tuareg woman, Halima co-taught along with Brian last year nutrition and hygiene to women gardeners and mentors in partner communities. Now relocating to Agadez, Halima will become a regular presence at the learning center, overseeing the mentoring and practical skills programs. Caring, yet an effective disciplinarian, the students know trust her; many of the girls call on her with questions and concerns. 

We are thrilled that we are seeing mentored girls become the first girls in their communities ever to graduate primary school. For the upcoming school year, we plan to invite these girls to the learning center program as spaces become available so they may follow their success by going onto middle school.

The Niger school system is based on the French system, which starts with six years of primary school (1 - 6), followed by four years of middle school (7– 10), then three years of high school (11 –13). Beyond middle school, nomadic students must then go on to the capital of Niamey to attend high school. RAIN plans on creating a fund to support these students as they graduate from middle school and transition from the learning center. 

Investing in a girl's future is investing in the world's future. Girls that stay in school delay marriage, have fewer children and earn higher incomes. The rural poor of Niger are marginalized, but with more educated citizens will be more empowered. As RAIN expands the center and is able to recruit increasing numbers of students, we expect to set a new precedent in Niger and inspire the government as well as other NGO's to open similar centers for nomadic children.

Intrigued? Visit our project page! We have until October 28th to raise $5,000 on GlobalGiving for this project.  

Fatima proud of her work.
Fatima proud of her work.
Halima Aboubacar
Halima Aboubacar

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Attachments:
Aug 20, 2013

2013 Agriculture Update: Arlit Region

Brian and Bess taking garden measurements
Brian and Bess taking garden measurements

2012-13 has seen RAIN School Market Gardens generating a positive impact in the partner communities of the northern Arlit region of Niger and has led to the increase in overall number of community residents.  

Akokan
In January, RAIN Niger staff conducted a tour and met with the group of mentors of Akokan, who are into their 8th year of working together in small enterprise and guiding at-risk girls. Staff member Halima Aboubacar presented an evaluation of current agricultural activity in the community as well the performance thus far of the mentor 3 year goat herding activity and the impacts of the savings and loan program on the most recent year of enterprise. The goat herding and savings and loan programs are functioning well, allowing women more economic independence and the opportunity to plan financially for various needs throughout the year.

Iferouane
January 2013
: RAIN staff conducted an interview with the Agricultural Director of Iférouane regarding the engagement of an agricultural specialist for the ongoing maintenance, monitoring and evaluation of Iférouane gardens. RAIN prefers to recruit local talent to ensure the continuity of access that comes with the greater level of availability along with a deeper relationship to the community. After the technician was identified, a meeting was held with staff in Agadez and Niamey to plan for activities for the year. February: Halima Aboubacar meets with mentors, orders for the season are placed and payments disbursed. The future school and garden site were surveyed, as well as the non-functioning well, which is determined to likely cause delays in the garden installation process.

Residents of Iferouane were introduced to monitoring and evaluation tools to use for their future School Market Gardens, including:

1) How to record crop performance: number of crops, level of diversity, harvests success and failures using a RAIN  designed tracking sheet;

2)  Evaluation of the condition of the materials and equipment at the start and end of each growing season;

3)  Reviewing the use of organic pesticides – the types utilized and the number of applications needed per season;

4)  Regular communication with the local garden specialist on the progress of crops.

Gougaram
Garden background
: The school market garden in Gougaram was first installed in 1979 to support and teach students. In 2002, RAIN reinvigorated community interest in the garden and invested in a professional gardener. In 2007, the garden was damaged in conflict, and was rehabilitated with the help of RAIN in 2011 and again in 2012 due to floods.

January 2013: Niger staff visited Gougaram to gather information regarding the feasibility of the installation of a 5,000 sq. meter women’s agricultural cooperative garden for the community. February: Staff conducted measurements of the garden site, created a budget for well repairs, and determined the fencing requirements to ensure security from animals. March: Founder and Executive Director Bess Palmisciano, Board Chair John Ahlgren, Niger Program Director Brian Nowak and Agricultural Coordinator Koini Abdourahmane visited the Gougaram School Market Garden. A community meeting was held in the presence of the Gougaram COGES (PTA), mentors and artisans to discuss the monitoring of the established cereal bank, management of the school canteen, initiating mentoring and practical skills classes for the year, adding mentors to the current group, and the possible installation of the women’s cooperative garden. School market garden issues were discussed, including management strategies, garden maintenance costs, the percentage of crops consumed vs. sold in the past growing season, and the individual benefits of the garden for each individual.

On the agenda Fall 2013:

  1. Arrange a meeting between Bess and Brian with the greater Gougaram community;
  2. Conduct a monitoring visit to the women’s garden in Gougaram once installed. 
  3. Interview the gardeners and increase the school market garden growing area from 500 sq. meters to 1,000.
  4. Investigate the potential of creating a local niche market for the women’s garden cooperative for the preserving, packaging and selling of surplus produce.

Spring 2013 Survey – Gougaram Agriculture Cooperative

The Gougaram Agriculture Cooperative is a project in the planning stages with the goal of organizing independent gardeners, providing small scale garden grants, and training in organic techniques, marketing, crop diversity, and improved techniques. We hope to initiate activities this year. On this round of community field visits, RAIN staff identified 16 potential future garden sites with at least one well. Current crop cultivation remains primarily subsistence level with very low production yield potential. Communities with access to a vehicle have the ability to generate income selling surplus crops in Arlit. Of the 16 communities surveyed, only 2% currently produce lemon trees. However, the potential for fruit tree cultivation is high, as the valley has a climate similar to the Timia region, which is an area producing high volumes of various citrus fruits. Fruit trees provide scarce shade, contribute to variety and nutritional diversity, and make for an excellent cash crop.

Gougaram well improvements
Gougaram well improvements
Bess and Brian talk with the women of Gougaram
Bess and Brian talk with the women of Gougaram
Garden progress!
Garden progress!
No Club Med: Brian hits the sack desert style.
No Club Med: Brian hits the sack desert style.
Mentors of Akokan
Mentors of Akokan

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Jul 8, 2013

Ancient artistry empowers Wodaabe women

Embroidery is naturally a social activity.
Embroidery is naturally a social activity.

Niger’s Wodaabe cattle herders remain one of the most nomadic groups in the world today. They experience many difficulties related to their marginalized status in Niger, however this same status has allowed for many ancient traditions to remain intact, including the legendary tradition of women’s embroidery.

Women play an important role in Wodaabe society. One aspect that expresses this is ownership of the family milk and of the calabash gourds that hold it. The gourds are passed down through generations of women, carved and decorated in special motifs that are covered up with palm fronds to ensure secrecy.  Men use the calabash to catch the milk, then return the full calabash to the women, who in turn offer it to children and family members or use it to make yogurt or butter for sale.

Wodaabe women also hold the honored duty of embroidering the long dance tunics specially donned by adolescent men in ritual dances. One of the most important dances, the gereewol is a competition wherein young women decide which men are most attractive and representative of their culture in their dance - also in essence choosing among them whom they would like to court.

The symbols prominent in their embroidery feature themes reflecting the nomadic life of the Wodaabe. There are symbols for star, cow’s eye, the calf rope, sleeping children, and the road, among many others. These symbols represent the aesthetic and cultural identity dating back thousands of years, as evidenced in rock carvings hewn from a time when the Sahara desert was forested.  The material of choice is consistently handspun woven cotton bands sewn together into cloth, often died with indigo.
    
Wodaabe women often embroider for their families, but the women of the Barka Cooperative in Foudouk are creating new products, adapting their craft for international markets. With support from RAIN and donors like you, the women design embroidery for T-shirts, purses, and decorative scarves. These activities serve to preserve their culture while adapting to the ever-changing world. Much like the special ownership of milk in their pastoral lives, embroidery co-ops further empower Wodaabe women in our partner communities to grow more economically independent and better able to fight for the survival of their families in one of the most hostile environments in the world.

Wodaabe symbol "cow eye"
Wodaabe symbol "cow eye"
Wodaabe symbol "star"
Wodaabe symbol "star"
Cotton strips with embroidered symbols
Cotton strips with embroidered symbols
Wodaabe male gereewol dancer wearing special tunic
Wodaabe male gereewol dancer wearing special tunic

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