Mentoring for At-Risk Nomadic Girls in Rural Niger

 
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Safiatou
Safiatou

In Niger, 90% of girls don’t have the chance to go to school – and 1 in 3 will marry before their 15th birthday. Rural families fighting for survival don’t always understand the value of education – that girls who complete primary school marry later and have healthier children – and that each year she is in school, her community becomes more resilient to poverty.

With your help, wer'e beating the odds for at-risk girls in remote desert communities by ensuring access to an education with the most effective change makers on the ground: women mentors.

160 mentors act as local ambassadors of education for more than 600 girls in 17 schools, bridging the gap between school and home life. Determined to give the next generation options they never had, mentors actively address obstacles keeping a girl from school. Impending marriage plans, illness or economic household pressures - case by case, they engage with families as a trusted neighbor and advisor. The girls form strong bonds with their mentors and are succeeding in school at unprecedented levels.

These stories from the field of girls and their mentors are great testimonies to this dynamic support in action that you’ve helped to make possible.


Safiatou
A sixth grader in the community of Lemdou, Safiatou failed to pass the government test required to progress to middle school. She moved back home, ready to abandon school forever. The school director became concerned when she did not come to class, and immediately contacted her mentor, Assamhat. Assamhat walked the ten miles to Safiatou's home to meet with her parents, who were unaware that she had the option to repeat the grade. The very next day, Safiatou once again rejoined her peers in class for a second chance.

“I have learned a lot of things through my mentor...she also teaches us how to make crafts. Once I make something well, I can also teach my little sisters, my friends and anyone else that wants to learn. There are many difficulties I face in order to study well. I help prepare meals, get water from the well, and go into the bush for firewood. Once, I became sick. My mentor came to visit me at home. After that, she went to school to explain to my teacher that I was sick and could not go to school."

Assalama – Iferouane Mentor & President

“I have learned so much with the mentoring program. I help girls to understand important issues concerning their lives like early marriage and how to manage their menstrual cycles for those that reach the age of puberty.

One day a woman was telling me that she was concerned about some girls that would group together at night. She was concerned that they were up to no good. So one evening she listened to what the girls were talking about. One of the girls told her friends she had her period and did not know how to approach anyone. One of my students said, ‘My mentor is always helping us with different problems and talks with us about things like this. She even goes around to the classes at school to talk with us about health issues, too.' We are like a network of mothers.”

Mentor Houdeyja, Community of Ingui

“There are enormous challenges that I face. Parents do not give education any value. They force their children to marry young and push them to go to school when they are sick. But the parents do really understand and work with me a lot. To work on these challenges, it’s necessary to raise awareness from village to village about the benefits of education. My work as a mentor changes the lives of the students I help. None of the girls I mentor have married early. Parents let their children finish school." 

Hadjara - Sixth grader, Bonfeba

"My mentor teaches me things and advises me so that I can succeed in life. I told my parents one day when my mentor spoke with us about school. My parents like what my mentor does for me. I told them that she talked with us about not being late for school and that she advised us to do more studying at home rather than going to play or watch movies at the neighborhood TV spot."

Hadiza - Sixth grade, Tagantassou

"I have learned a lot from things my mentor has explained to me. She tells me not to miss class. She tells me to try to push my friends that are not in school to come to enroll in school. She talks to me about things like hygiene, the importance of going to school, and about how to make things."

Now is the time to expand our team of mentors, so that more at-risk girls can succeed with an advocate, advisor and devoted friend by their side for the coming school year and beyond. With your continued support and the work of dedicated mentors in the field, we can get nomadic girls back to school and back on the road to greater health and opportunity.


Mentor Assamhat
Mentor Assamhat
Assamhat and Safiatou
Assamhat and Safiatou
Assalama with her mentored girls.
Assalama with her mentored girls.
The girls of Lemdou
The girls of Lemdou

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1st graders enter thatch classroom in Tatararat.
1st graders enter thatch classroom in Tatararat.

Thanks to the local community women who serve as mentors to at-risk students, schools are sprouting up throughout the rural hamlets surrounding Ingui, a village in the Tillaberi region of Niger. Acting as guides and ambassadors for our Access to Education program for at-risk girls, the dedicated efforts of these local women have inspired their communities to develop and support local schools since RAIN initiated the program in 2009. Stalwart mentors personally conducted outreach efforts into isolated areas, one student at a time, engaging in dialogue with parents, resulting in unprecedented numbers of local nomadic and rural children enrolled in school. Rural schools in Niger are built by the government in response to local demand. By helping Ingui communities create this demand, mentors have successfully expanded the formal education system to many children who were previously beyond its reach.

Challenges
Primary schools of Ingui were few and far between. Like most children living in remote desert regions of Niger, students walked several miles daily to attend school. For example, one of the top local students would walk 16 miles to class and home each day, apologizing for sometimes falling asleep during lessons. Distance is not the only challenge to access to primary education: desert temperatures can regularly soar above 90 degrees by 9AM, reaching 100-110 degrees over the course of the day.

New schools in rural areas often have a dismal start in terms of infrastructure. Some classrooms begin as stick frames with mat wind blockers. Other communities build adobe classrooms out of mud bricks. School furniture is a rarity; children usually sit on the sandy ground or on leftover mud bricks until cement classrooms are built and furniture is supplied.

Extreme poverty prevents parents from sending their children to school – they either feel they need the child to help at home or they are unable to afford uniforms, books and school fees. To households such as these, struggling simply to survive, it can seem beneficial for children to collect water or herd animals that serve as the family’s savings bank rather than attend school.

The five women mentors trained to serve as local activists and counselors went to work encouraging community members from the surrounding area not only to send their children to school, but to join in the initiatives created to support education. School attendance rose significantly as a result, culminating in the creation of a cement classroom in 2010 and, in 2011, the construction of six elementary school classrooms. Three years later, these rooms are filled to capacity with learning children.

As another component of the Access to Education program, RAIN piloted a three-month basic literacy training to teach mentors in their native Tamasheq language. As newly-literate adults, they are able to fully appreciate and understand the importance of being able to read and write. This appreciation fuels their commitment to ensure that local children receive a formal education, and aids them in effectively communicating to unschooled adults why it’s important for their children to ‘sit at the desk all day’ and learn, rather than helping with household tasks.

Expanding the Mentoring Program to Follow New Schools

As the mentors recruited greater numbers of students from surrounding hamlets, families began to insist that their children attend schools closer to home. New schools grow in correlation with the local student population. At first, a new school is simply one classroom of first graders. In general, a classroom is added to the school following enrollment each year, although in communities with a low population density, schools sometimes enroll students every other year. The government is struggling to find enough teachers for existing schools, a shortage which often results in large class sizes.

RAIN's Access to Education program was designed to follow school growth by adding one new mentor for each of the four new elementary schools. New mentors have joined the women of Ingui to guide and support the growing school population, shadowing experienced mentors, ensuring that the program maintains its quality as the schools grow. The women split their time between their sponsored students at the Ingui Elementary School and students in their own communities. 

The Bigger Picture

As the demand for quality schooling in rural Niger grows, communities are coming together in efforts to garner greater investment in education for their children. Just as RAIN mentors drew children from the countryside to the Ingui school, it is expected that the new schools located in nearby hamlets will draw new students from even further afield.

In just five short years, the RAIN mentoring program has succeeded in fostering school growth, prioritizing education as a base for community wide development in Ingui and other marginalized hamlets in Niger. By promoting the value of formal schooling among nomadic communities, with a focus on girls’ education, Ingui’s mentors have proven that the dreams of nomadic families for a better life for their children can become a reality.

"Mentoring has changed my life a lot. It has helped me realize many things that I ignored before. These are the same things that I can see changing little by little in my community.

An example of my work is that none of the girls I mentor have married early. Only after being expelled from school have parents married their girls. Parents let their children finish school." - Mentor Houdeyja Ramnan – Tatararat (hamlet near Ingui)

Elementary students of Ezak Tahount
Elementary students of Ezak Tahount

Links:

Girls in Seiga
Girls in Seiga

Your steady support in 2014 has changed the lives of thousands of nomadic women and girls in Niger. 130 mentors guided 600 at-risk girls through primary school. Savings & Loan groups and income generating activities brought learning and financial opportunity to mentors. 

Education is a tree that when nurtured, gives more each year. Children find the path to their transformation into adults, income opportunities increase family stability, and financial savvy empowers women to be self-sufficient. Your contribution is nothing less than an investment in desert women and girls to shape their own futures within an array of learning and earning groups that together raise the economic and educational well-being of the local population. 

Thank you so much for your friendship and partnership throughout the year. 
Enjoy this video reviewing all we've accomplished together in 2014.

Happy New Year from all of us and your many friends in Niger!

Aichatou
Aichatou

True lasting change is achieved through learning - in school, under the compassionate gaze of a woman mentor. This year, in rural Niger, where only one in ten girls make it to the 3rd grade, 30 women mentored over 600 at-risk girls, who returned to school in numbers 20% greater than their unmentored peers with your help.  

You've generously given to this project because you're passionate about education for at-risk girls. On Giving Tuesday, December 2, Microsoft YouthSpark will be matching every donation to our Mentoring program on GlobalGiving.org. This is a wonderful opportunity to share your passion with a gift donation in honor of someone special. Or, just sharing the project on Giving Tuesday with friends and family will be a win for the women and girls working so hard against all odds.

In this season of sharing, give a piece of your heart -- give the gift of possibility for nomadic girls.

Thank you for your caring spirit, and the very best wishes for the holidays!

Bess Palmisciano
Founding Director 

"My name is Aichatou and I'm a Grade 3 student at the primary school of my village Iférouane, 250 kilometers north of Agadez. Our mentors have taught us embroidery in linen, crocheting, cooking and hygiene advice. Before I didn't know about any of these things. Now with the mentoring initiated by RAIN, I wash my hands before eating and leaving the toilet with water and soap. I have made a tablecloth and share my knowledge with all my sisters who do not have mentors. We are very much thankful to RAIN, which is really the friend of nomadic children." 

Halima (2nd from L) with students & founder Bess
Halima (2nd from L) with students & founder Bess

“I would like to be Prime Minister or work for an NGO. I want to help the people in my village and my family and fight against terrible diseases.” - ALC Student Faji Hamid

In Niger, girls rarely progress to the 4th grade and 1 in 3 is married before the age of 15. The girls RAIN works with face the additional challenge presented by their remote desert location. Only 2% of girls in Niger make it to secondary school. A good education, like rain, is scarce here — especially for girls. And finding a secure and supportive place to live to persue that education is even scarcer.

New opportunity for nomadic students is found at the Agadez Learning Center – a safe and nurturing home away from home - a place to live, study, tuition, meals, and tutoring to support them through secondary school - a truly unique opportunity for Niger's children to break free of the cycle of poverty. As RAIN expands the center, we expect to set a new precedent in Niger. As girls in our mentoring programs graduate from primary school, they will have an option to continue their studies they would otherwise not have. School is a monumental commitment for desert nomadic kids and their families. Going to class means they aren’t able to help their parents forge a living in the dusty pastureland south of the Sahara. Despite the sacrifices, this fall will find these girls attending school with smiles on their faces. Somehow, they know it’s worth it. They know that each additional year in school brings them closer to a better life: More options. Skills to share back home. Better health. Greater independence. The possibility to be one of the lucky few in Niger to go on to high school, or even college.

Mentoring continues at the ALC

RAIN's mentoring program is gaining momentum at the Learning Center. The girls lean on RAIN staff member Halima Aboubacar as a mentor and role model throughout the school year. Meeting with the girls twice a week, Halima instructs and guides in a firm but gentle style. With her guidance, students delegate responsibilities for a variety of posts and chores, and lead informal peer to peer tutoring sessions. With her help, the average success rate of ALC students in the 2014 school year was twice as high as their peers, demonstrating that with the right support, rural students - despite many challenges - can outperform urban students. Those graduating meet with Halima in conjunction with school staff to assist in plans for high school and specialty schools offering degrees in public health, engineering, agriculture and education. In 2015, RAIN plans to extend our mentoring program, drawing from a local women artisan co-operative, to support the growing number of girls at the Learning Center. 

This fall, 12 students are returning,  joined by 13 girls from RAIN mentoring programs beginning their secondary school journey. Remote northern communities such as Gougaram, Tadek, Tchinfiniten, Soulefet, and Tchintelouste will see a new generation of girls going further in their education than ever before. A special effort is being made to seek out and recruit Wodaabe students in these communities, who are the least represented in Niger schools. 

School starts in a few weeks. Because of friends like you, new opportunity is in reach for these desert children of hardship and hope.

On October 15th, GlobalGiving will match your donation to our mentoring program that keeps at-risk rural and nomadic girls succeeding in school by 30%! Matching begins at 9:00 am EDT and lasts until funds run out or 11:59 pm EDT.

Let's do this! Mark your calendar for October 15th and be sure to spread the word...together we can keep more girls in school to be the next generation of students at the Agadez Learning Center.

                                        ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

It's not often that girls in rural Niger are asked about their lives and hopes for the future. RAIN supplied questionairres to the students at the ALC to get to know them better and let them know that their ideas count. Below is a sample from a Wodaabe student.

Dafada Hadiza
Age: 14  Grade: 5

What are common illnesses in your village? Malaria, menengitis, measles, conjunctivitis, fever, back illness.
What is the most difficult part of your life? Life is expensive. We do not take advantage of our culture.
What work did you do as a child? Getting wood and drawing water by mule back. Caring for young goats.
What games did you prefer as a child? Galloping on mule back, playing with clay and a doll, a game called gollel.
What work do you do during your vacations? Helping mother pound millet, bringing wood, herding the flock to pasture, fetching water, embroidering.
What are the recreational activities you prefer? Dancing with my friends, embroidery.
What profession would you like to do when you are an adult? To be a nurse, to help care for the sick.

Tamamounte, Fatima & Dafada enjoying the questions
Tamamounte, Fatima & Dafada enjoying the questions
Faji Hamid
Faji Hamid
Dafada Hadiza
Dafada Hadiza

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Organization

Rain for the Sahel and Sahara

Portsmouth, New Hampshire, United States
http://www.rain4sahara.org

Project Leader

Julia D'Orazio

Office Manager
Portsmouth, NH United States

Where is this project located?

Map of Mentoring for At-Risk Nomadic Girls in Rural Niger