As new schools open in rural and marginalized areas of Niger, a gap is forming between unschooled adults and educated young people. Parents who worked their whole lives are wondering why their children are exhausted after a day at school: “You have been sitting in a chair all day. Why are you so tired?” Some parents find it especially difficult to understand the value of education for girls when there are so many chores to do at home, like pulling water from the well, pounding grain, and collecting firewood for cooking.
In the RAIN mentoring program, local women from rural areas sponsor young girls, serving as a liaison between the school staff and parents, advocating for the girls’ education, and teaching them practical skills in semi-formal workshops. The workshops enable mentors and students to revisit key concepts learned at school using their mother tongue, and to supplement the informal learning that goes on in everyday village life with practical skills. The acquisition of practical skills is important because it helps the community see that supporting education is not a contradiction to their culture.
RAIN mentor Fatimata lives in Ouro Jelgoobe (or ‘Home of the Jelgoobe’), a part of the Nassile region where the famously nomadic Jelgoobe Fulani are located. Fatimata spends time with her students in a novel way: she accompanies them into the countryside in search of a particular kind of thick grass. Fatimata is a master crafter of secco mats; long mats which make the nomadic dome tents the Jelgoobe Fulani live in easy to disassemble and reassemble as families move with their cows in search of pastureland.
During Fatimata's time with her group of girls, she will teach them every step of the craft, from the collection of the thick grass to the final stages of production. At the same time, as they talk about school and other issues, Fatimata will serve as an informal counselor and ally, and they will form an important bond of trust. Mentors like Fatimata bonding with at-risk girls during familiar tasks while encouraging their studies is wholly unique. Normally, nomadic girls would accomplish these sorts of chores accompanied by family members, with discussions revolving around gossip or small talk rather than education - for a comparison, think of what you talk about when you go food shopping with a friend.
Your support makes it possible for RAIN mentors to champion girls’ dreams of education, offer support for schools, and make a lasting and positive difference to Niger’s future.
The nomadic communities of Seiga & Ingui in the Tillaberi region of Niger are hard hit by recent droughts and an influx of Mali refugees. Men are often absent searching for work, leaving women to support families without means to generate income and no access to seed funds. Though RAIN mentoring programs in both communities have drastically increased girls' enrollment, education is a long term investment that requires sustainable support. With RAIN's help, women mentors start small enterprises such as herding or tailoring. S&L groups help keep it all going.
A new initiative, our savings and loan programs provide the seed funds needed for mentors to engage in small scale enterprise to generate income. Training will equip mentors to extend the program to women in the the wider communities. 50% of funds generated will support the mentoring program keeping at-risk girls in school and providing sustainability. S&L members learn the value of saving and basic principles of finance as family stability and food security increases.
For the communities of Seiga & Ingui, 30 mentors and their families will be able to retain their current food stocks and herd animals with income to purchase food with help from the S&L. Subsistence level herding will grow to become profit generating enterprise along with the knowledge of the value of saving. Women's contributions and decisions will empower them economically & socially as the program is extended to hundreds more women in Seiga and Ingui as well as surrounding areas.
Girls + Women = Greater Empowerment!
The RAIN Mentoring program is about keeping at-risk girls learning and in school - but it's also about economically and socially empowering the women who mentor them. Knowledge is shared and support is increased- making this the most beloved and popular program in our partner communities.
Now, these two communities will have the opportunity to learn and earn. Visit our S&L project page to learn more.
As always, thank you for your support!
"Knowledge is like the bird in the forest. No one person can catch it." - African Proverb
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.
"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:
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.
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.
RAIN programs are all about mutual support between families and community members and there is no program for which that is more so than the mentoring program. On their last visit to Iferouane, a community in the remote northern Air Massif - the homeland of Niger's nomadic Tuareg people, our staff caught up with two women bound together by RAIN - a mother and her daughter's mentor.
Tanalher: A mother on her ownTanalher Illias is a mother of eight children and three adopted children. She lost her husband in 2009 and is now raising the children on her own. She’s doing her best to eke out a living from the garden she inherited from her husband, but it’s a challenge. Despite her hardships, Tanalher enrolled her ten school-age children in school. One of her daughters, Fatima, is a student in RAIN’s mentoring program. Tanalher does everything she can to help her children despite the difficulties she faces. She exists on the edge; her struggle is constant. Tanalher related to RAIN staff that her daughter’s mentor, Assalama Attaher, has taken on the task of supporting Fatima through school. “I hope all my daughters can take part in the mentoring program one day with mentors like Assalama.“Assalama: The RAIN mentor who goes above and beyondAssalama Attaher is a midwife and volunteer RAIN mentor. She is devoted to her village, known for her services even during conflicts and displacements, saving many lives. Though Assalama is poor, her famliy enjoys a level of security that most of her neighbors in Iferouane do not. She has chosen independently of RAIN to further support the children she mentors, including Tanalher’s daughter Fatima, by funding their school expenses and providing food and other necessities when needed. Assalama says that she makes this gift to her group of students to encourage them to stay in school and work hard.
“I call upon all the women in Iferouane to do good for their children, and for all the children in their community. “
It’s these everyday stories of dedicated parents, mentors and entire communities working together that makes RAIN happen in Niger. Your contribution helps to bring mentoring to more rural women and girls in need. Thank you!
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