Women Artisan Cooperatives in Niger

 
$1,185
$3,815
Raised
Remaining
FAHRA artisans of Ingal with French books
FAHRA artisans of Ingal with French books

Artisan cooperatives provide a way for rural women to draw upon their rich heritage that generates income and preserves nomadic culture. RAIN provides seed money, skills training, design and marketing consultation, and marketing opportunities in both Niger and the U.S. The women develop and hone their skills, bringing their earnings together to support their families and fund local schools, providing books, medicine, food and uniforms for students.

The women who make up our cooperatives start without knowledge of how to measure, follow a pattern, or conduct basic accounting. Already talented, these artisans hone and refine their abilities to become true professionals able to trade with the modern world while preserving the traditions that define each group's unique identity. The success of RAIN's artisan cooperatives has inspired a variety of small business enterprises within our partner communities - new livelihoods that are culturally appropriate.

The Wodaabe embroiderers of the BARKA co-operative of Foudouk have started down the road of independence - taking the skills, designs and marketing knowledge with them as they produce a line of tote bags, purses and clothing for local and regional sale, including annual festivals through SAFEM, the national crafts association.

The 16 Tuareg women who make up the Albaye leather cooperative in Agadez teamed up with FAHRA (meaning: "better lives") - a group of straw weaving Tuareg artisans in Ingal. This collaboration has resulted in beautiful bags in leather and straw, not possible for these two groups on their own. Since this training and collaboration, a line of products has been established for the artisans to perfect and market and includes "tea sac" style drawstring leather bags, straw and leather tote bags, and decorative straw platters.

Illiah Addoh, Director of Artisans at the National Museum in Niamey, worked with the artisans to teach what many had lost: the traditional design techniques of their culture. Illiah instructed the artisans in traditional designs, how to measure and follow patterns, and worked with them to perfect modern takes on their designs that are of high quality.

This winter, the women of Albaye and FAHRA pooled their earnings to purchase French books for local primary school students about to take the important government exam that will determine if they can progress to middle school. Rural and nomadic students struggle with French, though as the national language, fluency is required to succeed in Niger, it's rarely used in village schools. The women also purchased food and medical supplies for the students.

  • School supporting funds donated by FAHRA: $300
  • School supporting funds donated by Albaye: $500
    (In Niger, these amounts are quite significant).

Meanwhile, RAIN has initiated a new co-operative with the Seiga community in the southern Tilliberi region. Straw crafts are practiced among the Bellah (a class of former Tuareg slave families) with specialized metal, wood and leather work created by Inaden Tuareg blacksmith families, selling to local markets in Bankilare or Tegue. With RAIN's help, these artisans will establish a boutique for supplies year round and work closely with Illiah to produce a group of products that are both traditional and appealing to wider markets. 

The goal of all of our programs is self sustainability leading to new paths that are independent of RAIN. With your help, the Wodaabe artisans of Foudouk have achieved this goal, with the Albaye and FAHRA artisans close behind. We are fortunate to have the support of One Day's Wages for the Seiga artisan project. In light of this, we're closing the artisan project on GlobalGiving for the time being. We truly value your caring acts of friendship and hope you might be inspired to continue your support of RAIN and the nomadic women in Niger we call our partners.

Many nomadic women in our Mentoring Program mentor girls that are at-risk of dropping out of primary school - advocating with parents, providing health education and guidance, and teaching the girls traditional skills to become future artisans. The mentors benefit as well from literacy classes, small enterprise opportunities and savings and loan groups as they become "wise women" in their communities. To learn more, visit our Mentoring project page.

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With deepest gratitude,

Bess Palmisciano
Executive Director

"RAIN is the only organization in Agadez that recognizes and promotes the traditional work of women artisans." - Ouma Amaa, head of the RAIN Albaye Cooperative and President of Agadez artisans.

Founder Bess & FAHRA President Chita Abdoukareem
Founder Bess & FAHRA President Chita Abdoukareem
Women of the Albaye cooperative create tote bags
Women of the Albaye cooperative create tote bags
Wodaabe artisans of Foudouk
Wodaabe artisans of Foudouk
Albaye "tea sac" bag
Albaye "tea sac" bag
Straw platter created by FAHRA artisans
Straw platter created by FAHRA artisans
Seiga artisan Outinagatt Moyaz
Seiga artisan Outinagatt Moyaz
Seiga artisan
Seiga artisan

Niger’s nomads are skilled craftspeople; the artistry trade is a whole identity 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. 

Your contribution to help support these artisans is nothing less than an investment in the possibility for marginalized desert families to shape their own futures in the poorest country in the world.

Enjoy this video highlighting all the ways we've helped to make Niger a better place in 2014.

Thank you for all you do and Happy New Year from all of us at RAIN!

Seiga
Seiga

Last Spring, we shared with your our budding partnership with the three small hamlets surrounding the seasonal Lake Seiga: Tooro Tondi, Seiga Baani Koira, and Belkou, in the southern Tillaberi region of Niger. Comprised of nomadic herders of cows, goats, sheep and camels, these villages are now primarily women, as the men migrate in search of pasturelands or work. Seiga was highly impacted by drought in 2013-14, their food stores and household incomes at an all time low. This last year has seen the transformative development of wells, gardens and a mentoring program for the three communities. Most exciting of all is the start of our partnership with regional artisans. Developing income generating activities for women results in greater economic influence in their household. Sales from craft products provide mothers with funds to supplement household needs, such as more nutritious food, clothes for their children, and money for medicine and education.

The Tuareg people of Seiga have a strong artisan tradition in a variety of crafts using wood, raw metals, akof (palm fronds), tezawen (reed grass), leather, naturally produced dyes, yarn and mirrors. The Bellah (class of former slave) women of Seiga primarily work with reed grass to create baskets and elaborate decorative mats that may be used as placemats, trivets or home decor. Very few women have the knowledge of how to make the most elaborate item, the Teydeyint decorated tent wall mat. There is a great variety of designs for the teydeyint and the efartay (smaller decorative mat) that may be adapted for a variety of different products. Along with the Bellah people in Seiga is a smaller number of Inaden families, members of the Tuareg crafts class who specialize in metal, wood and leather work.

Previously, Seiga artisans were only able to produce when they had the means to purchase the raw materials in local Bankilare or Tegue markets, due to limited funds and desertification in the region decimating the bulk of collectable local resources. This method of acquiring materials was subject to seasonal availability - most notably, the reed grass needed to produce their traditional decorative mats. To remove this obstacle, a storage shed is being constructed to allow for the purchase of supplies when they are at their lowest price - making it possible for the artisans to stock what they need to produce all year long. 

Illia Addoh is a master leather artisan of the National Museum in Niamey. He has had success leading trainings and workshops with RAIN co-operatives, including the Tuareg leather artisans in Agadez. His expertise will bring the Seiga artisans together to form a co-operative, pooling their resources as they build their capacity, access to markets and production quality. Trainings and workshops in new designs will introduce new products into the local markets and open the door to markets beyond Niger. A shade hangar will foster collaboration, reinforcing the solidarity of their group, both socially and economically.

Up next: photos and personal stories of how your caring support has made such a difference for the people of Seiga!

Examples of Bella crafts:
Efartay: small decorative straw mat
Teydeyint: large decorated tent wall mat.
Leyfey: winnowing pan
Lgaraygaraya/Isanam: decorated hanging leather panels

 

Inaden examples:
Adefur: leather pillow
Agadut/Agalagut: leather bag to hold water or butter
Tebawunt: large leather decorative travel sac for camels
Decorative spoons and spice mortars

Inaden spoons & spice mortars
Inaden spoons & spice mortars
Tekurut decorated reed mat
Tekurut decorated reed mat
Igaraygaraya decorated leather panel
Igaraygaraya decorated leather panel
Illia working on handbags with artisans.
Illia working on handbags with artisans.

The 16 Tuareg women who make up the Albaye leather cooperative in Agadez have recently teamed up with other women artisans in Ingall who primarily work in straw. This collaboration has led to beautiful leather & straw tote bags, a product not possible for these two groups on their own. 

The collaboration continues with new products this summer with some help from a true master artisan - Illiah Addoh, Director of Artisans at the National Museum in Niamey. Organized by Albaye co-op president Oumma Amma, Three artisans from the Ingall straw cooperative joined the 16 members of Albaye to learn ways to improve their craft and make new items. 

We're proud to share two new products from this learning collaboration - straw woven platters and leather handbags.
We are truly excited by the high quality of these items as well as their stunning beauty - the traditional Tuareg patterns taking on a new modern look in completely different ways. 

The tote bags, hand bags and platters will be available for sale on our online nomadic marketplace in the very near future - check back to get yours! 

A very warm "thank you" to our supporters from RAIN staff and our artisan partners as they develop their skills and expand their livelihoods.

Albaye co-op President Oumma
Albaye co-op President Oumma
Straw & Leather Tote
Straw & Leather Tote
Straw Platters
Straw Platters
Albaye Draw String Purse
Albaye Draw String Purse

Links:

RAIN will be partnering with the African American Civil War Museum of Washington D.C. in a collaborative West African doll project. African American Civil War Museum in Washington D.C. The mission of the museum is to preserve and tell the stories of the United States Colored Troops and African American involvement in the American Civil War. The museum has interest in the culture of the Wodaabe, as reflected in their exhibit focusing on the role of Wodaabe soldiers of the Union Army. Over 179,000 African American men served in over 160 units, as well as in the Navy and in support positions. The Wodaabe, historically elusive members of the Fulani people, were a part of this chapter of pivotal American history.

Looking to tie together the culture and the time period, the dolls will be designed in authentic African style, donned in traditional clothing, designed by Wodaabe artisans in Niger recruited by RAIN. The co-operative of Wodaabe women artisans in the hamlet of Foudouk has recently achieved independence of RAIN (in line with our goals of sustainability). The particular Wodaabe women who will likely be creating the dolls have yet to be confirmed, however they will be from RAIN partner communities, possibly including some of the Foudouk women. The Wodaabe are famous for their embroidery. 

Seacoast Sewing and Quilting of Portsmouth NH is generously contributing their time and talents sewing the finished product. With a tradition of giving back to their communities, they've supported the efforts of Neighbors Helping Newborns, Project Linus, End 68 Hours of Hunger, and their local schools and Girl Scout Troops. Owner Jill Patsfield expressed: "We're thrilled to help RAIN engage their artisans in a product for a national museum and to take part in telling this unique chapter in American history." 

Proceeds from doll sales will support RAIN programs in Niger, including support for our artisan cooperative programs. This will be the first collaboration emerging from RAIN as we produce a series of limited edition dolls available for sale Summer 2014 through the RAIN website, or through the museum. In the meantime, we'll be sharing updates as the artisans do their magic creating a collectible piece of cultural and historical art for all to learn from and enjoy.

Wodaabe man
Wodaabe man
Wodaabe artisans at work.
Wodaabe artisans at work.
Doll prototype waiting for Wodaabe outfit!
Doll prototype waiting for Wodaabe outfit!

Links:

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Funded

Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.

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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 Niger

Where is this project located?

Map of Women Artisan Cooperatives in Niger