The remote community of Seiga is located near a lake in the Tillaberi region of Niger, bordering Mali in the southern part of the country. Seiga and it's surrounding communities of Tooru Tondi and Belkou are comprised of nomadic herders of cows, goats, sheep and camels. The village is now primarily women, as the men migrate in search of pasturelands or work. The Tillaberi region is one of the most food insecure regions of Niger, and Seiga is no exception. This past year found Seiga highly impacted by the effects of drought with food stores and income at an all time low. Responding to the community’s short-term and long-term needs, RAIN has initiated various herding and animal husbandry related income generated activities (IGA's). These activities serve to build sustainable ways to provide a source of revenue in times of need, and allow women to directly participate in supporting their community. Women from Seiga and the surrounding communities skilled in traditional crafts are now expressing interest to RAIN in forming an artisan co-operative as another IGA with the understanding that 50% of their income will support their children’s schools.
The women of Seiga primarily work with straw, prevalent among the Bellah (a class of former slave families), creating both baskets and elaborate decorative mats that may be used as placemats, trivets or home decor. RAIN plans to provide the raw materials and assist the artisans in honing their skills through training sessions. We are exploring the possibility of partnering with SAFEM (Salon Artisanat pour des Femmes), the primary artisan association of Niger.
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. These families specialize in metal, wood and leather work. Inaden’s heritage as artisans, the Belkou Inaden knowledge of most traditional craft items, and the fact that they remain dedicated to local level production demonstrate the importance of including them in RAIN's artisan cooperative. They will add variety with both Inaden-produced items or with the creation of new items based on the Inaden skill base.
Currently, most sales are commissioned, but they may also put items into the local Bankilare or Tegue markets. Participating in an artisan cooperative with RAIN will provide much needed additional income and expand the scope of their current sales from local to international.
All the raw materials needed are purchased from local markets and include wood, various raw metals, akof (palm fronds), tezawen (reed grass), leather, naturally produced dyes, yarn and mirrors.
Items created by Bellah people include:
Efartay: small decorative straw matEfartay wan tikan: very small efartay Eytewel: winnowing pan with sides Leyfey wan asahar: winnowing panLeyfay wan eghaf: cone winnowing pan cover Leyfey tilliwan: small, yarn-wrapped winnowing pan Lgaraygaraya/Isanam: decorated hanging leather panels with fringe and mirrors Alaami: turquoise leather panelsTekurut/Essarer: leather tied stick mat Tasotit: simple long straw tent wall mat Tawana: hanging bowl holder with long leather fringe Teydeyint: decorated reed-grass tent wall mat
Adefur: leather pillow Agadut/Agalagut: leather bag to hold water or butter Enafat: small leather purse necklace Isamut: large leather bag for grain Izayan: large leather bag Tagbat: simple leather bag Tanuwart: large horizontal leather bag Tebawunt: large leather decorative travel sac for camelsTegarut: medium sized leather bag Spoons, decorated small spice mortars The women artisans and Inaden families would benefit from the organization of a RAIN artisan cooperative producing a variety of products, overseeing a boutique for supplies, and training children and teenagers in the community in traditional artisan skills for future livelihoods and cultural preservation. As some items needed for production fluctuate seasonally in cost, establishing a store of supplies to build during lower price periods for sale during higher price periods would allow the artisans to work throughout the year unburdened by material inflation. Artisans and older youth can work together to produce traditional and marketable products, both independently and in collaboration.
RAIN is excited about this budding artistic enterprise in Seiga, and with your support, together we can make it happen!
The village of Gougaram, remotely located at the gate of the Saharan Air Mountains in northern Niger, has experienced incredible challenges in this already hostile landscape. In addition to constant threats of food shortage and drought, the majority of Gougaram fled during the conflict with the previous government, settling in makeshift refugee camps on the outskirts of the uranium mining city of Arlit. After the conflict, the Gougaram community returned to a devastated landscape with a government military camp established in the center of the village. Distancing themselves from the military, residents settled in several hamlets across a two-mile radius around the local elementary school.
In part due to your generous support, RAIN mentors immediately tackled the challenge of getting their school back on track after returning from the refugee camps. For the past three years, Gougaram women have succeeded as mentors and role models, encouraging their community to focus on education and community development. Twelve women from five different hamlets are engaging their communities in important conversations about the value of education, the pitfalls of early marriage for young girls, and hygiene and health issues.
Your support also provides the opportunity for at-risk girls in Gougaram to benefit from counseling, awareness raising group discussions, advocacy at the school and family level, and important practical skills training in traditional crafts. The women of Gougaram proudly announced to RAIN staff that all twelve girls in their final year of elementary school graduated this year, thanks to the mentoring program.
In Niger, rural children rarely finish the six-year elementary school cycle, which is based on the French system. Most rural villages that are lucky enough to have an elementary school are forced to send children to towns and cities if they want to continue studying onto middle school. At the end of the 2011-12 school year, twelve girls have set a precedent as role models for younger girls, demonstrating the impact and success of the mentoring program as they braved the necessary relocations in order to continue their education.
We met 15 year-old Mariama, a student in our Gougaram mentoring program, during her winter break. Mariama was proud to show us her leather work, including finishing the final decorations for a tea bag for her aunt was working on. Practical skills training that includes artisan craft workshops are an important way to reinforce local traditional activities while providing the girls with a way to earn some money.
Mariama explained how her practical skills training allowed her to improve her life while in school. “My father gave me some money upon leaving for college in Arlit. I purchased some leather and made leather key chains to sell in town. So far, I’ve sold six key chains for 500cfa each (~$1 each). I bought food with this money.” The skills that girls like Mariama learn from their mentors help them to continue their education while feeling more independent and responsible.
These women and young girls are grateful for your concern and the support you’ve given them so they may get a “leg up” in difficult times. Women and children can only show their thanks through their stories, photos, and smiles of success as they take the lead in improving the lives of their families and neighbors. At RAIN, we wish we could share with you the gifts of goat cheese and camel milk offered to our staff during fieldwork missions, as they truly represent the culture of thanks and giving in demonstration of their deep gratitude!
Earlier, we shared with you the food relief efforts made possible by your support for the remote community of Seiga in the Tillaberi region of Niger. Here is an update on their progress.
The Seiga community closed the most difficult period of the year for grain availability with RAIN's food aid program. Subsidized sales of the grain provided by RAIN increased access to staple foods while at the same time, generating support for the Seiga elementary school.
Community granaries depleted months after a sporadic harvest and the ensuing food crisis following the 2011 rainy season. During the long wait to the 2012 harvest, vendors sold imported grains in rural markets according to the prevailing market rule: the closer to harvest, the higher the price. RAIN's food aid program aimed at providing reduced-cost food to struggling families that have been reducing meal quantity and quality for months.
After a meeting with School Director, Parent-School Association members, RAIN mentors and other important members of the community, the community decided on a grain price just under half of the market value in order to maximize the programs' benefit to the struggling school, where many nomadic children are fed regularly. The community’s commitment to education impressed us, as had we anticipated a they would set the sale price lower than they did.
Seiga is an incredibly poor community with a history of school setbacks and food crises. Thanks to your support, RAIN bridged the hunger gap before the harvest providing relief from the physical discomfort and emotional drain that hunger brings. This program also directed benefits towards school improvement, drawing families’ attention to the importance of education.
The school earned 405,425CFA, or a little over $800, from the subsidized grain sales. The school staff and community will decide how they will spend this money to support the school in February.