The Nassile student garden is just one of many gardens put in place to help the surrounding communities. The gardens are producing many fruits and vegetables some of which are tomato, cucumber, melon, sweet pepper, cabbage, carrot, and watermelon. The student garden is drip irrigated. The hope is that the women and students will be able to harvest all year round in the future. The students are mentored by women who watch over them. Mentors make sure that the children stay in school and work with them towards a better future. There are five mentors at the Nassile site.
There is a community garden that will be put into installation as well. Thirty-seven women will be working in the garden. They will divide the garden into one hundred and five sections, each woman will give back a small portion of their crops to the school and the garden committee. This is to ensure that the garden can be self-sustained by the workers without outside intervention.
“On one bed of melon we counted 183 fruits. Assuming that it is sold for CFA 200 each this is CFA 36600 from only one bed. The minimum we can get from this garden is US$1000 if the production is sold properly. The cucumber was harvested and we got 23Kg from one bed. It was harvested too late when it started to be too big and bitter. They took it to the Tomboley market and sold for CFA 2000. The remaining quantity was prepared for the Nassile school students.” - Iddal Sidi Mohamed of RAIN.
In the hot sun of the Sahara having access to water is key. As the need for water expands it adds to tensions between the gardens the school and the community. Clean water, food and education are the most important tools for the communities. In order for the community to have access to more food and opportunities, the gardens are essential. A balance is needed for both the community and the garden, in order to have sustainability.
Our field agents have recently come back from the rocky mountain roadways leading to the communities we work with in the Air Mountains of northern Niger, as well as from those on the far side of the Niger River in Tillaberi, western Niger. Though located on opposite ends of the country, these communities have shared a common herding lifestyle for thousands of years. This traditional way of life is swiftly becoming unsustainable, thanks to desertification, climate change, and political instability. With an adult illiteracy rate near 90%, little infrastructure, and one of the highest child marriage rates in the world, community members are teetering on the edge of survival, with few opportunities to create a better life for parents or a better future for their children.
RAIN’s mentor program is designed to help girls stay in school and succeed, but also has the well being of the entire community in its sights. Currently 140 mentors support more than 600 girls as they follow their dreams of education. In addition to mediating between teachers and the parents of the five pupils they sponsor, mentors work tirelessly to instill in the community an understanding and appreciation of the benefits of education. This is important because reports show that the more education a girl receives, the better off she - and her children - will be later on in life.
During the school year, mentors watch over the health and academic progress of their sponsored children like hawks, and intervene when necessary to help students succeed.
Only 12% of girls from remote communities access secondary school; even fewer attend college. So when mentor Halima Ahad found out that her student Fatima Aboutali was admitted to college, she was determined to help her.
“Fatimata never repeated a class because she loves studying. One evening Fatima came to my house to tell me that she passed her exam but unfortunately her father does not want her to go to town to attend college. He wants her to stay in the village and watch their herd grazing. I decided to visit his family to explain the importance of education. After a long discussion I realized could convince him by telling him about the creation here of a college in Gougaram. He agreed to let the girl continue her studies at the College. He does not like city life that could affect and change his daughter’s mentality.”
Mentors also teach their students practical skills, such as weaving, knitting, cooking, and pottery, which students can use to generate income. As 6th grader Mayala Mohamed said of the weaving skills her mentor taught her, ‘It’s good to learn how to weave a tabarma mat. Even if they kick me out of school (for being left back twice), I can keep on making tabarma mats until I die.’
The impact of the program extends to students’ parents, who are taught the mentors’ lessons in health, hygiene, and practical skills by their children. Mentors also help spark local economy though savings and loan groups and herding cooperatives, which provide mentors and other women with urgently needed income generating opportunities. These entrepreneurial activities are an important feature of the program because a portion of the profits are reinvested back into the program, contributing to its sustainability.
Thanks to your support, this year we are launching the mentor program in three brand new communities, and helping over 50 RAIN mentors from 11 communities start up herding cooperatives and savings and loan groups.
While we are excited about these new developments, much more work remains to be done. We know of thousands of girls who want to stay in school, and dream of lifting themselves and their families out of poverty.
Our mentors are committed to going above and beyond the call of duty to make a positive social impact. $40 provides one student with an entire year’s worth of skills training and support from a mentor; it costs $400 to fund a mentor program in a new community. With your continued support, we can empower one of Niger’s greatest assets - its women - to help keep girls in school and on course to greater health and opportunity for all its citizens.
Tirboye is a small village nestled among the arid hills in Tillaberi District, Niger, a region considered one of the most food insecure in Niger. Little aid reaches these communities, which lack connections to roads, electricity, or other infrastructure. RAIN installed a school market garden in Tirboye and the women have volunteered their time to make the garden a success. Their enthusiasm for farming, and success with the school gardens, are reasons we chose them to be our next women’s garden cooperative.
Community gardens must have the full support of a community in order to succeed. Our participants are carefully selected based on level of commitment and dedication to the project. We also ensure that all ethnic groups and social classes in the community are represented.
Each participant must formally agree to contribute a small sum from cash crop revenues each year to pay for the maintenance costs of the system. Responsibilities include monitoring the garden, the work of the gardener, operations, and sales. At the end of each growing cycle, participants evaluate the completed season, plan for the next, and assess the garden's impact on the community.
The women of Tirboye were introduced to farming vegetables for the first time through the School Markey Garden and have begun to produce cash crops such as papaya and sesames seeds. This addition of both nutrition and economic resources have directed affected school enrollment by 25%.
While we celebrate the success of the School Market Garden the community still struggles with food shortages. Gaining access to the nutritional value of the vegetables, knowledge from the continued trainings and income from the cash crops will affect the women, their families and the surrounding community.