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.
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.
From March to June, the hot season bakes the life out of the Sahel, the southern fringes of the Sahara Desert. For the RAIN partner community of Tirboye in Niger, a new drip-irrigated school market garden will bring the welcome surprise of new crop life during this traditionally barren period.
Drip irrigation decreases the amount of water used, reduces the labor demands of gardening, and allows for year round crop cultivation, even in one of the most arid places in the world. Tirboye is a village primarily made up of Gourmance people, an ethnic group known for their agricultural acumen, and men and women alike can be found breaking up the hard desert earth with traditional hand-crafted hoes. A RAIN school market garden is the perfect solution for Tirboye, bringing schoolchildren, teachers and mentors together to overcome formidable obstacles to education and food security through modern agricultural techniques. During this hot season, the clay soil in Tirboye becomes so baked, that after breaking it apart with pick-axes, the resulting chunks of earth are literally pulverized to create a texture suitable for planting.
In a community where the children have never seen, let alone tasted, a tomato, carrot, or melon, the photos featured on their seed packages act as a strong motivator for the arduous and intensive task of planting a garden in the scorching sun. Our five women mentors, who each sponsor five local at-risk girls, will be assisting the hired gardener and school staff in installing a year-round crop-producing plot from land traditionally used only three months during the year. A seed nursery is also being installed to ensure continuity of crops regardless of seed availability. After the first harvest of crops that include moringa tree saplings, a source of the most nutritional edible leaf in the world, fruit trees, a lucrative cash crop, will be planted along the outer edge of the garden, enclosing this future pocket of paradise. The community has also expressed interest in cultivating fruits such as mango, guava and papaya.
The Tirboye school community and mentoring support system are at the start of growing a miraculous mirage that will soon flourish, supplying undernourished students with vitamin-rich vegetables and fruits at the edge of the vast Sahel desert. With cash crops to support the school, the garden will foster the growth of the school, enlarging its capacity to provide the foundation for an academic education while serving as a living classroom for lessons in food security that will endure over generations for this subsistence farming community.