Mentoring for At-Risk Nomadic Girls in Rural Niger

by Rain for the Sahel and Sahara
Dafada embroidering
Dafada embroidering

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.  

Fatima proud of her work.
Fatima proud of her work.
Halima Aboubacar
Halima Aboubacar


Tanalher with her daughters. Fatima  is 2nd from L
Tanalher with her daughters. Fatima is 2nd from L

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 own
Tanalher 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 beyond
Assalama 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!

Assalama with her students, including Fatima.
Assalama with her students, including Fatima.


Mariama Mowli (at right) with her mentor Asha.
Mariama Mowli (at right) with her mentor Asha.

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!   

Mentor President Hawa Hanzou with mentored girls.
Mentor President Hawa Hanzou with mentored girls.


RAIN staff member Koini in husbandry training
RAIN staff member Koini in husbandry training

The primary school in the Seiga community of the Niger region of Tillaberi has had a history of hardship and resistance to education. In 2010, RAIN implemented a mentoring program to help enroll and follow students through difficulties they face in attending school from the family, community, and economic pressures. Towards the end of 2011, we increased the number of women mentors from 5 to 20, creating the largest team of RAIN mentors ever organized.

After receiving training about the importance of education and how to handle special family issues, the group of new mentors spent the summer visiting surrounding rural families - leading to the recruitment of the largest first grade class Seiga has ever seen. This year, 17 girls and 17 boys, for a total of 34 new students, filled the classroom - setting a new precedent that the mentors hope will continue into the future.

To sustain the program and help the mentors support their families, the women received animals from RAIN to start several income generating activities. One activity is a practice known locally as embouche. A ram is steadily fed a larger and larger amount of food in preparation for sale during Tabaski, one of the most important holidays of the year, requiring Nigerien families to “sacrifice” a ram for food in honor of Abraham. Another activity is creating mineral salt licks to sell for income and improve the health of their own animals as they tend and breed a herd of goats for food and income. The average first earnings among each mentor was $60-100, a large amount of money in Niger. For example, mentor president Aminatou Salanou was able to bring her desperately ill husband to the local health clinic with income earned from RAIN activities.

“After seeing my husband on the bed, becoming worse and worse each day, barely able to move, I grew despairing. There was nothing I could do." Aminatou shared. "Thanks to the money I've earned, I could pay for his stay at the local health clinic and the medicine needed to treat him until he became healthy again. I thank RAIN as well as all who support RAIN. It makes me happy to think that income producing projects such as these will help my family in situations like this in the future."

Happy Holidays from all of us and all your friends in Niger!

Mentor Aminatou Salanou
Mentor Aminatou Salanou
Training the mentors to create salt licks
Training the mentors to create salt licks


Azahara Mohamed learning practical skills
Azahara Mohamed learning practical skills

Two nomadic girls in Akokan were at-risk, now they're succeeding with your help.

Azahara Mohamed

Azahara Mohamed is a student in the RAIN mentoring program in the nomadic community of Akokan, located in the remote northern area of Arlit. Azahara is from a very vulnerable family, whose mother is on her own in raising Azahara and her three brothers by cleaning homes in the city. Many of her girlfriends who were not in school influenced her to attend infrequently and fall behind in her studies when she first began in the mentoring program.  Her mentor has counseled her in life issues and has taught her how to embroider sheets, a skill which she is now employing to sell sheets to local women, helping her mother to support their family.

Fatima Moussa

Fatima Moussa is a nomadic girl identified by RAIN as having a high risk of dropping out of school, and was enrolled in the mentoring program. At first, Fatima was a serious student, ranked fourth in her class. Suddenly, she stopped taking notes, was frequently absent and her grades began to fall. Her mentor, Mariama Moussa, asked her what was happening. Fatima disclosed that her parents were discouraging her from attending school, already earmarking her to marry. Her mentor talked with her parents about the importance of girls' education and the consequences of early marriage. Fatima’s parents thanked Mariama for her work as a mentor and for raising their awareness.

Now, Fatima is back to working hard in school, and for the 2011-2012 school year, ranked in the top five of her class, passing her examinations to proceed onto the next level.

Recently, a friend of Fatima who married very early had to undergo a surgical operation to survive her first delivery. Together with Fatima’s success in school, awareness has been raised on the part of the community about the consequences for young girls engaging in early marriage and pregnancy. In Akokan, more parents are now coming forward to assert that their daughters finish their studies before considering marriage.

Akokan Mentors

Stories of success aren't only for the girls - but for the mentors helping them, too.

The Akokan women's mentor group of Arlit first began in 2005. Since then, they've 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.

Income generating activities that these loans have supported include the practice of embouche (purchasing of a small goat that is then fattened to sell), making food products for sale at the local market, making and selling clothes, and augmenting the goat herds provided by RAIN. All members have reported a profit.

Encouraged by the Akokan women, RAIN hopes to initiate savings and loan programs in each of our partner communities to further support the development of livelihoods.

Fatima and her mentor Mariama
Fatima and her mentor Mariama
Akokan Mentors 2012
Akokan Mentors 2012



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Organization Information

Rain for the Sahel and Sahara

Location: Portsmouth, New Hampshire - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Whitney Fleming
Manager Communications & Projects
Portsmouth, NH United States

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