Mentoring for At-Risk Nomadic Girls in Rural Niger

by Rain for the Sahel and Sahara
Mentors in Iferouane
Mentors in Iferouane

Last fall, RAIN set out on a mission to train 25 mentors in the villages of Iferouane, Ingui and Gougaram about the most common diseases in their communities, good hygiene practices, raising awareness among the students and their parents about disease prevention, and spotting signs of illness for treatment as a pilot project in health education.  We're happy to report that since the project began, big strides have been achieved in our partner communities! 

  • Mentors in all three communities are now able to recognize early symptoms and are referring students for treatment and following up with parents.
  • Parents are increasingly bringing their children for treatment at first signs of illness.
  • School attendance has increased 16%-18% from last year. Since health services for children have been provided free of charge, families use the system, so that a child who is ill can avoid missing school for long periods. 
  • Health and hygiene practices by the students have greatly improved.
  • Within six months, the project raised awareness about health issues for more than 2,000 people and provided free medical care to 700 nomadic students. 

These accomplishments are especially significant when compared to just a few years ago, when nearby conflict debilitated the local health and education systems. Beyond the benefits of prevention and care, this project has helped bring things back to normalcy. Health can be a major obstacle to children attending school - with your help, RAIN plans to continue the education and care of mentors, children and their families alike to clear the way for healthy and educated nomadic communities! 

Mentor Hawa with student in Iferouane
Mentor Hawa with student in Iferouane
Clinic with medicines in Gougaram
Clinic with medicines in Gougaram

Links:

Mentor Jadatta
Mentor Jadatta

Interview with Mrs. Jadatta, Mentor, Community of Tangoushman

Recently, RAIN Education Coordinator Abdou Amani interviewed some women in the community of Tangoushman to learn about their experiences as mentors in the Mentoring and Scholarship program. The following is an interview with RAIN mentor Jadatta.

Name: Jadatta
Age: 37
Marital Status: Married
Children:  3
Education level: Not literate

RAIN: What motivated you to become a mentor for RAIN?

Jadatta: The RAIN staff and the head of our village explained to us what this program entailed. I understood immediately that the purpose of the program was to help our own children. I am a mother of three children, of which two attend school.

RAIN: Since you have become a mentor, what changes, if any, have you noticed in your life?

Jadatta: I learn something new every day. With each round of the RAIN team in our village, we learn many things, either about the children, or health, or questions relating to the school. That is important. Moreover, I’ve become an asset to my community - before the mentoring program, our children did not regularly attend school and did not practice daily hygiene. This is changing, and I am proud of that.

RAIN: Do you feel that the elimination of illiteracy is important for the mentors?

Jadatta: Yes, of course. The knowledge to read and write is essential, regardless of who you are. If we were without education, it is not because we did not want it, but because we did not have the means to create it.

RAIN: What are your hopes for the children who you are entrusted within the framework of the program?

Jadatta: I hope that they continue their schooling, so that in the future they can grow to be productive individuals for themselves and their community. If our children miss their future, the parents will be the ones to assume responsibility and face the consequences.

RAIN: Are there any conflicts that arise between you and the parents of the students?

Jadatta: There have not been conflicts between us and the parents; this is because we sensitize the parents at the start to our plans for their children. They then can see for themselves what we do, and have the opportunity at any time to engage with their children. If our work was harmful in any way, the children would be the first to express this; however, the children like our company and our councils. As a result, the parents have no reason for objection.

RAIN: How often do you meet with the children who are entrusted to you?

Jadatta: Once a week, every week.

RAIN: Do all the five mentors live in the village of Tangoushman?

Jadatta: Yes. We all were raised in this village, and will remain here for our lifetimes. Every Wednesday, we ask the children to return in the evening so that we can meet. Everyone attends. There are absences only in the event of sickness or disease.

RAIN: What are some challenges you encounter in your mentoring work?

Jadatta: One frequent obstacle is the hour of our meetings with the children, which coincides with our domestic obligations. But we overcome that obstacle and make the sacrifice to always be present. Another challenge is to make food available for the children in the evenings at the school. Some children must travel a few kilometers back to school each evening from home, and at times are fatigued and hungry when they arrive. To address this problem, we are striving to increase the school food supply to offer the children in the evening, in order to ensure full attendance. Another challenge is that certain elderly individuals in the village, who do not yet understand the purpose of education, attempt to discourage parents of the children attending. This problem is presently being addressed by the parent and teacher committee, who plan to organize meetings to increase awareness.

RAIN: What are some of the issues you discuss with the children?

Jadatta: We discuss good health and hygiene, habits of successful students, study guidance, how to behave safely and responsibly, and the importance of respect for others. The school principal guides us with the curriculum, and must be congratulated on working with us tirelessly.

Jadatta and other mentors of Tangoushman
Jadatta and other mentors of Tangoushman
Children of Tangoushman.
Children of Tangoushman.
Students on their long journey back home.
Students on their long journey back home.

Links:

Ahmed Illias
Ahmed Illias

Here are two personal stories from Gougaram and Iferoune about how the RAIN Mentoring and Scholarship are changing lives.

Ahmed Illias

My name is Ahmed Illias. I am a member of the parent committee at the Iferouāne elementary school. Before the RAIN Mentoring and Scholarship Program, our school had difficulties with student attendance. Twenty percent of students were regularly absent due to sickness, or because illiterate parents did not regard schooling as a priority.

Today, with the RAIN mentoring and scholarship program, the community is aware of the importance of education, and sick students are immediately brought to the health clinic for treatment. We’ve seen attendance rise to 95%, and can testify that this success is a direct result of the support of the mentors. The added value of learning practical skills attracts students and parents alike, because it prepares them for the future with the desire to have a trade, and to take part in the development of our country.

On behalf our community, and particularly our students, I would like to thank RAIN and the individuals who support RAIN.

Fatimata Rhissa

My name is Fatimata Rhissa. I am the mother of Amina Souleymane, a student at the Gougaram school. She is my only child and all I have in the world. I am divorced, and my former husband left the country some years ago to find work. I engage in small income generating activities to provide for our needs, and those of my parents. I offer plait braiding in downtown Arlit to many visitors who travel near our encampment. But with the conflict and the displacement that comes with it, my work has not been generating income. We have suffered much hardship.

Before the mentoring program came to our community, I did not want my daughter to attend school. I thought she should be at home to help me with domestic tasks and to keep our goats. After meetings with the RAIN mentors, I become more sensitized to the importance of bringing my daughter to school instead of having her stay at home. With the practical skills she has been learning, I now have confidence in my daughter, who is already starting to embroider. I can say that my daughter is thankful for the skills training and the counsel of the mentors, who now have a primary role in preparing her for the future.

Fatimata Rhissa
Fatimata Rhissa

Links:

Women mentors in Gougaram at their first training.
Women mentors in Gougaram at their first training.

RAIN Mentor Health Education Training Underway!

By Ibrahim (Michel) Boubacar
Director of Programs, RAIN Niger

On November 15, 2010, I found myself, along with RAIN Program Assistant, Mohamoud Mouta, on a rough and dusty journey to Gougaram and Iferouane – villages in the Air Mountains of northern Niger. Our mission: to launch the new Health Education Training Program with the mentors in our Girls Mentoring and Scholarship Program, an initiative possible by the Izumi Foundation, and of course, supporters like you!

First Stop: Gougaram. Ten new women mentors were recruited in Gougaram to recognize Niger’s most common and serious childhood diseases in their early phases and refer the children to health care.  They will also educate families and community members about the prevention and treatment of these diseases. The mentors learned of the importance of this new program and its goals of treatment and prevention of these dangerous maladies.

During the training, the mentors shared their current ideas about hygiene and related subjects. Mentors were taught about diseases such as meningitis, diarrhea, malaria, pneumonia, and measles, in concrete and precise terms.  They learned the causes, symptoms, means of transmission, and methods of prevention.

Next Stop: Iferouāne. Ten women mentors were selected to participate in the program in Iferouane, all of whom have collaborated with RAIN in previous years. Two of the mentors also volunteered to serve on the Management Board. Much like the process in Gougaram, the trainer spoke to the mentors about different health issues in the area, especially the principal diseases the program wishes to prevent.

As always, I am amazed by the willingness, energy and enthusiasm of our mentors. These women already volunteer much time and effort in their mentoring roles to students, and now are investing even more time and effort to be able to offer such a valuable service to their students as well as to their communities.

The new school year is just underway in Niger, and we are excited to see how the mentors apply their newfound health knowledge.  I hope to see concrete changes in children’s health by the end of the year!  RAIN communities improve as a direct result of all their own hard work!

I’ll keep you posted.  

Formation of the mentor team in Iferouane.
Formation of the mentor team in Iferouane.
RAIN Mentors in Arlit, 2009
RAIN Mentors in Arlit, 2009

Dear Global Giving Friends,

RAIN is excited to announce a new facet to our Girls Scholarship and Mentoring Program! This year, our Niger mentors will become an important force in educating communities about health, recognizing common disease symptoms, and referring children to health care professionals.

The principle objective for our new Health Education program is to protect our partner communities from preventable diseases, the leading causes of death in Niger, including meningitis, diarrhea, malaria, pneumonia, and measles. Children under the age of five are particularly at risk of contracting these diseases, often transmitted by unsafe water and poor sanitation.

Our mentoring program offers a wonderful opportunity to address this issue. Much information is exchanged between girls and their families with the trusted mentors, why not train mentors to also provide health education?

RAIN will be expanding the medical training of mentors, resulting in their increased confidence, empowerment, and use of improved health practices - knowledge they will share with their communities.

After training, each mentor will be responsible for referring children for treatment of simple medical problems. In addition to the training, RAIN will supply the medicines and treatment plans.

By offering medical first aid, symptom awareness for illness, simple medical kits, and access to health professionals, RAIN expects to substantially improve the health of children and adults alike in our partner communities. The students in our Mentoring and Scholarship Program will not only benefit from support, guidance, advocacy and skills training, but will now receive vital health education and medical treatment. When you support RAIN's Scholarship and Mentoring Program, you are ensuring the well being of these girls in every aspect of their lives, while further increasing the knowledge and skills of their volunteer mentors.

We at RAIN are eager to share photos and stories as mentors begin their training process and put their new health and hygeine knowlege into action. Stay tuned!

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Organization Information

Rain for the Sahel and Sahara

Location: Portsmouth, New Hampshire - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.rain4sahara.org
Project Leader:
Whitney Fleming
Manager Communications & Projects
Portsmouth, NH United States