Mentoring for At-Risk Nomadic Girls in Rural Niger

by Rain for the Sahel and Sahara
Vetted

“I have learned a lot of things through my mentor. She talks with us about health, telling us to be sure to wash our hands before and after we eat and to wash our clothes regularly. She also tells us about education with examples about the importance of education. She also teaches us how to make crafts.” – Safiatou.

The effects of education spread to the communities of these children too. They learn and grow, re-teaching others what they have learned. The mentors inspire students -- giving them a reason to think of the future with hope and eagerness.  Educating girls is the way to improve society. Girls grow up to be women who send their children to school, have smaller and healthier families, and contribute to their communities. Mentors are key to motivating parents to invest in their daughters by sending them to school.

“I share what I learn from my mentor with my parents and with my friends. Even among us sponsored kids, I have a friend that speaks/is Songhai [Safiatou is a Tuareg, Tamasheq speaker, but also bilingual in Songhai and learning French at school as third language]. As soon as my mentor finishes explaining something to us in Tamasheq, I explain to my Songhai friend. She understands very well with me there. Everything that our mentor explains, I listen very well and after I explain that to my friend.” – Safiatou.

                Niger is in dire need of educated people.  Mentors are the key that unlocks the potential for young girls’ and boys’ bright minds.  Students like Safiatou share their knowledge with those around them.

Mentors help nurture students reach their highest potentials academically, socially, and personally. Mentors also teach fundamental skills like traditional crafts.  These skills will likely become a means of a potential income. Mentors’ encouragement of education is vital for these children as many of the students come from families where education is not valued or understood to be important.

                 You can help change the lives of so many young girls, who wouldn’t have the opportunity to thrive otherwise. Donating helps more than an individual, it helps whole communities.

               

    Girls in rural and nomadic Niger are the most susceptible to falling into circular poverty. Niger is one of the poorest counties in the world. Women are affected by this the most. However it has been shown that women give back to their communities and families more often than men. With education comes the safeguard against child marriage, cyclical poverty and illiteracy. 

     The mentoring program that RAIN has set up, allows young girls to be guided by older women to continue their schooling. The women will be counselors, talking to students and parents alike. Many of the parents have never finished primary school let alone secondary school. With the mentors help the students are learning and staying in school longer. It is imperative that the parents understand the importance of school. Girls can be married off at the age of 12 sometimes younger, so every year that they remain in school gives them that better chance to ensure a better future.

I have two professional options defined as follows:

     “First, be a teacher to help educate the young of my village and secondly, be a professional trainer like our mentor Madame Azara in order to support women in my village. I could help women to develop management skills in small businesses that they will be using to earn money.

     The income generating activities (practical skills) our trainer teaches in the center will allow us to help our sisters who have not had the chance to go to school or continue their education cycle, to learn a job that will satisfy our financial needs.” – Doulla Student.

      The mentor program gives women the skills they need to help one another and teach, not only the young girls, but also other women in the communities. With the growth of one comes the growth of many. The Agadez Learning Center is also a way that the girls can gain support to remain in school. The ALC offers tutoring programs and a primary school education. Many students are benefiting from this building and the mentors themselves stated above are given training to teach them business and leadership skills. This in turn helps them motivate the students to achieve more and continue to grow and learn.

      Niger is a country where the literacy rate is 15% among rural and nomadic people. Children have very little access to education. Many villages don’t have a middle school. Many families struggle just to send their child to elementary school. Even fewer get a higher education or make it passed high school. Rain’s Agadez Learning Center gives the opportunity of secondary education to motivated nomadic children of the surrounding area. The Agadez Learning Center is a safe, friendly and educational orientated program.

 

       “If I was not at the center I would have a lot of other work to do. I would prepare my own meals to eat. There would not be enough water, no light, no meat, no bed, no cooks, etc. My father would have to buy food so that I could study. Even to study I would have to use a kerosene lamp to learn. Truly there are many difficult things. I would have to buy things for school like pens, the uniform, and notebooks. There would also be no tutoring. Finally, there would be no fans or projector.” – Student Dafada.

 

 

      The alternatives to the ALC are bleak or non-existent. Most students would have to leave their villages and be given money by their parents, burdening their families still further. At these middle schools like the one in Ingal, thirty-five kids are stuffed into one room and are given few books or supplies. They have to find their own food and pay for school supplies, which is a challenge. 

 

       At the ALC the students want to become everything from builders to doctors. All the students come in with the purpose of helping their community. It is truly inspiring to witness these students push against the odds that are placed in front of them. Many of students use this opportunity to the best of their ability taking advantage of afterschool classes and the ability to study during the night.

 

        Really I am happy with RAIN’s center because they give me a bed, a mattress, a sheet, a blanket, and a mosquito net. There is also afterschool tutoring, the school uniform and school supplies. Every Sunday we have lamb meat and there is a cook that prepares meals for us and a guard that watches the center. – Student Maoude.

 

         By donating you are changing young girls’ and women’s lives. Your continued support allows those from impoverished areas to come together for a better chance, full of opportunities. Make a child smile today and change her life forever.

 

 

Mentor Assalama Attaher and her sponsored students
Mentor Assalama Attaher and her sponsored students

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.

RAIN mentor and students weaving tabarma mats
RAIN mentor and students weaving tabarma mats

Links:

Your donations are doing more than changing lives; they are changing
opinions about the importance of a girl’s education. One of the biggest
challenges our mentors face is convincing parents -- most of whom have never
been to school -- of the importance of education, and that attending school is
beneficial for both the child and the family.

I meet with parents to explain my work to them and
convince them to allow me to work with their children.
For some parents, it is only after many conversations
about the importance of education that they come to
understand my role in the community.
- Mentor Zeinabou Djibo

Your continued support has allowed this unique program to thrive. In addition to
supporting students and teaching them about hygiene, health, and nutrition;
mentors pass on traditional artisan skills such as weaving, basket making, and
pottery; preserving a culture that is thousands of years old. Mentors also speak
to entire communities about the benefits of education, which earns mentors
respect and gives them a voice within their communities that they use to reach
far beyond classroom walls.

I raise awareness on different themes with my
students’ parents, my neighbors and my friends. If we
take the example of young girls, I try to raise
awareness by saying that no one should give girls who
are in elementary school off to marry. These girls have
not even reached the age of puberty yet. I also speak
with the young men to encourage them not to marry
young girls. One example I give is that if a girl that is
too young to be married [then] marries a boy, as soon
as she becomes pregnant she will have difficulty giving
birth. A young girl’s body cannot support a pregnancy
or giving birth.
-Mentor Addajhjat Anasbagor

Right now is one of the most exciting times of year for our mentors, who are
meeting with their students and preparing them for the start of the school year.
They are also looking for new students to replace last year’s graduates, giving
precedence to especially vulnerable girls who would most benefit from the
program. Thank you for helping mentors fulfill their mission of bringing education
to rural and nomadic children living in extreme poverty in Niger today.

This program is really thinking about mothers as
educators. When a mother becomes a mentor to
other children, we show that we are mothers for all
of the children that we look after… Us mothers
work together.
-Assolo Sidi

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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

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