Empowered Women, Empowered Niger

By Kayleigh Redmond

Research has shown that investing in the economic and educational success of women is vital to the development of any nation. Women typically funnel a larger percentage of their income back into their communities than men and obstructing their potential contributions only delays financial growth. Educating and empowering women in Niger can strengthen the country as a whole, but historically, Nigerien women’s educational access has been limited.

Around 76 percent of Nigerien girls are married before their 18th birthday, and many have had their first child by that age. As of 2019, the average birth rate is around seven children per woman. Raising a large family and having extensive domestic responsibilities severely limit a woman’s chances of gaining independence both financially and personally.

Starting a family at such a young age prevents girls from pursuing an education. Many have to drop out when their family members arrange marriages for them because their new duties as a wife and mother are deemed more important. Only 54 percent of female primary students reach the sixth grade, and only 14 percent of women are literate.

Source: Global Partnership for Education – GPE

Conversely, women who complete their education are less likely to marry and start a family young. They are able to earn higher incomes, contribute to the local economy, and have a seat at the table in decisions that affect their lives. Educated women are also able to act as role models for their daughters and other young girls in the community and can encourage them to continue breaking the cycle of poverty and oppression.

 

Having more educated women in the job market can greatly improve Niger’s overall stability. Bolstering women’s education means lower birth and poverty rates, which alleviates the burden of overpopulation and allows for more citizens to contribute to the development of their communities. A 2019 study from the World Bank Group states that reducing gender inequality in education and the workforce could increase Niger’s per capita GDP by nearly a third by 2030. By enabling women to gain an education, have less children, and earn the same salaries as men, Niger would be setting all of its citizens up for success.

Source: Wells Bring Hope

One of the first steps in making education more accessible to girls and women is reducing the amount of time-consuming domestic chores that they are responsible for. It can take hours to collect water from miles away, leaving girls unable to attend school. Wells Bring Hope provides reliable and easy access to safe drinking water, significantly reducing the amount of effort needed. This work is vital in strengthening the position of girls and women in Nigerien society by allowing them the time to pursue better lives for themselves, and ultimately better lives for all Nigeriens.

 

Sources:

https://www.oecd.org/dac/gender-development/investinginwomenandgirls.htm

https://www.unicef.org/niger/stories/girls-education-strengthens-economies-and-reduces-inequality-niger

https://data.unwomen.org/country/niger

https://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/october-2020/young-nigeriens-call-end-child-marriage-international-day-girl

https://www.usaid.gov/niger/education

https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.DYN.TFRT.IN?locations=NE

https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/33093/Economic-Impacts-of-Gender-Inequality-in-Niger.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

 

 

Curious How “Niger” Got Its Name?

By Vasti Carrion

Place names serve obvious practical purposes – they literally put us on the map, telling others who and where we are. Names also help form our identities, hold our histories, and often communicate something about how and why we got here. This is particularly true for countries like Niger, which have been shaped by the geography that informs their names.

 

Source: Vincent van Zeijst

 

As a result of the historical loss of written records, the exact etymology of the word Niger is unknown. Many scholars believe it comes from the Taureg word, egereou n-igereouen, which means “big river/sea,” or as translated into Arabic, “river among rivers.” Unsurprisingly then, the country of Niger shares its name with an actual river. The Niger River slithers through a landlocked section of West Africa, covering about 750 miles (1,200 km) from north to south and about 930 miles (1,460 km) from east to west, forming part of the border between Benin and Niger. The Niger River is the third largest river in Africa, running through Guinea, Mali, Benin, and Nigeria in addition to, of course, Niger.

 

The river has many nicknames. Locals may call it Jeliba in Manding, Isa Ber, which means “big river” in Songhay, or Joliba, a Mandigo word meaning “great river,” but the name “Niger” is the name used worldwide. The different slang names indicate how this water source is related to a variety of people who further subdivide their identity and their sense of community.

Sources:

Online Etymology Dictionary: Niger

Niger River: History and Major Facts – World History Edu

Niger River (mcgill.ca)

Niger | Map, President, Population, Capital, Niamey, & Facts | Britannica

https://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/climate-change-water-and-conflict-the-niger-river-basin

AFRICA’S GREAT GREEN WALL INITIATIVE IS EVOLVING

By Will Beeker

In 2007, a group of African countries in the Sahel region came together with an ambitious plan: planting a 5,000-mile line of trees stretching from Senegal on Africa’s west coast to Djibouti on its east coast to be completed by the year 2030. The aim was stopping the Sahara Desert from creeping southward, a process that has been accelerated by climate change and “denuding” of the land resulting from deforestation and excessive livestock grazing. It was a bold vision that would help preserve the land for future generations.

 

Source: Sevgart

The project has shown early signs of success. As of 2020, nearly 990,000 acres of land have been restored in Niger alone. Farmers there have begun to see soil health-improving and crops are growing again. Only 18% of the entire project has been completed so far, but much of the last decade and a half has been spent raising funds and planning the massive operation. Plans have had to undergo many revisions as unexpected obstacles have arisen.

 

Source: EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid

 

As more land becomes usable for crops, less becomes available to pastoralists who raise sheep or cattle as livestock, threatening the livelihoods of millions. Climatologists have also warned that such a sprawling geoengineering project may have unforeseen side effects like worsening monsoon winds as a result of a shift in local temperature and moisture. But the biggest issue was a fundamental one: planting trees is much easier than keeping them alive. As huge numbers of trees died off, the initiative had to adapt.

Source: Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security

 

Things took a positive turn when the Great Green Wall Initiative started utilizing indigenous land use techniques and breaking down the ambitious program into smaller, more localized projects. For example, farmers in Niger and Burkina Faso discovered new water preservation techniques and started protecting the trees that grew naturally on their land. Farmers in Burkina Faso built zai, grids of deep pits that help to collect and retain water during dry periods. In Niger, farmers started protecting and maintaining the trees that emerged naturally on their farms. These innovative approaches have proven more effective than the one-size-fits-all approach initially conceived when the project began.

 

These kinds of techniques often originate at a local level, and it can take years for officials to catch up, but once they’re implemented, they can yield impressive results. An ambitious plan like the Great Green Wall Initiative can be a great way to unite different peoples towards a shared goal, but lasting change seems to be most effective when letting ordinary people lead from the bottom up. This is partly because climate change is not an abstract threat for Nigeriens. They feel its effects every day as they farm, fetch drinking water, cook, clean, and even go to school. Their insight into water conservation and land preservation amid arid conditions is invaluable, and Niger’s success in utilizing a bottom-up approach is changing how Africa, and the world, think about sustainability.

Smithsonian Magazine

UNCCD

Politico

The New York Times

CNN

 

Donor Appreciation Brunch

On Sunday, May 22nd,  a group of Wells Bring Hope’s most loyal LA-based supporters gathered at the home of founder and president Barbara Goldberg for a donor appreciation brunch.

Our incredible volunteers kept the mimosas and bloody marys flowing as donors and board members enjoyed the freshest bagels in town, courtesy of Western Bagel, along with a variety of cream cheeses, and lox, of course. To satisfy our sweet teeth, scrumptious pastries were on the table, along with a special fruit salad courtesy of board members, David Girard and Eduardo Robles, who were part of the organizing team and did an outstanding job!

 

It was a glorious sunny day as we gathered on the lawn of the Japanese garden. Once guests had a chance to mix, mingle, eat and drink, Barbara formally welcomed them and expressed our deep appreciation for supporting our cause, especially those who had been with us since the very beginning. She also introduced WBH’s valued board members.

 

Barbara reminded everyone that we are trying to complete funding of our fourth health clinic water project, at a cost of $50,000, and serving 8,000-10,000 people. The campaign was kicked off at the beginning of the year by a generous gift from Sukey and Gil Garcetti’s family foundation and we hope to complete the project by October.

Barbara announced the completion of WBH’s 4th Ambassadors Program to teach high school students about community outreach. Three former Ambassadors, Anique Wertheimer, Kiley and Avery Globerman were introduced. A 5th program will start in mid-August. Finally, board member, Dr. Lene Martin, who teaches blockchain technology at Pepperdine University, told us about a project that her students have undertaken. It involves using Gil’s photos to develop NFTs (non-fungible tokens) that can be monetized to help generate funds for Wells Bring Hope.

To close things out, Barbara’s granddaughter, Lia McCluskey, announced the winning numbers in a free raffle with prizes that included handmade leather goods and bracelets from Niger, along with Wells Bring Hope branded mugs, t-shirts and hats. There were lots of winners!!

 

We look forward to seeing everyone at our annual fundraiser on September 18th at the home of Carol and Howie Cohen who were also in attendance!! A big thanks to everyone who joined us and to our incredible volunteers for making it a very special day.

 

Tuareg Guitar Sensation Mdou Moctar Partners with Wells Bring Hope

By Ankita Taneja

The most innovative artist in contemporary Saharan music, Mdou Moctar, is a Nigerien musician with an international reputation. He has gained immense popularity and love for his modern adaptations of Tuareg guitar music and his songs of revolution. We are excited to announce a new partnership with Mdou Moctar and his band! Mdou, who is currently based in the city of Agadez, is committed to increasing both awareness of the need for safe water and funding to drill wells in his home country. For all upcoming shows, tote bags featuring the band’s logo as well as Wells Bring Hope’s will be on sale, and all proceeds will go directly to WBH to drill wells in rural villages across Niger.

Source: Rafael Ojea Perez

The musical journey of Mdou Moctar is infused with intriguing facts. The most heartwarming anecdote of his journey, as described in one of his interviews with Rolling Stone, is the way he has kick-started his career in music by practicing on a homemade guitar that he made with wood and bicycle parts. Moctar’s music traveled across West Africa via the trading network of cellphones and memory cards. His debut album, Anar, was also included in the compilation “Music from Saharan Cellphone.” After this, he gained international attention for playing the guitar in takamba and assouf styles. In 2019, Mdou Moctar released Ilana (The Creator), his first studio album, and in 2021, one of his songs ended up on President Obama’s year-end list of his favorite music.

He grew up listening to Tuareg guitar legends, but it wasn’t until on a musical tour that he discovered the genre. “I have no concept what rock is,” he claims, adding, “I only know how to play in my way.” His songs revolve around the themes of love, politics, and revolution. With music, words, and good intention, he is dedicated to promoting the youth of his region. “I know what it’s like to have been in that position,” he says, “to not have the support of your family or the money for guitars or strings, it’s really hard. I have a lot of support from the younger generation because I help them out a lot. When I get back from tour, I give them gear that I bought while I was away so they can go out and form their own bands.” Indeed, his passion for music, Tuareg guitar, and the desire to promote change, love, and music for the people of Niger have made him a celebrated creator.

Source: Daniel M. Sampaio

What makes Mdou Moctar stand apart are the ideas in his music. He cares for the people of Niger and understands the problems of his home place. He sings for Niger, and to Niger. With his musical revolution and international stage presence, he has contributed to bringing the spirits of Nigerien communities to the West.

He’s generously donating to Wells Bring Hope and his partnership helps more Nigeriens access clean water.

He toured the US and Canada in March and will be performing in Europe and the UK after that.
Click here (Tour — Mdou Moctar) to get more information regarding his tour.

Sources:

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/mdou-moctar-first-time-1252892/

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/mdou-moctar-interview-afrique-victime-1172056/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mdou_Moctar

https://sahelsounds.com/artists/mdou-moctar/

https://www.mdoumoctar.com/about

 

The Significance of Niger’s Flame of Peace Holiday

By Brenda Enfua

Source: Wells Bring Hope

I often like to flip through my calendar and mark any holiday I can find as a reminder to celebrate. There are multiple holidays recognized in Niger including New Year’s Day, Easter Monday, and Labor Day, but one that deserves special attention is Concord Day, which takes place every year on April 24th.

Concord Day commemorates a peace agreement between the Nigerien government and the rebel Tuareg groups that was signed on April 24, 1995. The agreement marked the beginning of the end of armed conflict that had developed due to extreme famine and an economic crisis that changed the migratory routes of nomadic tribes, bringing them into conflict with one another.

Although April 24, 1995, marked the official beginning of peaceful times, the fighting did not officially end until 1999 when the last rebel group signed the accord. All of this culminated in a huge celebration on September 25, 2000, which was known as the “Flame of Peace.” This event centered around the mass burning of weapons to officially celebrate peace after many years of unrest within the country.

Today, Concord Day is a public holiday, so businesses and government offices close for the day. Concord Day festivities include lively street celebrations, youth-centered activities, and speeches by the president and various other leaders and politicians.

It is easy to get caught up in the festivities and overlook the true meaning of holidays, but it is imperative to recognize and understand the reason for the celebration. This is particularly true for holidays like Concord Day, which remind us, today more than ever, how fragile peace can be.

Source: Wells Bring Hope

https://www.officeholidays.com/holidays/niger/concord-day

https://publicholidays.africa/niger/concord-day/

https://en-academic.com/dic.nsf/enwiki/11570756

https://excelnotes.com/concord-day-niger/

Niger Eradicates River Blindness

By Adhithi Sreenivasan

Niger has recently made great strides in the realm of public health by becoming the first African nation to eliminate river blindness.

River blindness is a disease that has plagued West African nations and other regions throughout the continent. Known formally as Onchocerciasis, the ailment is the result of a parasitic worm, Onchocerca volvulus, that makes its way into the human body when infected blackflies bite people who live near fast-moving bodies of water, and the plague of river blindness has long threatened communities living along the Niger River.

After a person is bitten by infected blackflies, tiny larvae travel throughout the body to affect the skin, eyes, and organs. Unfortunately, infected humans often experience lesions in the eyes that cause vision loss and blindness as well as debilitating skin conditions.

Source: National Museum of Health and Medicine

The impressive accomplishment of eliminating this heartbreaking disease occurred through the efforts of the Reaching the Last Mile Fund, a financial partnership of the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the END Fund.

Their combined financial support helped propel the disease’s eradication. For years, Niger has employed methods like helicopter and ground spraying to combat the numbers of blackflies in the affected regions. Additionally, the drug Ivermectin, which is a popular treatment for river blindness, has been distributed by campaigns with companies like Merck since the 1980s and has aided in the process of eradication.

Now, thanks to an influx of financial support for long-term control efforts, the disease is finally gone in Niger. The next steps for Niger to officially announce eradication will be to complete paperwork for verification so that the World Health Organization can declare the impressive feat.

Eliminating river blindness in Niger will mean increased economic prosperity. Families living in affected areas will be healthier, so they are freed to work and pursue an education. The fertile lands near the Niger River can once again be used for farming, reducing food insecurity. With the public health dangers that stemmed from the disease no longer threatening Nigerien citizens, brighter days lie ahead for the country.

 

Sources:

https://www.cnn.com/videos/world/2021/12/13/niger-becomes-first-african-nation-to-eliminate-river-blindness-anderson-ctw-intl-pkg-vpx.cnn

https://www.wam.ae/en/details/1395303001304

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/onchocerciasis

https://gulfnews.com/uae/watch-niger-poised-to-become-first-african-country-to-eliminate-river-blindness-supported-by-sheikh-mohamed-bin-zayed-1.84279366

Surviving the Pandemic: Microfinance Training for Women

By Amber Persson

The COVID-19 pandemic has devasted countries across the world but has also led to an increased sense of community and compassion between people. In countries like Niger, community-building can help families survive the ongoing pandemic. One such community-building activity is the creation of women’s savings groups, which help families persevere amidst the grave uncertainty we are all facing.

A wonderful thing can happen when women and girls no longer have to walk miles to collect freshwater because a new well has been drilled: they are given the gift of time. With their extra time, many women and girls choose to become involved in women’s savings groups as an opportunity to become more financially independent. Typically, women’s saving groups consist of about 15-25 women in a village who pool a small amount of savings each week that other women in the group can borrow and payback. As part of the program, women are often taught income-generating tasks like making biscuits or sewing in addition to learning the basic math skills they need to manage their money.

A savings group in Niamey where women were taught how to make and sell millet cakes and peanut oil.

Source: Wells Bring Hope

The culture of borrowing and paying back money through a women’s savings group allows many mothers to pay tuition and fees for their children’s education and with time, they are able to become financially independent through their small businesses. It gives families a sense of financial stability, even during the pandemic.

A savings group in Chadakori where women were taught how to make food out of Acacia seeds.

Source: Wells Bring Hope

The families of women involved in savings groups are more likely to cope better with the pandemic and less likely to face food insecurity than those who are not involved. Microfinancing also boosts the sense of morale and community outside of the savings groups. Near the beginning of the pandemic, one savings group led by Aïchatou Cheitou took their sewing efforts to produce and sell over 10,000 masks for residents of Niger. They also produced soap and ointments that were distributed among the members of the group.

Efforts like these have helped many Nigerien families survive the pandemic and hopefully, their communities will emerge stronger because of it.

 

Sources:

https://www.wvi.org/stories/niger/empowering-women-niger-through-savings-groups

 

https://www.care-international.org/news/stories-blogs/how-a-womens-savings-group-in-niger-came-together-to-supply-more-than-10000-masks

 

https://docs.gatesfoundation.org/documents/evidence_review_of_womens_groups_and_covid19_impacts_challenges_and_policy_implications_for_savings_groups_in_africa.pdf

How Niger’s Agricultural Industry Is Fighting Back Against Climate Change

By Amber Nicolai

Source: Stephan Gladieu / World Bank

Over 80% of Nigeriens depend on agriculture for their livelihood—a livelihood that is being severely threatened by climate change. An arid country to begin with, Niger is far from ideal for raising crops or livestock. And now it’s facing the additional challenges that climate change brings about, such as:

 

  • Soaring temperatures
  • Erratic rainfall patterns which lead to increased drought and flooding
  • Drying of rivers and other water sources
  • Poor soil quality due to erosion

 

All of this means unstable food and water supplies for residents of Niger as well as unreliable income for those who make their living from farming and herding. The scarcity of resources often leads to violence and displacement, creating even more hardship for those who live in the country.

Niger Is Resilient

Fortunately, even with all the difficulties intensified by climate change, Niger’s people are resilient and are constantly working to stay ahead of the potentially devastating effects of global warming. Local community organizations plus various nonprofit groups are strengthening Niger’s resilience in a number of ways:

 

  • Climate Smart Agriculture Practices: utilizing drought resistant seeds and fertilizers, plus implementing micro-irrigation and solar-powered drip irrigation systems that increase crop return by up to 40% while reducing water use
  • Creating Food Stores: Filling warehouses with non-perishables like cereals and grains and building small dairy processing facilities so communities have more resources when food is scarce
  • Diversifying Income: training people, especially women, to run small businesses such as creating and selling crafts or trading small goods at market to decrease reliance on agricultural income
  • Education/Empowerment: teaching Nigeriens about climate smart practices and providing the resources needed to fight climate change
  • Access to Clean Water: Wells Bring Hope and others drill wells to provide access to clean water for drinking and hygiene

 

Nigeriens continue to learn and implement climate smart practices, helping to build a brighter future for themselves. By working together to fight climate change, Nigerien communities provide an inspiring example of how progress can be achieved.

 

Sources:

Building climate change resilience in Niger to keep hunger away

Microirrigation

Niger: Fertile Ground for Resilience

Solar-powered irrigation: A solution to water management in agriculture?

Wells Bring Hope: What We Do

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cure Salée: Festival of the Nomadic Herders

By Amber Persson

Source: Wikimedia

The small Saharan desert town of Ingall is lit up with an explosion of color and culture when thousands of nomadic herders from the Tuareg and Wodaabé clans come together in celebration of their traditions for Niger’s annual Cure Salée festival. The festival symbolizes the end of Niger’s rainy season, usually at the end of September, and the culture of Nigerien pastoralists. It is a time and space for meeting friends, exchanging news, music, and reinforcing traditions.

Importance of the Cure Salée Festival

The Cure Salée Festival is one of few times a year where pastoralists can relax and mingle mainly because of their difficult living conditions. Clans such as the Tuareg and Wodaabé face problems such as lack of work, water, and land. Historically, Nigerien policymakers have paid little attention to the clans’ needs. The lands of Niger can also be dangerous at times due to terrorism, riots, and human trafficking. The town of Ingall is deep in the Sahara and far away from the commotion of the rest of the country, allowing the festival to be safer and more joyous than if it was in another location.

In recent years, the Nigerien government has supported the Cure Salée Festival by making it a tourist attraction for Western visitors sponsored by brands like Coca-Cola. On one hand, it does create social cohesion in Niger and brings attention to Nigerien culture. On another hand, this has allowed the government to put an end to certain nomadic traditions that the rest of Niger does not practice. Organizations like UNICEF are also present in order to increase vaccination and promote health education. Outside involvements may upset some nomads because the festival may have strayed away from being a simple celebration of nomadic herders’ culture and has now become more of a spectacle.

Music and Dancing

At the festival, electric guitar riffs and DJs can be heard starting from the early evening and going throughout the night. The music attracts many young people to dance under the stars, wearing their colorful robes and headscarf (boys) or veils (girls). There is no alcohol at the festival, but street vendors can be found selling cigarettes and cola amidst the crowd.

The festival is a great time to meet a potential spouse! It is believed the festival is key to courting and meeting one’s future betrothed. There are certain dances such as the Yaake dance Wodaabé men perform to show off their beauty, charm, and elegance. It is similar to a beauty contest. Women watch the men and score them based on their beauty as they dance, sometimes all night long!

Wells Bring Hope

One of the hardships that nomadic herders face is difficulty finding safe water, or water at all, in such an arid environment. Wells Bring Hope drills wells that will increase accessibility to safe water for communities in Niger. In doing so, the quality of life and health is improved for all Nigeriens and will continue to improve with every new well.

Sources:

https://www.wionews.com/entertainment/hollywood/news-niger-nomad-festival-reverberates-with-electric-guitars-414774

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/9/18/niger-nomadic-herders-get-together-celebrate-culture

 

http://www.asmat.eu/scripts/article.php?Article=171-festival-of-the-nomads-cure-salee

 

https://web.archive.org/web/20061110211136/http://www.news24.com/News24/Africa/Features/0,,2-11-37_1805954,00.html