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

COVID-19: A LEARNING OPPORTUNITY

By William Beeker

Source: Wells Bring Hope

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted many systemic problems in societies around the world, but maybe none so clearly as those in our education systems. Here in the US, adapting to the challenges presented by the pandemic was difficult, but manageable. Many schools were able to implement some form of online learning because things like computers, cell phones, and internet access are nearly ubiquitous here. Remote learning had its downsides, but overall, we fared better than many countries.

In Niger, the arrival of the pandemic meant 3.7 million students suddenly found their education put on hold with no clear end or alternative insight. A year and a half later, with students finally back in classrooms, Niger has the opportunity to reassess its educational system. The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated longstanding problems in the educational system and made clear the norm was no longer acceptable.

With such a delicate education system, Niger and its international supporters had to go to great lengths to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. For example, Global Partnership Enterprises launched a grant to help bulwark Niger’s education system against the pandemic and improve its resilience in the long term. The program, which will end in December, includes providing thousands of handwashing kits to schools, distributing educational and refresher materials, training teachers at the primary level, and starting a school feeding program. Solutions like these provide a silver lining to what has otherwise been a harsh year and a half. They also identify key weaknesses in Niger’s education system that mostly preceded the pandemic:

  • Lack of running water makes sanitation difficult
  • Classrooms and students lack educational resources
  • Teachers are undertrained and too few
  • Hunger prohibits kids from attending class

Increased government spending and foreign aid have helped Niger make big gains in school enrollment and completion, but work will need to be done outside classrooms to make school more accessible for all Nigeriens.

Wells Bring Hope can play a crucial role by providing villages with running water, allowing for better hygiene and irrigation for farming, and giving villagers more robust, weather-proof sources of food. Both factors allow students to stay in class and keep schools open. When a well is drilled, girls and women no longer have to trek miles each day to fetch drinking water, and they are freed to attend school, helping to close the gender gap in education.

Additionally, the microfinance training Wells Bring Hope offers can give women a means to support themselves. When women have more freedom and autonomy within their communities, education becomes more feasible for the most vulnerable, and child marriages may be reduced. The silver lining in a massive disruption like the Covid-19 pandemic is the chance to see problems with a fresh perspective, explore new solutions, and find ways to move above and beyond the former status quo.

 

 

 

https://www.globalpartnership.org/blog/niger-strengthening-resilience-education-system-limit-effects-covid-19

https://www.globalpartnership.org/where-we-work/niger

https://www.concernusa.org/story/education-in-niger/

Women Musicians in Africa Open the Door for Important Conversations

By Amber Nicolai

Source: Koliou Noundou

In a time where much of the music coming out of the West seems to be about superficial subjects like dating, clubbing or living the high life, women-led musical groups across Africa are showing the world how powerful socially conscious music can be.

These talented musicians are producing everything from blues and soul to rap and hip-hop, combining old and new to make something completely fresh and exciting. Many of these musicians sing in their native tribal languages such as Zarma, Tamachek, and Hausa, which adds to the beauty of their songs.

These women musicians are showing people what women can do, serving as needed role models to girls and young women everywhere. Their songs, which shed light on both local and universal subjects, help raise awareness of important social issues that otherwise might not be addressed.

One such musical group, Les Amazones d’Afrique, whose members come from all over the continent, has found success singing songs that empower women and speak out against violence. Their work is as ear-catching as it is important, garnering praise from NPR, Rolling Stone, and Barack Obama.

Niger itself is home to many outstanding women musicians who sing about everything from love and religious life to women’s and children’s rights to public health issues and subverting colonialism. This article by Sarah Burgess does an excellent job of detailing four Nigerien groups you should be sure to check out – you’ll be glad you did.

Music has been used as a powerful tool for change for millennia, and in a world that needs empowered women more than ever, it’s refreshing to see such strong women take center stage.

 

Sources

https://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Music/2020/0122/This-African-group-s-music-champions-rights-and-love

https://africasacountry.com/2013/12/four-nigerien-women-musicians-you-should-know

13th Annual Fundraiser

On Sunday, October 17th, Wells Bring Hope’s founder and president Barbara Goldberg welcomed 75 fully-vaccinated supporters to her home for the organization’s 13th Annual Fundraiser. Inspired by Barbara’s beautiful home and serene backyard, the theme was “Sunday in a Japanese Garden.”

To carry out the theme, there was a dedicated sake bar, with guests sampling six sakes. The main bar featured a specialty cocktail, the Sakura, which means cherry blossom, in Japanese. Japanese calligrapher, Mimi Wada was on hand to design individual works of art for each guest, and the Japanese Music Ensemble entertained the crowd with classical Japanese melodies on koto and shamisen.

Guests nibbled on delicious Japanese fusion cuisine from TGIS Catering and sipped wine donated by Le Vigne Winery. While everyone mixed and mingled, our very capable volunteers enticed guests to participate in the silent auction, tempting them with trips to Sedona, San Francisco, and New York, dining at Cassia and Vincenti, and more.

During the live auction later in the evening, guests got the chance to bid on more exciting travel packages including trips to Belize, Puerto Vallarta, Park City and the Florida Keys, as well as a wine-tasting getaway to Paso Robles and a relaxing spa stay in Palm Springs. Special thanks to auctioneer extraordinaire, Clint Hufft, who made parting with one’s money a fun-time for all! And no WBH event would be complete without Gil Garcetti, the man who inspired its start!

Barbara opened the program by announcing that, effective September 1, Wells Bring Hope has transitioned to solar-powered mechanized wells, which deliver clean water by simply turning on a tap.  By eliminating the need to use a hand pump to bring up water from a well, women are now free of this burdensome task. Importantly, getting water is no longer the responsibility of women and girls—everyone does it!

Thank you to all who came to support Wells Bring Hope’s effort to save lives with safe water! Thanks to our generous donors and our partners, Panda Restaurant Group, World Vision and Bliss Car Wash for their tremendous support. We also want to thank our very capable volunteers, our photographer Tatsu, and our event planner, Peggy Kelley of Timeless Celebrations who made the event a tremendous success! Thanks to this incredible team effort, 20 more villages in Niger will experience the transformative power of a safe water well.

See more photos and tag yourself on Facebook!

Striving to Do It Better

By Barbara Goldberg

In 2008, we set out to solve the water crisis in Niger, West Africa, to put an end to death and disease from contaminated water. We also wanted to put an end to women and girls as young as seven walking miles to get water. We’re doing that.

But there is something we couldn’t do then.

Let’s turn back the clock to January of 2009, our first trip to Niger. We saw villages without safe water and talked to women who lost children from contaminated water. Our hearts broke.

We also visited villages as wells were coming in, and we shared in that joy, but as I watched women laboriously use the hand pump to get water from the well, I winced. I thought, “Does it have to be this hard?”  A while later, I posed that question to Sam Jackson of World Vision, our partner in drilling wells. Is there an easier way to access water?

It was then that he told me about solar-powered, mechanized wells, big projects costing $50,000 and serving villages with populations of 2,000 or more. World Vision was beginning to implement these mechanized wells, which are markedly easier to use, but it wasn’t yet happening in Niger.

Sam said that if we wanted to learn more, we could be part of a project being done in Mali, right next door to Niger. With an investment of $25,000, we shared ownership of this project and were able to visit and learn more about these new water systems firsthand.

We talked to women who no longer had to pump up water—they simply turned on a tap. I spoke to a grandmother who was thankful that she didn’t have to depend on her grandchildren to get water for her. She experienced newfound independence, she said she no longer felt so old.

Source: Wells Bring Hope

I spoke to a woman who was thrilled that she could now send her children to get water for the family, including her sons. Providing water was no longer a job for women, scoring “points” for gender equality!

Source: Wells Bring Hope

At that time, these big water projects weren’t cost-effective for us, so we waited until technology caught up with the need. We, along with the women of Niger, have waited a long time for this technology to become cost-effective, and finally, it has! As of September 1, 2021, we are funding solar-powered, mechanized wells that draw water to a tap stand where safe, clean water is accessible at a tap, or faucet, much as it is here. It is a joy to see the burden of Nigerien women eased in yet another way, to help make their work more bearable.

Climate Change Makes Life Increasingly Difficult for Niger’s Farmers and Nomadic Herders

By Amber Nicolai

As with many issues faced by developing nations, climate change is intensifying many of Niger’s existing difficulties, such as the lack of access to land for farming and grazing. About 80% of Niger’s population relies on farming or herding for sustenance, and suitable land is becoming increasingly difficult to find.

Source: Peter Casier

Settled Zuma farmers are losing crops due to often unpredictable, extreme weather conditions brought on by climate change, with severe droughts or flash floods wiping out their only means of income. Meanwhile, these same conditions are forcing the nomadic Fulani herders to travel further and search longer for pastureland and water for their animals.

 

Source: EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid

This conflict has been ongoing since 1944 and has noticeably increased as temperatures have risen and desertification has increased. The effects of climate change continue to make usable land even more scarce in the country and clashes between Zuma farmers and Fulani herders continue to escalate and become more violent as both groups try to find land capable of supporting them and their families.

The best hope of mitigating this conflict is for Nigeriens to combat climate change’s effects and build resilience against them. Many groups in the country are doing this by diversifying food production, building food banks, and generating alternate sources of income, among other things.

One of the ways Wells Bring Hope is helping families in Niger to generate income is by empowering women to get educated, start their own small businesses, and have greater access to health resources. This allows them to be self-sufficient when they are left alone to care for children as the men in the family go off in their long search for farm or pastureland and increase the families’ quality of life overall.

You can learn more about what we do here.

Sources:

10 Facts About Sanitation in Niger

https://borgenproject.org/10-facts-about-sanitation-in-niger/#:~:text=In%202016%2C%20an%20estimated%2070.8,3%2C842%20deaths%2C%20all%20in%202017.

Climate Change Threatens End of Trail for Niger’s Nomadic Herders

https://www.rappler.com/environment/climate-change-threatens-fulani-niger-nomadic-herders

Building Climate Change Resilience in Niger to Keep Hunger Away

https://www.oxfam.org/en/building-climate-change-resilience-niger-keep-hunger-away

Farmer-Herder Conflict Between Fulani and Zarma in Niger

https://climate-diplomacy.org/case-studies/farmer-herder-conflict-between-fulani-and-zarma-niger

 

 

 

 

Contraception and Family Planning

By William Beeker

Source: Wells Bring Hope

Modern contraception is a vital tool in women’s empowerment and the fight for gender equality. In countries like Niger, where gender inequality is still highly prevalent, contraception use for married women is about 14%, compared with 30% across Africa and 55% globally. This is troubling for a few reasons.

Firstly, about 75% of Nigerien girls are married before they’re 18-years-old, which means they start having children at an extremely young age, which results in frequent complications, and even mortality, for both mothers and babies. It also means that young girls are unable to attend school because they’re tasked with caring for children. Without an education, women have access to fewer economic opportunities and inevitably become more deeply entrenched in their roles as caretakers.

These consequences combine to narrowly limit a Nigerien woman’s possible opportunities. Getting married and having kids comes to seem like the only way forward, which reinforces the motivation to have kids, which maintains these adverse consequences, and so on, perpetuating a cycle that can be difficult to overcome. Contraception use is something that can disrupt this cycle and give young women more autonomy in the decision to conceive.

Young women, especially those who are married, face immense societal pressure to conceive, and in a country where large families (10+ children) are still the norm, it means these women spend the bulk of their young lives pregnant or caring for very small children. The pressure to conceive is so deeply ingrained that many women who manage to get access to contraceptive methods end up discontinuing use. A recent study found that in Niger, 96.8% of young women who started using contraception discontinued use while still at risk of getting pregnant. Respondents cited pressure from their husbands and families as the primary reasons for stopping contraception.

This deeply rooted cultural norm has contributed to one of the highest fertility rates in the world (7.3 children per woman in Niger, compared to an average of 4.6 across Africa and 2.5 globally). With Niger’s population on track to triple by 2050, its government has rightfully put more emphasis on family planning in recent years, with contraception playing an important role. However, in Niger, the cost of modern contraceptives can be prohibitive.

Source: Wells Bring Hope

The microfinance training that Wells Bring Hope provides enables women to become more financially independent, which can delay early marriages, lower maternal mortality, and provide women with the resources to pay for contraception. By drilling wells, women and girls are freed from the daily burden of finding and retrieving water, which allows them to attend school and further improve their situation. Contraception, education, and economic opportunity are all crucial to making Niger a safer and more sustainable place for everyone, especially women and children.

 

Sources:

https://bmcwomenshealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12905-021-01326-0

https://womendeliver.org/2018/bridging-education-contraception-climate-change-niger/

https://www.familyplanning2020.org/niger

https://www.pathfinder.org/power-of-contraception/

The Prospect of Renewable Energy in Niger

By: Adhithi Sreenivasan

Source:Pencils for Kids, Libore, Niger

With the progression of climate change and a greater awareness of the harm that non-renewable energy can cause to the environment, there has been a greater push around the world to utilize more sustainable sources of energy. Niger in particular is taking more direct initiatives to adopt environmentally-friendly sources.

Recently, Niger’s Ministry of Energy has agreed on a collaboration with the International Finance Corporation via the World Bank Group as well as Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). As a new nation under the World Bank Group’s Scaling Solar program, Niger will participate in a project to capture up to 50 megawatts of solar power that will be grid-connected. The Scaling Solar program claims the solar power will amount to approximately “20 percent of the country’s current installed capacity.”

The implications of this transition are great. Solar power is sustainable, which aligns with Niger’s goal to increase the country’s renewable power sources by 30% by 2035. Participating in the Scaling Solar Program also will significantly boost available electricity so more Nigerien citizens will be able to access it and reap the benefits in their homes, schools, and businesses.

Furthermore, this partnership is just one part of a larger plan involving several West African nations in the West Africa Power Pool (WAPP) to improve access to energy and power in the region. Besides Niger, some of the countries participating in this effort include Mauritania, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, and Mali. Increased access to electricity is expected to spur economic growth, ultimately leading to a stronger Niger.

 

Sources:

https://www.scalingsolar.org/niger-joins-scaling-solar/

https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2021/06/10/world-bank-group-provides-465-million-to-expand-energy-access-and-renewable-energy-integration-in-west-africa

https://pressroom.ifc.org/all/pages/PressDetail.aspx?ID=26406

 

Refugees and Displaced Peoples in Niger

By William Beeker

Source: Mali Refugee

The UN recently issued a report on the state of the humanitarian crisis in Niger that’s resulted from sectarian violence in the region. “The insecurity has forcibly displaced more than 537,000 people across the country,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said. “It has also affected people’s access to basic social services, including education and health care.” Routine attacks from various religious extremist groups have forced civilians in neighboring Mali, Burkina Faso, and Nigeria to flee their homes in search of safety in Niger. As the poorest country in the world, Niger is ill-equipped to handle this steady influx of refugees and the country is struggling to provide them with basic necessities while fending off the violence that’s been spilling over the border for years.

In areas where the Nigerien government has managed to get the violence under control, Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP’s) are being given the go-ahead to finally return home. Nearly 6,000 people displaced by violence in 2015 have returned to southeast Niger’s Diffa region already, with another 2,000-4,000 to follow. They are the first part of a bigger operation to return people to 19 towns and villages in the region. Niger’s government approved the return of these IDP’s “given positive changes in the [security] situation on the ground,” said Diffa regional governor Issa Lemine. This is a promising step forward, but much work will need to be done to rebuild the institutions and infrastructure that were neglected or damaged after locals were forced out.

Those coming home again will be faced with many of the same problems they faced while displaced. As IDP’s, children tend not to attend school consistently, if at all, and parents struggle to make ends meet. In order for locals to return to schools and work in their home villages, they need to have their basic needs met and that starts with having a reliable source of clean water. Women and girls are the worst affected in this regard because they’re the ones tasked with walking 4-6 miles a day to retrieve water for drinking, cooking, and farming. Girls are unable to attend schools and women are unable to start businesses or bring in income for their families because their days revolve around fetching water which is often unsafe to drink.

But many of these problems can be alleviated with a solution Wells Bring Hope is uniquely qualified to provide: a drilled borewell. These deep-water wells provide a consistent, clean source of water which improves sanitation and hygiene, and allows for drip farming, in addition to providing safe drinking water. The benefits of a drilled well are diverse and immediate: water-borne diseases plummet, child mortality drops by 70%, and school absenteeism is reduced by 40%. Having a reliable source of water frees girls and women to pursue education and economic opportunities. Wells Bring Hope has drilled over 680 of these wells and helped over 700,000 Nigeriens in need so far. Access to clean drinking water gives Nigeriens a necessary foundation upon which to rebuild villages that have been run down by years of conflict, as well as bolster towns taking in large numbers of refugees. Whether fleeing home or returning to it, refugees and IDP’s benefit greatly from drilled wells and they need our help now more than ever.

https://newsghana.com.gh/escalating-violence-threatens-suffering-civilians-in-niger-un/

https://www.voanews.com/africa/nearly-6000-displaced-return-home-after-niger-jihadist-attacks

https://drc.ngo/our-work/where-we-work/west-africa/niger/

The Risk of Malaria During Pregnancy

By Amber Persson

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage around the world, there is a silent killer that claims the lives of thousands in countries like Niger. The plasmodium parasite in mosquitoes causes malaria, a potentially fatal disease if left untreated. Malaria is responsible for 50% of all recorded deaths in Niger.

Pregnant Mothers at High Risk

Pregnant women and young children (<5 years) in particular are at high risk for malaria due to a weak immune response. According to the CDC, women lose partial resistance to malaria with the introduction of a new organ, the placenta, and other changes to their immune system during pregnancy.

Source: Wells Bring Hope

Malaria Intervention Plan

Pregnant women are encouraged to attend antenatal care appointments starting in the first trimester where they will receive a long-lasting insecticide net (LLIN) and begin the intermittent preventive treatment (ITPp) dose series. She will receive 3-4 doses of sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine, a well-known anti-malarial drug, over the course of her pregnancy that will effectively prevent malaria when combined with the use of LLIN’s. After paying a fee for a health card, antenatal care and ITPp are free of charge and readily available. Still, less than 30% of pregnant women receive antenatal care during their first trimester. While the majority of pregnant women do receive their first dose of ITPp, less than half ever receive their third. Without the proper prevention, there is little hope in fending off malaria for these soon-to-be-mothers.

Reasons for low ITPp administration:

  • Missing antenatal care appointments
  • Postponing antenatal care appointments until the last trimester
  • Lack of access to healthcare
  • Only 47% of health professionals are trained to administer ITPp
  • Certain cultural beliefs pertaining to keeping the pregnancy a secret may contribute

Source: PMI Impact Malaria

Niger has prioritized improving maternal and pediatric health and family planning in recent initiatives that will contribute to increasing antenatal care visitation. Improving access to healthcare, training more healthcare professionals on how to administer ITPp and overall female empowerment will significantly help the situation.

Access to Clean Water and Risk of Malaria

Access to clean water is incredibly important for lowering the risk of malaria not only by improving overall health but limiting exposure to mosquitoes that carry the parasite. In Niger, women and girls walk miles every day to collect water from sources that can be infested with mosquitoes. Higher exposure to mosquitoes equals a higher risk of malaria. In this way, drilling wells can decrease women and girls’ chances of contracting malaria while continuing to improve their health every day.