It All Starts with Water

By Kristopher Coulston

Imagine spending hours walking miles to search for and collect water – this is the daily routine and a domestic duty for most women and girls in Niger. Education is the key to change, the key to a bright future, but pursuing an education is not a priority when you do not have ready access to clean water. It is the lack of access to clean water that discourages the educational aspirations of Nigerien women and girls, further hampering economic growth and political change in Niger.

As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” It is educational achievement that will empower Nigerien women to take on positions that contribute to the economy, spurring economic growth. A thriving economy would make a world of difference for the country of Niger, but it simply is not possible without ready access to clean water.

Nigerien women joining the political ranks would undoubtedly bring forth positive and everlasting change. As Hillary Clinton has said, “When women participate in politics, it ripples out to the entire society… Women are the world’s most underused resource.” Unfortunately, this is particularly true in Niger. Women who spend hours every day walking for water cannot conceive of a world in which they can enter the the political arena and contribute.

From the flow of readily available clean water will come a wave of empowered and educated Nigerien women and girls. They will be the driving force behind economic growth. They will be the political change-makers. They will be the entrepreneurs and educators and innovators that will bring marked transformation and endless progress to Niger.

It all starts with water.

Read more about the effects water has on women in the political and educational realm.

The Hangandi Festival: Celebrating Body Positivity in Niger

By Shayna Watson

After months of training, the women of the West African Djerma group are ready to compete in the traditional Hangandi Festival. The winner takes home prizes, bragging rights, and the most coveted prize of all – food. Unlike the popular beauty pageants lauded around the world, the Hangandi is looking for the contestant with the most corpulent figure. Djerma women spend months eating, especially cereal crops and grains, and drinking large amounts of water days before the contest. Those who take the festival very seriously even have caretakers that massage their growing body as they gain weight to ensure a nice, round shape and perfect placement of bulk.

Much like women in the West who will go to extremes in the pursuit of the “perfect body,” some Djerma women use unhealthy (and often dangerous) means to achieve the weight gain they desire. Women looking to add bulk have taken to using medication meant for fattening livestock. Doctors in West Africa strongly advise against this method, drawing many similarities to the weight loss pills and crash fad diets that have created a $66 billion dollar global weight loss industry.

Reader’s Digest cited that over 58% of women in the US voiced concern that being considered overweight or plus-sized hindered their daily lives, whether that be in their careers, dating or travel. 58% was the highest rate seen throughout this poll taken in many major countries. More than ever, people are dieting, using medication or investing in surgery to reduce their body weight – with the estimated number of active dieters in the US hitting 97 million this year. While body positive campaigns continue to build, the concern for controlling body size and weight continues to grow as well. Clothing sizes larger than a size eight are considered plus size in the fashion industry. The women vying for the title of the Hangandi festival would laugh at this kind of thinking – weight literally carries weight in West African culture. Your size tells others how lavish your lifestyle is; how able your family is to provide enough food and time for leisure to maintain your figure.

Neighboring country, Nigeria, often holds beauty contests centered around celebrating full figured women. Dubbed “Miss Big World”, these pageants aim to showcase and celebrate the elegance and beauty of plus size women, all while promoting tourism to Africa and the richness of culture. These events hope to reshape how women’s bodies are judged and reclaim the often unattainable standards that are put on weight and body shape. We can’t ignore that there are still some patriarchal overtones to these pageants, with women maintaining a larger figure in pursuit of male admiration (or sometimes demand) and external opinion. Most Western beauty standards are about public approval, and even though there is a stark difference in the type of figure that is valued, the Hangandi still hinges on the judgement and endorsement from others. However, it is very refreshing to see full figures not only embraced, but celebrated and rewarded.


A Taste of Nigerien Cuisine

by Jennifer Dees

The U.S. offers a wide variety of restaurants: Italian, Mexican, Indian; so many fast food places you have to close your eyes not to see them. It’s intriguing that people consider these cuisines a staple in the United States, but don’t think much about their origin. I’ve recently started wondering what West African food tastes like, particularly food common in Niger.

I started by learning about Nigerien etiquette. If you ever dine with Nigeriens, there are a few rules you should know. First, don’t eat in front of another person without offering to share, and if someone offers you something, it’s best to accept. When arriving at someone’s home, inquire about their health and family before discussing anything else. At the dining table, wait for those older than you to begin eating. Eat and pass the food only with the right hand. Traditional tea ceremonies come in three rounds, with more sugar added each time: the first cup is bitter as death, the second mild as life, and the third sweet as love. This tradition represents the strengthening bond between host and guest, so be sure to drink each cup.

I continued on to learn about common meals in Niger. A full meal includes a starch, grilled meat, and vegetables topped with sauces. In my search for the most authentic Nigerien food, “millet” appeared over and over. Millet grain is a staple food because it grows quickly and is versatile enough to survive droughts, infertile soil, and dry air. With irrigation and soil supplements, crops can leap up to four times their normal growth, which is another reason why better access to water is crucial for sustainability. Because of its popularity in Niger, I wanted to try it out. The recipe comes from The Global Reader, and I included pictures to show how it turned out for me. Millet is much less common in the United States, but I found it in an organic grocery store. Normally, millet is pounded into flour and made into a porridge, called “tuwoin the Hausa language. I didn’t pound it for this dish, so it has a consistency closer to rice.


  1. In a large, dry saucepan or Dutch oven, over medium heat, toast the raw millet for 4-5 minutes. I stirred the whole time: the important thing is not let the grains burn.
  2. Add the water and salt to the pan, being aware that the water will sputter and maybe splash since the pan is hot. Stir the millet well, increase the heat, and bring to a boil.
  3. Once it boils, decrease the heat to low, drop in the butter (if using) and cover the pot. Simmer until the grains absorb most, but not all, of the water (the millet will continue soaking it up as it sits), about 15 minutes. Don’t lift the lid or stir too often. Too much fussing will cause the grains to break up and change texture.
  4. Take the millet off the heat, and let sit, covered, for about 10 minutes. Then fluff with a fork and add more salt, if needed.

Millet is usually paired with a sauce, so I made one out of spinach and tomato sauce from International Food 4U. I cut their recipe in half and ended up with 3-4 servings. The gist of it is to stir the ingredients into boiling water until the spinach is tender.


  1. Wash the greens and tear into small pieces.
  2. In a large pot or saucepan, place the greens in water and add the oil.
  3. Boil greens until almost tender.
  4. Add tomato paste, tomato puree, and diced onion.
  5. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until greens are tender.

I also decided to try fried plantains. They’re a popular snack throughout West Africa, usually spiced with something hot like chili pepper. The recipe comes from Cuisine En Folie. Make sure to fry them when they’re green or else they’ll be too mushy. The thinner they’re cut, the crunchier they are. I’ve never eaten plantains before, so I was surprised how similar they taste to potato wedges. They’re also incredibly filling. I snacked on them while cleaning up and realized I was almost too full to eat the main dish!


  1. Slice the plantains
  2. Place flat in boiling peanut oil (enough to cover the plantains)
  3. Wait until both sides are dark brown
  4. Remove and sprinkle with chili pepper

And here’s the result! The millet is good enough to eat on its own, but the sauce added a tangy flavor to the slightly nutty taste of the millet. The plantains I ate just like chips. I came across several other Nigerien recipes. Based on the success of this first dish, I look forward to making more!

Giving During the Holidays

by Stephanie Coles

If you are like me, you may occasionally find yourself facing an overwhelming feeling of helplessness in times of great crisis. Watching the news or reading the morning’s headlines can leave me paralyzed, unable to think of a response that could possibly make a difference.

It’s so easy to feel small during such times. What can one person do to help a region halfway across the world being torn apart by war, or by storms, or to help a village forced to live without basic necessities? “How can I realistically make any difference?”

The best way to help is to take action, no matter how small. It’s the cumulative efforts that add up to change. Find an organization whose mission you feel passionate about to adopt. One of the wonderful things about Wells Brings Hope is that 100% of donations go directly to transforming communities. Our team is almost entirely volunteers, so every penny donated is dedicated to the cause.

During the holiday season, our hearts feel just a little bit fuller, and people engage just a little bit more in giving to those with less fortunate circumstances than their own. Please consider donating to Wells Bring Hope. It costs $30 to grant someone access to clean water in Niger for life. This is the same amount of money it would normally cost you to go to the movies for a single night or to dinner at a reasonably priced restaurant. There’s nothing small about a gift like that. It’s a huge impact on a life for such a small effort of our own.

That’s why I’ve asked the people in my life to consider giving to Wells Bring Hope this year instead of traditional gifts. Here are some suggestions on how you can help.

Wear Your Support: By donating $50, you receive a necklace made from parts donated by our corporate partner, Watts Water Technologies. Share this with a loved one, or keep one for yourself as a reminder of what’s really important in life.

Wells Bring Hope has its own swag on Zazzle, found here: A tote bag, water bottle, or reusable coffee mug make great gifts!

Honor a Loved One: You can honor a loved one through a donation. It’s the perfect gift for your socially conscious friends, the aunt you never know what to buy for, or the person that has everything. The amount is not disclosed, and the recipient will receive a detailed certificate outlining the benefits and significance of the gift.

Be a Recurring Donor: Consider trying a new type of New Year’s resolution; become a recurring donor. You can give any amount at the interval of your choosing: weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Remember, only $30 can transform a life. You can reach that amount by giving up your latte even just once a month!

Start a Water Circle: Take charge and form your own fundraising campaign by starting a water circle. Engage with your family and friends and encourage donations from those that like to give back this time of year. For $5,600, you can fund an entire well! Leveraging the power of communities is a great way to make a big impact.

Wells Bring Hope is dedicated to bringing clean, safe water to the people of Niger. Please consider sharing your generosity through a donation to our organization. You can make a world of difference. Happy Holidays!

Son of a Nutcracker!

by Andrea Levin

Don’t be a cotton-headed ninny muggins! All donations are matched through the end of the year, so it’s the perfect time to spread a little cheer.


Empowered Women: A Force for Political Progress in Niger

by Kris Coulston

Education is the gateway for women to climb to positions of power and influence in the world. As Malala Yuusafzai has said, “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.” Education for women is crucial for progress and change in the world, and Malala’s words could not be truer. Education is powerful. Educated women are powerful. Educated and empowered women are the catalyst for progress – success is not possible without them.

Around the globe, educated women have been at the forefront of economic and political success. Many women have made positive strides in the areas of economics and politics. Angela Merkel ascended to the highest political position in Germany, making her one of the most powerful woman in the free world. Hillary Clinton shattered the glass ceiling when she became her party’s presidential nominee, inspiring women and girls everywhere. Christine Lagarde became the first female director of the International Monetary Fund. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected president of Libera in 2005, making her the first female head of state in Africa. Many more educated and empowered women continue to make strides in the economic and political spheres worldwide. Yet, even with the many notable contributions women have made, gender inequality continues to be a problem.

Liberia’s President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and U.S. President Barack Obama (2010)

Niger is one country where gender inequality persists. For example, only 2.5% of women have received any form of secondary education, and many of them are subject to gender-restrictive religious and cultural practices. While it is illegal to discriminate against women in Niger, gender disparity is still widespread. The progress of the entire country of Niger will remain hampered if women’s education continues to be limited or non-existent.  With empowered and educated women in politics, Niger could more effectively tackle some of the largest problems they’re facing.

There is no doubt that Niger is a resilient nation and a country that has overcome many difficulties. Niger was able to gain independence, overcome a constitutional crisis, and lead the way in conjunction with other countries in combatting Boko Haram in southern Niger. Now, it is time for Niger to lead the way in gender parity and female empowerment. Doing so will help the country conquer the many other crises it faces.

Barriers include a poor state of public health, lack of educational opportunities, high illiteracy rates and extreme food and water shortage. Nigerien women should not be limited to domestic duties such as searching for and collecting water, but should be free to use their voices to contribute to the economy and influence political change.

In Niger’s current political state, women are largely unrepresented, broadening the gender divide and hurting the quality of life. If Nigerien women continue to be hindered from ascending to government ranks, many important issues will go unaddressed, such as healthcare, family planning, education, and access to clean water.

Ready access to clean water is essential for empowering Nigerien women. If they have ready access to clean water, they can devote their time to education. Education would allow them to contribute to the economy and be part of the decision-making process in their homes and communities. They would be able to set the tone for the next generation of Nigerien women. The possibilities would be endless if they had ready access to clean water.

Change won’t happen overnight, but there must be a starting point, and ready access to clean water is the starting point in Niger. As President Barack Obama once said, “If you are walking down the right path and you are willing to keep walking, eventually you will make progress.” If we begin with clean water and continue along that path, real and positive change for the women of Niger is possible.

Read more about the effects of educated women and economic growth here.

Girl Power: Courting In Niger & The Annual Gerewol Festival

by Shayna Watson

Gorgeously colored gowns, perfect face paint and enough gold to outshine the West African sun. All the trappings of a typical beauty pageant, except the women in the village are dressed in all black and standing in line waiting for the event to begin. Many cultures around the world follow the heteronormative “rules” of courtship and relationships that we see in dating, marriage and traditional gender roles . Not the nomadic tribes in Niger, or neighboring Chad and Nigeria. These tribes take time once a year to participate in the tradition of Gerewol – or Guérewol, meaning “to line up” in Fula – a language spoken across 20 countries in Central and West Africa. This annual courting competition is a seven-day event where men do the dolling up and women admire and judge according to looks and talents. In a culture where some tribes practice multiple marriages and freedom of sexuality amongst women before marriage, this flirtation festival gives women of the tribe the opportunity to pick their next potential mate, and rate the available men in their proximity. Some men are competing for wives, others just the satisfaction of knowing that they are desired. There are also, of course, the bragging rights that come with winning the battle of sexual supremacy.

Following reporting by western documentarians and publications such as National Geographic & Conde Nast Travel, the courting festival has become a well-attended tourist attraction. A quick internet search will give you pages and pages of photos of men with multi-colored painted faces, vertical lines sharpening the nose, wearing elaborate headdresses and gold jewelry galore. Images of the women at the festival show their astonishingly gorgeous, make-up free faces peeking out from dark-colored hoods. They come to the festival to judge the hard work (and marriage potential) of men from far and wide, often times outside of their own nomadic tribe.

Music accompanies the festival. Open frame drums and end-blown flutes open the events and signal the start of choral performances, choreographed dancing, and camel races. The competing men have had little to eat and drink in preparation for the the festival; They want to be in top physical and visual performance for the rigorous event. An interested woman can follow her object of affection into the bush where he must continue to woo her with poetry and riddles. The woman then decides if she would like to spend more time and test their compatibility before moving forward to meet the family and plan for marriage. From the festival to the final dowry agreement with the potential bride-to-be’s family, the pace and process of courtship is governed by the women of the tribe.

A piece written by the Daily Mail characterizes the annual events as a “wife-stealing” festival. Many of the women witnessing and judging the competition are currently married and looking to find another male to begin courting them. In my opinion, the “wife-stealing” monicker makes the men (both husbands and potential prospects) the focus of Gerewol when the amazing aspect of the ceremony is just how much power and authority is held by the women of the tribe. How fist-raising feminist it is for men to spend hours getting dressed and made-up for the sole purpose of catching the eye of available women! This has been the premise of western cultures beauty pageants and feminine beauty expectations for centuries. The role reversal seen at Gerewol should be recognized and celebrated. Women wait and watch, and hold the decision on their next potential partner. Let’s give it up for girl power!

Improving Health with Clean Water

by Michelle Wolf

There are 700,000 people in need of adequate healthcare in Diffa, including over 302,000 refugees living in refugee camps and displacement villages. Sixty-eight percent of the people in Diffa do not have access to healthcare. There are only 51 healthcare facilities in Diffa. Four of these facilities have been temporarily closed and 15 are staffed by only one healthcare professional. Patients can be seen by a qualified doctor in just six healthcare facilities. With the access to adequate healthcare so limited how can the increasing population of Diffa maintain a healthy community and reduce the risk of epidemic?

Healthcare facilities offer so much more than basic medical care. They also provide programs that educate communities on the importance of good personal hygiene practices, which directly help prevent spread of disease and reduce instances of epidemics. Introducing WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) programs in areas with limited healthcare access is essential to prevent the spread of disease before it becomes an epidemic.

When Wells Bring Hope begins to work with a village, the first step is always to assist the villagers with the construction of latrines. Latrines separate human waste product from coming into contact with people. This alone reduces the instances of contracting diarrhea, Hepatitis C, and other fecal-borne diseases. The latrines also help to prevent human waste from contaminating groundwater that villages use to clean, cook, and drink from.

After drilling the well that brings in clean, safe water, Wells Bring Hope teaches well maintenance and good personal hygiene practices. A key strategy for infection control is to increase emphasis on washing hands with soap and keeping cooking utensils clean. With the clean water provided by the well, parents can clean their children faces to eliminate the risk of trachoma, an eye disease that caused blindness and vision impairment. The risk of children succumbing to diarrhea is virtually eliminated because children are drinking and washing in clean, safe water.

Wells Bring Hope does so much more than drill wells. We educate communities on practices that will keep them healthy and provide monthly support for up to 15 years to ensure that those practices are implemented. This continued support ensures communities have developed healthy daily habits that reduces the risk of diseases and illness that require access to adequate healthcare facilities that are scarce for those living in Diffa. By focusing on improving community conditions, health conditions improve.

This holiday season please consider giving to Wells Bring Hope. Your contribution helps communities and children prosper and prevents the spread of disease, stopping epidemics before they start.

Read more about food security & livelihood here!

Sanitation and Water Quality

by Isabella Schmitt

I’m a new blogger Wells Bring Hope, so in deciding my first blog topic, I figured I’d start by looking first into Niger – its size, its water resources to see what rabbit hole I fell into from there. I have a background in science and am keenly interested in public health, so naturally I was drawn to the health aspects, particularly waterborne diseases. So, I thought I’d start off my barrage of blogs by doing a mini series on waterborne diseases and sanitation. So, first, let’s start with some basic information on Niger, water sources, sanitation, and a bit about waterborne diseases.

Niger is a country in West Africa that spans 489,076 square miles, only 116 of which contain water. To put this in perspective, the size of the land mass is almost twice that of Texas, with the amount of water one tenth of the size of Rhode Island. It’s a landlocked country, with a mostly dry, desert climate and recurring droughts. Water scarcity is a severe problem, causing women to walk hours each day to find water that is often not from a protected source.

The good news is that as of 2015, the country had 100% of its urban population using improved drinking water sources. This means their water was coming from a piped water connection, a dug well, a protected spring, or a form of rainwater collection, and as such, was safe from outside contamination. The bad news is that 41.8% of its rural population remains on unimproved drinking water sources, which run the risk of rampant contamination.

Improved water sources are one way to reduce water contamination; improved sanitation is another. Improved sanitation means there is a piped sewer system, a septic tank, flushable toilets, or a pit latrine with a slab. The main goal of sanitation facilities is to separate human excrement from human contact. As of 2015, 89.1% of Niger’s population was without improved sanitation sources.

For areas suffering with lack of improved water sources, lack of improved sanitation sources, or lack of both, the likelihood of contracting a waterborne disease is exceptionally high.

Waterborne diseases cause high levels of morbidity and mortality in developing countries, with diarrheal disease being one of the most lethal enemies. This tends to run especially high in children younger than five years of age, and in areas where water scarcity is a problem.

The good news is that organizations like Wells Bring Hope are working to improve drinking water and sanitation. Whenever WBH drills a well, the villagers must also construct pit latrines and receive training on proper hygiene. The combination of safe water, effective sanitation, and improved nutrition results in a 70% reduction in child morality. By simply drilling a well, we can come together to save millions of people from the pain, suffering, and in many cases, death, caused by waterborne illnesses.

As the World Health Organization says, “No other humanitarian intervention produces a more dramatic effect on life than access to safe water and sanitation.”



Tourism Potential in Niger

by Jennifer Dees

Picture a place rich in natural beauty with sunny, clear days and brilliant stars lighting the night sky over desert cities. High sand dunes glow golden; beneath them, dinosaur bones have rested for millions of years. Think of herds of giraffes and elephants, and lions prowling in the savanaa. Imagine millennia-old engravings in sandstone mountains, and ancient mud-brick villages with artistic,  Sudano-Sahelian architecture. This is Niger, and this is a place that, someday, many will be able to experience.

Agadez Grand Mosque, Niger

At this time, due to threats from extremist and terrorist organizations, foreigners are urged not to travel to Niger unless accompanied by armed guard. But Niger has the potential for tourism once it becomes more stable, and that is possible. Several countries have risen from poverty to economic stability and become popular holiday destinations. Namibia, for example, dealt with guerilla wars in the late 1900s, and now over a million people a year visit to discover its wildlife. Just 40 years ago, Cambodia was fraught with civil war and genocide; now foreigners visit its temples and immerse themselves in its culture.

Once a country becomes more stable, tourism starts small, usually through volunteering programs. Tours are created to target poverty in villages. Towns develop as local entrepreneurs gain the opportunity to grow their businesses. More jobs become available thanks to the influx of tourists. Eventually, enough cash flow invigorates national parks and museums. The same can happen in Niger.

Niger offers beautiful scenery and experiences. Hippos bathe in the Niger River, which passes through mangrove trees and other lush vegetation. Park W, a UNESCO World Heritage site, protects rare species of elephants, hyenas, lions, oryx, and more. West Africa’s last remaining herd of giraffes lives in the Kouré Giraffe Reserve, and is quite friendly with the locals. Tourism can also have positive environmental impacts by helping to fund security.

Niger’s ancient culture is preserved through engravings and paintings in the northern Aïr Mountains among ancient volcanic craters. In Iwellene, animal engravings over 8,000 years old are spread over 10 acres, including two life-sized giraffes, one of the greatest works of prehistoric art.

In Niger’s capital, Niamey, tourists could haggle for handwoven blankets, intricately imprinted leather boxes, and colored straw mats, and snack on ginger-spiced sourdough pancakes and moringa leaf cous-cous. The  adventurous could climb the minaret of the Grande Mosque and admire the colorfully patterned buildings. Visitors from around the world could experience cultural festivals throughout Niger and meet friendly people with a lively, resilient spirit.

Niamey market

One day, I hope that Niger will be known around the world for these experiences. We cannot expect change to come at gallop, although Wells Bring Hope helps provide a little more stability, one village a time. Niger is a country with great potential, naturally and culturally, and I’m hopeful that someday the rest of the world will experience it too.