The Power of Hope

by Elaine Wallace

Psychologists have long been aware of the importance of hope in helping us achieve our personal goals, but hope isn’t just a feel-good emotion that prompts us to work towards a promotion or try to lose a few pounds. According to economists, hope also plays a vital role in reducing world poverty.

One such economist is Dr. Esther Duflo, a professor at MIT and one of the world’s leading authorities on international development. Dr. Duflo argues that hopelessness is a key reason why poor people remain poor, and programs that provide hope for the future can make a big difference when it comes to escaping the poverty trap.

Dr. Duflo developed her theory after discovering that some anti-poverty programs have far greater economic benefits than expected. As one example, Dr. Duflo points to programs that give families a small productive asset, such as a cow or goat. Economists expect that a cow or goat will provide a family with a certain amount of benefit in the form of increased income and food consumption. But studies show that the benefits are often much greater and last far longer than expected. In fact, the benefits are so great that they can’t be attributed just to the value of the initial asset; even if they had made maximum use of their asset, families could not have earned enough from a cow or goat to account for their subsequent income gains.

Dr. Duflo and her colleagues studied anti-poverty programs to determine the reasons for the unexplained gains. What they found has far-reaching implications for the role of hope in overcoming poverty.

According to their research, the sense of hopelessness that comes from extreme poverty has a profound effect on how poor people perceive their situations and on the decisions they make. When people feel hopeless, they become fatalistic and forgo even small changes that could improve their situation, believing that any step they could take would be too small to make a difference. They avoid thinking about the future and become risk-averse, forgoing even small investments with potentially large benefits – such as the bus fare to a nearby town that offers more employment opportunities – because they’re afraid of losing what little they have.

Anti-poverty programs counteract these tendencies by dramatically improving mental health. By reducing depression and relieving some of the stresses of poverty – such as hunger, sickness, and worries about their family’s health and future – anti-poverty programs give people the mental bandwidth to do more than just survive. Dr. Duflo argues that these programs, by providing hope, allow poor people to realize their potential. They work more hours, explore new lines of work, think of ways to improve their situation, make better decisions, and invest time and resources in their futures.

I learned about Dr. Duflo’s work from a lecture she gave at Stanford University a few years ago, available on YouTube. As I listened, I was struck by how much of what she says applies to Wells Bring Hope. Drilling wells is just the beginning; ready access to clean water does so much more to help relieve the stresses of poverty, from improving health, reducing worry about child mortality, helping communities survive drought, and freeing up time for girls to go to school and women to work on new income opportunities supported by microfinancing. Wells certainly do bring hope, and hope really does matter.

Source: “Esther Duflo: Hope, Aspirations and the Design of the Fight Against Poverty,” available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvgPOZJ39iw

Bridging the Gap: Empowerment and Education in Niger’s “Husband Schools”

by Hannah Lichtenstein

An interesting tension exists in the socio-cultural plane in Niger as it does in many West African countries. Nigerien men generally operate outside of the household as the “breadwinners,” making a living toiling in economic spheres such as agriculture or mining. Women, on the other hand, are the nurturing caretakers, responsible for critical tasks in the home such as cooking, cleaning, caring for children, and gathering essentials like water and wood. Though much of Nigerien men’s time is spent in the “public” sphere, they are also the primary decision-makers in the home. Men have the final say in all aspects of the marital relationship, the rearing of children, and how home life functions. The disconnect is clear – it is women who spend nearly all their time in the home, responsible for all of the domestic duties, but it is the men who dictate how things run. How, then, can men make informed choices about such issues as reproductive health or child care? Furthermore, as decision-makers, how can Nigerien men be more physically present and active in the home?

Enter “husband schools.” In 2004, the United Nations Populations Fund started to implement husband schools as a way to bridge the gap between responsibility and experience – providing the male head of the house with the critical knowledge he needs to support and attend to the needs of his partner, family, and community. The initiative spread in Niger’s Zinder region, educating men on reproductive health, family planning, nutrition, the importance of sharing responsibility for domestic chores, and other topics (Women Deliver, 2016). Nearly fifteen years later, the positive outcomes produced by these schools prompted outside organizations to jump in and establish their own, and now, it is estimated that there are a couple hundred such schools in villages throughout Niger.

Community members learn about reproductive health care at a School for Husbands in the Maradi Region of Niger. Photo credit: APANEWS

Each husband school (HS) is comprised of approximately 10 members and meets twice a month. Seeking to engender fruitful discussion and meaningful long-term results, schools target married men with good morals who are at least 25 years old and can read and write (Ali, et al). Husband schools use a model based on peer support and discussion. This ensures that meetings are centered on members’ sharing of personal experiences, thoughts, and feelings. There is no one leader of the group, however, sometimes specialists (e.g. teachers, ministers) are brought in to speak on a particular issue if timely or necessary. In addition to being a space for dialogue, husband schools also aim to help men to develop practical strategies and techniques for addressing the various issues affecting their families and community. For example, an HS might “devise strategies to encourage more pregnant and breastfeeding women to attend Integrated Health Centers,” figure out ways to make the most nutritious meals or design the ideal mosquito net for their home (Women Deliver, 2016; Anderson, 2018).

The goal is to not just have this important information conveyed by members to their families but to ensure that it is disseminated to the community at large as well. It is the hope that HS members feel knowledgeable and empowered enough from their time at the HS to reach others with the lessons they have learned. This spread of knowledge may be casual in everyday interactions or more specifically directed. One school, for example, “writes and presents sketches or plays on the themes that it promotes in public places, during ceremonies or any other opportunities in the community to raise awareness. The model husbands also promote hygiene and regularly organize public health days in villages, install ‘tippy-tap’ handwashing stations and build indoor toilets in houses.”(Ali, et al). Husbands from one school have “constructed a midwives’ residence, an observation room for women in labor, and a prenatal consultation room” (Women Deliver, 2016).

Men speak about women’s reproductive health care at the Maiki School for Husbands, in the Maradi Region of Niger. Photo credit: APANEWS

Though noble in mission and continuing to improve in efficacy and structure, husband schools have not come without challenges. One obstacle the initiative and its members have faced is that the very premise of husband schools is in direct opposition to the traditional beliefs about marriage, parenting, and family life in Niger. This had led to skepticism and reluctance to participate by many Nigerien men. Alhaj, a longtime HS member and father of eight living in a Nigerien village known as Angouai Gao, explains, “There were people saying this was a bad thing…but I never cared about what they were saying. I was excited to join the group and I stayed” (Anderson, 2018). In addition to this cultural pushback, there is the obstacle faced in retaining members who first and foremost shoulder the responsibility for their family’s survival in, particularly harsh living conditions. One organization describes, “the main challenge in operation of the HS is the exodus of members during the ‘hungry’ or lean season” (Ali, et al). A desire to talk about and learn the tools to improve family welfare understandably falls to the wayside when a husband is not even sure if he can put food on the table every day.

Despite these issues, research shows that there are positive impacts within individual homes and long-term gains in the communities served by these schools. Members describe how communication and cooperation in marital relationships improve after attending husband school. One says, “I’ve learned how to give my wife advice about exclusive nursing. I help her with housework. I take the child[ren] when she is cooking.” Another student reported, “When [my wife] has a lot to do, I take the children so she can be free to do another activity…I do whatever I can to help the children” (Anderson, 2018).

Examples like these of satisfied students and knowledge being put to good use within a family have also shown up in the wider community. Global advocacy program, Women Deliver, reports on the larger results which include:

  • – Use of family planning services has tripled in communities where the schools operate.
  • – During the first nine months of 2013 in Maiki, approximately 1,700 women received prenatal consultations at the health center, a 95 percent increase from 2012.
  • – The number of childbirths attended by skilled healthcare personnel has doubled in communities where the schools operate.
  • – An increase in rates of safe delivery, from approximately 12 percent to nearly 30 percent in one community and from 16 percent to over 32 percent in another between 2008 and 2009 (Women Deliver, 2016).

Husband schools use a contextualized understanding of private relationships and social dynamics to effect change. By directing their efforts towards the individual who wields the most power and influence within the home, husband schools have had significant success ameliorating some of the deep-seated problems facing Nigerien families and communities.

 

Sources

Anderson, Maggie. “Why We’re Inviting Men to Husband School.” Mercy Corps, 4 June 2018, www.mercycorps.org/articles/niger/why-were-inviting-men-husband-school.

“Husband Schools: Bringing Men into Family Planning – Women Deliver.” Women Deliver, 19 Sept. 2016, womendeliver.org/2016/husband-school-teaches-importance-contraception-niger/.

Idrissa, Ali, et al. “Back to School: The Role of Husband Schools in Maternal and Child Health and Nutrition in Niger.” Management of Hypertension and Diabetes for the Syrian Refugees and Host Community in Selected Health Facilities in Lebanon | ENN, www.ennonline.net/nex/9/husbandschoolshealthnutniger.

“Schools for Husbands Gaining Ground in Rural Niger.” United Nations Population Fund, 17 June 2014, www.unfpa.org/news/schools-husbands-gaining-ground-rural-niger.

Voting Power: How Women Leaders in Niger Changed History

by Shayna Watson

There are approximately 3.8 billion women on Earth. As roughly 50% of the world’s population, women are a powerful force across the globe – but what about in national-level leadership? As of January 2017, women accounted for only 23.3% of all national leaders globally. And these figures get even more disproportionate when we consider women of color in government leadership positions. This has been a hot topic of conversation as a major lack of representation was called out at the most recent G20 summit held in Hamburg, Germany. Of the 36 world leaders present at the conference, only three were women. This is a significant problem as a lack of diversity in leadership is correlated with a lack of attention to issues that affect underserved populations.

In response to these glaring disparities, the United Nations’ United Women group launched a “Step Up for Gender Equality” initiative, asking governments around the world to make a commitment to increasing representation of women in leadership and closing the gender equality gap. The group keeps track of which countries have agreed to this effort, all while setting the goal towards “Planet 50-50 by 2030.” Ninety-three countries have taken the pledge so far, including the West African countries of Senegal, Benin, and Liberia. While not included on the official initiative list, Niger is focused on minimizing the gender equality gap over the next 12 years. According to Alex J. Kang, writer and professor of political science, the country’s adoption of women’s rights policies is due largely to the work of women activists in Niger and abroad. In her book, Kang details the pivotal moment in Niger’s history when the president of the country’s largest women’s organization pushed Nigerien leaders to give formal consent for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (a convention adopted by the UN in 1979) following a military coup in 1999. Any state that accepts this treaty commits itself to engaging in and documenting measures to end discrimination against women. By ratifying this convention, Niger legally bound itself to putting these measures into practice and submitting national reports on their progress.

A woman prepares to cast her ballot for the second round of the presidential election at a polling station in Niamey, Niger, on March 20. (Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images)

Eight years before the adoption of this treaty, women all over Niger banded together for the largest women’s demonstration post-independence. The women’s activist police commissioner at that time worked in connection with the protest leaders to organize a peaceful march through the capital city. Women in Niger were tired of the near-exclusion of women from leadership positions as the country transitioned from a military regime to a democracy. The organizers called out the underrepresentation of women, blamed the prime minister and political parties, and presented a list of demands which included voting women into leadership positions.

The timing of reform in Niger seems to be directly connected to the tireless work of women leaders of organizations dedicated to gender equality. Researchers have speculated that the gender quota laws that currently exist in Niger would not have come to be without the push from women leaders on the ground. The ripple effect of both the large and small protests of the lack of representation for women even trickles down to the well maintenance committees that Wells Bring Hope establishes in every village where a well is drilled. The law requires that at least 50% of the members of the committee be women. There is still a lot of work to be done to advance women’s rights around the world, but this moment in Nigerien history proves that every single voice counts.

 

Resources:

https://www.cnn.com/2017/07/07/politics/g20-class-photo-annotated/index.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/06/24/womens-rights-groups-in-niger-push-forward-on-gender-equality/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.9468a9df6fad

http://www.unwomen.org/en/get-involved/step-it-up

 

 

Professor Antoinette Tidjani Alou: Voice of Nigerien Women

by Elsa Sichrovsky

Looking only at statistics, it is easy to misconceive that Niger is a nation that cannot produce great literature. Literacy rates among young people aged 15-to-24 years old are 36.43% and 17.15% for males and females respectively[1]. Literacy rates are especially low for women; just 11.04% of the adult female population.

But Professor Antoinette Tidjani Alou has proven that Nigerien women have their own unique female narrative to share with the world. She is widely known for her research on African oral literature, African studies and gender studies at the Universite Abdou Moumouni de Niamey in Niger. Her literary focus over the past twelve years has been on female Nigerien authors. In fact, in 2017, she was the first Nigerien to participate in the International Writing Program, a writing residency for international artists in Iowa. She also participated in “Women Writing Africa” [2], a literary research project that featured songs, poems, and significant oral texts by African female authors. “Women Writing Africa” brought female African literature out of obscurity and into the limelight, allowing African women to reclaim their stories from the stereotypes and prejudices that had obscured the brilliance of the African female experience.

Born and raised in Jamaica, Professor Alou completed her doctorate in France but has lived and worked in Niger for most of her adult life. Her multicultural background and diverse experiences don’t detract from her platform as a spokeswoman for Nigerien women. Rather, they are representative of Niger’s racially diverse population and multicultural society. She considers herself “a Global African whose adult life, work experiences, struggles, hopes, and dreams have all evolved in Niger, among in Niger and people of whom I consider myself to be a normal everyday citizen”[3]. Her most well-known French novel[4], On m’appelle Nina[5], portrays Nigerien women struggling with issues of race, femininity, and motherhood in the contexts of interracial marriage and cultural conflict. A story collection, Tina Shot Me Between the Eyes and Other Stories[6], explores the joys and pains of marriage and motherhood as African women cope with a society plagued by uncertainty and violence.

Professor Antoinette Tidjani Alou encourages those who are not familiar with Niger to focus less on the statistics. In a 2012 presentation for the Library of Congress (watch it here), Professor Antoinette Tidjani Alou discussed “The Secret Faces of Women from the Nigerien Sahel: Agency, Influence, and Contemporary Challenges.” Although Niger is a little-known country that faces many humanitarian crises, these dismal statistics should not be allowed to darken people’s view of the latent potential of this nation: “What we should not do with the statistics and which–what I propose not to do with them–is we shouldn’t deny them. But we should not claim and diffuse them as the whole story about Niger or Niger’s women[7]”. For instance, Professor Alou pointed out that Nigerien employers are required by law to allow nursing mothers to have an hour-long breastfeeding break before and after work[8]. She highlighted Niger’s consistent record of giving fourteen weeks of paid maternity leave to pregnant mothers[9], which is partially subsidized by the government. These encouraging steps of progress show that Nigeriens are striving as a nation to care for their women, so there is hope for continued progress in women’s rights.

Like Professor Alou, Wells Bring Hope shares the same determination to enable Nigerien women to reach their fullest personal potential. Wells Bring Hope organizes a microfinance education program wherever a well is drilled. When women don’t have to spend hours walking to access fresh water, they have time to attend microfinance training sessions. Within six months, these women are able to launch their own micro-businesses and gain financial independence. If this seems incredible, remember Professor Alou’s words: “It’s…extremely important to remember the indigenous wellsprings of power, agency, and resilience that are part of Niger’s identity and part of the identity of Nigerien women. I think we need to use these wellsprings, these foundational wellsprings of power and agency and role models of women made at home as inspiration for action…[10]” Be inspired by the Nigerien women who are working towards a better life, and get involved with Wells Bring Hope today!

 

 

[1]                http://countrymeters.info/en/Niger#literacy

[2]                http://www.wrei.org/WomenWritingAfrica.htm

[3]                https://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/feature_wdesc.php?rec=5525

[4]                http://www.presenceafricaine.com/romans-litterature-africaine-caraibes/986-on-m-appelle-nina-9782708708983.html

[5]                https://repeatingislands.com/2017/05/22/review-of-antoinette-tijani-alous-on-mappelle-nina/

[6]                http://www.amalion.net/catalogue_en/item/tina_shot_me_between_the_eyes_and_other_stories/

[7]                https://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/transcripts/2012/120524ame1200.txt

[8]                http://mdm.wageindicator.org/chart/maternity/562

[9]                https://www.globalization-partners.com/globalpedia/niger-employer-of-record/

[10]                https://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/transcripts/2012/120524ame1200.txt

 

Guérewol, a Celebration of Love and Beauty in the Desert

by Lilia Leung

September marks the end of the rainy season in West Africa. Some West African nomadic tribes, such as the Tuareg and the Wodaabe, commemorate this event with festivals and rituals. One of these festivals is the Guérewol, a week-long courtship ritual that takes place at particular gathering points in West Africa.

The Woodabe people are a subgroup of the Fulani ethnic group in West Africa. Traditionally, they were cattle-herders and traders in the Sahel region who traveled from pasture to pasture when the season changed. Today, much of their population is in Niger, though they can also be found in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and the Central African Republic. Normally, Woodabe families and clans live in isolation in the desert, but for a week in September, Woodabe clans gather together for the Guérewol festivities at a location that is only disclosed a few days before the event.

The Woodabe are a polygamous people, where both the men and women have sexual freedom and are allowed to pursue new partners. It’s common for both men and women to have multiple marriages, and for many individuals, their first marriage is arranged by their parents. Guérewol is an opportunity for these individuals to seek a second marriage partner based on love.

The main event of the Guérewol is a beauty pageant, but not one that is anything like the beauty pageants we see in the western world. The main difference is that the participants in this West African beauty pageant are men, not women. Woodabe people hold physical beauty in high regard and have strict criteria for what can be considered beautiful, including height, white teeth and eyes, a well-defined nose, and good posture. To prepare for the pageant, the young men take a painstaking amount of time (sometimes up to six hours!) to apply makeup and accessories that accentuate these features. Clay in bright pigments of red, yellow, and white is used to paint their faces, and black eyeliner and black lipstick are used to outline their eyes and lips. Lastly, they put on a traditional dress that shows off their physiques.

Once the pageant begins, the young Woodabe men perform the customary song and dance Yaake as a group in an attempt to impress the young women in attendance. While the winners are officially determined by three female judges, the men are also being evaluated by every young woman in the audience. The ultimate victors win fame amongst the Woodabe clans as well as their choice of a new partner. After the pageant, clan meetings, marriage negotiations, and other social event take place for the remainder of the week.

While the Guérewol is a much-anticipated time of celebration for the Woodabe people, this ritual has actually been occurring less frequently in recent years. Guérewel can only take place when there is enough water in the area to sustain the hundreds of people who will turn up, and the increasing frequency of droughts has forced cancellation of the in drier years. This phenomenon illustrates the importance of water in every aspect of life, from the health and livelihood of people to the preservation of their art and culture. By working to ensure that everyone in Niger has access to plentiful safe water, we may be able to help preserve long-standing customs practiced by the indigenous people of West Africa and bring love back to the desert.

 

Read more on the Guerewol festival and girl power here.

 

Resources:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wodaabe
  2. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-12215138

Look for the Helpers

by Jennifer Dees

A few weeks ago, lightning struck a tree in the mountains near my town. A fire flared up, greedily devoured the tree, and then roared through the range, leaving behind the blackened corpses of trees. Smoke blotted out the blue sky and filled mouths and lungs. Those who could stay behind the walls of their homes did; the 5,000 who lived near the fire had to snatch a few belongings and leave their homes behind. The fire is still churning, although the unflagging firefighters have stopped it from descending any closer to the cities nearby. At night, I watch the flames, and my heart sinks for the dying land and animals.

As I write, I turn my thoughts to the east, to Niger. In the Sub-Saharan region, much of the land is barren, claimed by the heat. And they can’t exactly splash some water on the problem and call it good, especially considering that a lack of water is one of the problems. Shockingly, an abundance of water can also be deadly. Those who live in the Niger Riover Basin suffer regularly from flooding that leads to death and displacement.

Looking at the poverty, disaster, and suffering that plagues millions around the world, it’s easy to feel bleak. But then I read, for example, about youth efforts to digitally plot flood-prone areas throughout Niger. The data is publicly available and sent to the government so Nigeriens can not only be warned about areas vulnerable to flooding but also learn safer places to grow food and when to start planting. They’ve already collected 15,000 data points in Niamey and are expanding to other areas of the country. The work means long days of trudging through mud, counting the number of buildings, inspecting construction materials, and locating electric poles, but as one volunteer said, “We’re young and keen to help. The working conditions are tough, but worth it.”

The articles on the Wells Bring Hope blog show numerous examples of community members looking out for each other, developing agriculture, disaster preparedness, financial, and women’s groups. Farmers who learned about FMNR, discussed in Lilia Leung article, have taken to the radio to share the techniques beyond their communities, eliciting so many callers that the radio show went half an hour over time. Outside organizations as well are flocking from all over the world to provide relief through medicine, education, and water.

I see the same thing at home. When people had to flee the fire, others opened up their homes, donated everything from toothbrushes to the cost of an entire wedding. So many supplies were donated to the firefighters that they couldn’t use it all. You’d think that when things go wrong, it’d be like the movies—people shoving each other out of the way to get to safety, breaking windows to get to food—but that’s not reality at all. I think that selfishness stems from prosperity, and that kindness comes out of hardship.

Maybe it’s not a coincidence I’m writing this on the 51st anniversary of the production of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” A popular quote by Fred Rogers sums up how I feel about humanity itself: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” While it is important to acknowledge problems, seeing how communities, organizations, even nations are banding together to support each other offers hope and direction. Focus on what’s being done, and then focus on what you can do, and the world will look a lot more neighborly.

Wells Bring Hope’s 10th Anniversary Celebration and Fundraiser

On Sunday, September 23rd, philanthropist, Stanley Black welcomed Wells Bring Hope back to his home for the fifth year in a row for its 10th Anniversary Celebration and Fundraiser. Under twinkling lights and the night sky, WBH celebrated not only its 10th anniversary, but also the achievement of reaching a milestone goal – the drilling of 500 wells in ten years.

It was an exciting, festive evening that included entertainment by the Dafra Drum and Dance Ensemble, musicians and dancers from West Africa.

Guests nibbled on delicious food from Craig’s Crew and sipped wine donated by the Hood Wine Company. Also featured was the “Stanley Special,” a refreshing vodka drink topped off with fresh strawberry puree and mint.

While everyone mixed and mingled, the very capable volunteers enticed guests to bid in the silent auction.  This year we offered enticing restaurants like Nobu Malibu, Cassia and BOA as well as getaways to Santa Fe, Santa Barbara, Chicago, and Scottsdale. Thanks to everyone who bid and made the auction lively and fun!

Our event was a huge success, thanks to our generous donors, capable volunteers, and especially to Board Member, Carol Rosen who choreographed it all, and Michelle Chan of Ella Mae Productions who lent her event planning skills.

At the close of the silent auction, guests moved to the back lawn, where they were welcomed by Founder and President, Barbara Goldberg. She told the story of how Wells Bring Hope started as a grass roots effort, inspired by Gil Garcetti, and acknowledged the women who helped to start it.

She also acknowledged WBH’s corporate and event sponsors and partners, including Bliss Car Wash and its owner/founder, David Delrahim who was joined at our event by his family and team.

We were also delighted to have first time sponsors, City National Bank, with a donation initiated by Michael Zells in honor of Stanley Black. Other corporate partners included Noosh Brands, and Merrill Lynch.

Documentary filmmaker Mellissa Tong of DuckPunk Productions introduced the video she shot on her trip to Niger last February. Guests were very moved by her powerful images and the story that she told. She was followed by Gil Garcetti who told the story of how he began his journey to Niger and what that has meant in his life.

This year, WBH was proud to honor its long-time supporter, Stanley Black, at whose home we’ve held our annual fundraiser for the last five years. To make this event even more special, Councilmember Paul Koretz declared September 23rd to be “Stanley Black Day” in perpetuity, honoring him for his lifelong philanthropic work and service to the community.

Grant Snyder, auctioneer extraordinaire, took the stage for the sixth year in a row, helping us raise lots of money for wells.  He auctioned off exciting trips to Belize, Puerto Vallarta, Santa Fe, and a choice of five Colibri Boutique Resorts. Once again Turkish Airlines gave us two business class tickets to any of their Africa destinations. They’ve supported us for the last six years, and we so appreciate their generosity.

This year we were fortunate to have two matching donors, Marsha and Mark Hierbaum who contributed $30,000 in matching funds for Raise the Paddle, along with the Margaret M. Bloomfield Foundation, which contributed $10,000 in matching funds.

This year we are proud to have raised enough money to fund 39 wells!

Thank you to all who came to support Wells Bring Hope’s ten great years!

To view and download all of these photos and more, please check out the album on the Wells Bring Hope Facebook page. It was great to welcome back photographer, Tatsu Ikeda whose incredible photography will, along with video shot by Michele Morris, help us to memorialize the event.

Niger’s Ancient Rock Art

by Elaine Wallace

The Sahara Desert is one of the driest, harshest environments on Earth. With sparse vegetation and very little rain, only the hardiest, drought-adapted plants and animals survive there. But the Sahara was not always a desert. 10,000 years ago, it was a lush grassland with rivers, lakes, trees, and abundant wildlife. It’s hard to imagine how different it must have looked back then. Fortunately, we can catch a glimpse of that greener time in the ancient rock art of the region.

The Sahara region of Niger contains thousands of prehistoric engravings and paintings, some up to 9,500 years old. Ancient peoples chiseled the images into the rock using stone tools or painted them with paints made from local minerals and brushes of feathers or animal hair. They include extraordinary images of animals that we don’t associate with the Sahara, such as elephants, hippos, and monkeys. Little is known about the people who created them, but the images provide clues as to what life was like for them and how things changed as the Sahara transitioned from wet grassland to the desert we know today. They also show the vital importance of water and the dramatic impact on people and animals when water is scarce.

Most of Niger’s rock art is located in the Aïr Mountains and Djado Plateau in the northern part of the country. Archeologists classify it into different historical periods, beginning with the Early Hunter Period 12,000 to 9,000 years ago. This is when rainfall was at its peak and the region could sustain hunter-gatherer societies, which need lots of plants and animals to survive. The Early Hunter Period is characterized by engravings of large animals such as elephants, rhinos, hippos, giraffes, and buffalo. Humans are often shown as tiny figures dwarfed by the animals and hunting with boomerangs, sticks, clubs, axes, or bows. One of the most celebrated sites is at Dabous, where over 800 images are carved on a sandstone outcrop. The most impressive are two giraffes, thought to be around 8,000 years old and known for their beauty, life-sized scale, perfect proportion, and expert execution.

Next is the Pastoral Period, which began around 7,000 years ago when the Sahara began its transition from savannah to desert and images of cattle and other domesticated animals appear for the first time. At the beginning of this period, the region was wet enough to sustain permanent communities with subsistence economies based on fishing and hunting. But as it grew drier, these were replaced by nomadic herders. During very dry periods, people left the region altogether.

The Horse Period began around 3,000 years ago and signals the arrival of horses in the region. Images include hunters in horse-drawn chariots holding weapons and reins. Figures known as Libyan Warriors are also common, usually forward-facing figures with raised arms and splayed fingers, depicted with weapons, shields, headdresses, and clothing decorated with geometric patterns, often with stylized bodies consisting of two triangles or tulip-shaped heads and hourglass bodies. About 1,000 engravings of Libyan Warriors have been recorded in Niger and neighboring Mali and there is debate among historians about their origin and meaning.

Finally, there is the Camel Period, which began around 2,000 years ago. By then, the Sahara was as dry as today and the appearance of images of camels indicates that the region could no longer support horses. Niger has relatively few images from the Camel Period, suggesting that lack of water had forced people to leave the region and that it was visited only occasionally.

Niger’s rock art is a vivid reminder of the importance of water to the lives of the people and animals of the Sahara. Even the future of the art itself depends on water. Rock art sites are under constant threat from vandalism and unmonitored tourism, and they’re hard to protect because lack of water means that they’re mostly uninhabited. Only the Dabous site is fully protected, thanks to the drilling of a well that has enabled custodians to stay at the site full time.

Name a More Iconic Duo: Understanding the Relationship Between Women and Nature Through Ecofeminism

by Hannah Lichtenstein

The association between women and nature is a long-recognized means by which societies have sought to understand an unpredictable and powerful earth. Looking to mythology, the Greek tradition describes the goddess Gaia as the personification of Earth. In Hindu narratives, she goes by the name Bhūmi or Prithvi. Secular discourse too, spanning centuries. is riddled with prose of those cowering in fear, thanking and praying to a natural world that is distinctly coded as feminine — “Mother Nature” as we so often hear it used. Women, like the Earth, are reproductive, harboring the ability to give life. In addition to these conceptual associations, we may also look to lived experiences to identify these connections. For example, the division of labor in many societies, particularly those with subsistence economies like in Niger, classifies a woman’s domain and work to be within the domestic sphere of such endeavors as traveling to collect water or weaving baskets. With this understanding of a feminine nature and women’s aptness for the natural world, it is unsurprising to think the destruction, domination, and management of Earth is often deeply tied to the marginalization and subordination of women.

It is precisely this issue, the critical linkage between gender and environment, that lays at the heart of the academic, political and philosophical movement known as “Ecofeminism.” The term was coined in the mid-1970s, as a school of thought that pulled from various anti-oppression movements at the time. Environmental disasters such as those at Love Canal and Three Mile Island were painful examples of deadly events spawned by science and the cost of growth paid by communities and their environment. Women were often the first to speak out about the damage.

By the 1970s, modernization and industrialization were proving to be malevolent tyrants, and it was unclear what human or environmental events would be sufficient enough to finally trigger regulation and control. It was this issue, in part, that influenced a body of literature that began investigating how culture — technology, science, materialism — was so harmfully triumphing over nature and in turn, how this dynamic might be further understood and addressed through a feminist approach. Here we begin to see the roots and underlying theory of ecofeminism: “These women conceptualized the earth as an oppressed being, which was exploited for the economic and political gain of others. They saw similarities in men’s treatment of the earth and their treatment of women” (Harkness). The seeds of ecofeminism were planted and have been flourishing ever since, coming to encompass a wide and multifarious range of issues that speak to not just the oppression of women but others marginalized by deeply ingrained social, economic and cultural values.

Theoretical considerations aside, it is useful to give concrete examples of ideas that have been analyzed from an ecofeminist perspective. Pollution and environmental contamination have been taken on by ecofeminists. Discussion of agricultural pesticide use, toxic waste removal, and other issues implicitly raise questions of who exactly faces more physical and psychological long-term damage from these decisions. While no one can escape a changing global climate, women are disproportionately affected by the effects of this phenomenon. In Niger, since most men travel to work in the city, rural women are forced to grapple with and manage the effects of climate change first hand in their day-to-day tasks. The arduous undertaking of traveling to obtain clean water is one major way Niger women bear the brunt of a changing climate. Women have to travel anywhere between 4-6 miles to find (often contaminated) water in Niger. Considering the rising temperatures and that drought is “by far the greatest risk facing the country”, that commute is likely to increase as areas with water shrivel up.

Take the top of the biomagnification chain, for example, which traces the increasing concentration of a substance in the tissues of organisms in successively higher levels of the food chain. The highest concentration of a potentially harmful substance in our environment ends up being concentrated in the female body, within the child-rearing relationship more specifically.

As a movement, ecofeminism does not merely seek to identify and articulate these issues. It is also a call to action. As Mies describes, “whenever women acted against ecological destruction and/or the threat of atomic annihilation, they immediately became aware of the connection between patriarchal violence against women, other people and nature, and that: In defying this patriarchy we are loyal to future generations and to life and this planet itself” (Mies).  Women who are at risk see environmental injustices first hand every day and ultimately have more to lose should their voices be stilled. Kenya’s Green Belt Movement, India’s Chipko movement and dozens of other environmental justice campaigns sprouted and continue to gain energy from women and their unique experiences/position.

Ecofeminism asks us to re-evaluate, to look at issues we have examined for decades, through a different lens. It challenges us to re-conceptualize our thinking about an oppressed earth by looking closely at who and what creates and perpetuates harmful mores and whose bodies suffer the most at the hands of these perpetrators. In turn, it also seeks to empower and mobilize those who have been mistreated by calling attention to their potential power as leaders in ameliorating these concerns.

 

Sources:

Adams, Carol J. The Sexual Politics of Meat a Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. Bloomsbury Academic, 2017.

Harkness, Jane. “Ecofeminism 101: Women Going Green – Athena Talks – Medium.” Medium, Augmenting Humanity, 12 Feb. 2018, medium.com/athena-talks/ecofeminism-101-women-going-green-910d72f7295f.

Mies, Maria, and Vandana Shiva. Ecofeminism. Zed Books, 2014

“Tackling Climate Change in Niger.” World Bank, www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2013/04/03/tackling-climate-change-in-niger

 

 

Omara “Bombino” Moctar: Musician of the Desert

by Elsa Sichrovsky

The world outside Niger has come to recognize and enjoy Nigerien Tuareg music because of a musician from Niger, called Omara “Bombino” Moctar. Bombino, a member of the Tuareg Ifoghas tribe, was born in 1980 in Tidene, Niger. The Tuareg, nomadic Berbers who travel in the Sahara Desert in North Africa, have had frequent conflicts with national governments in their recent history. In 1990, Bombino and his family fled to Algeria during one such Tuareg rebellion. During this time, visiting relatives left behind a guitar, and Bombino started teaching himself how to play by listening to pirated cassettes of Ali Farka Touré, Dire Straits and Jimi Hendrix.

The guitar became Bombino’s passion, and he later studied with renowned Tuareg guitarist Haja Bebe. Bebe invited him to join his band, where he gained the nickname “Bombino”, from the Italian word “bambino”, which means ‘little child’. In 1997, Bombino returned to Agadez, near his hometown, and began life as a professional musician.

Due to another Tuareg uprising in 2007, Bombino lived in exile in Burkina Faso. While there, filmmaker Ron Wyman, who had heard a cassette recording of Bombino’s music, tracked him down and helped him to record his album Agadez, released in April 2011 which debuted at the top of the iTunes World Chart.

Bombino’s unique style of singing in his native language of Tamasheq while combining blues and rock with traditional Tuareg musical elements has brought him worldwide recognition. In May of this year, ahead of the release of his new album Deran, the music blog Noisey called Bombino, “the World’s Best Guitarist™.” Bombino’s music deals with the struggles of the Tuareg people and the hardships of their desert life, as well as the encroachment of modernization on their traditional culture. You can find more information about Bombino’s music and worldwide tours at www.bombinomusic.com

Bombino strives to use his success and platform as an international celebrity to promote education as the way to preserve Tuareg culture: “We fought for our rights, but we have seen that guns are not the solution. We need to change our system. Our children must go to school and learn about their Tuareg identity.” He believes that it is important for children to learn Niger’s diverse languages, which represent Niger’s multicultural society: the Tuareg language of Tamasheq, the local Haoussa language as well as French and Arabic. Bombino himself speaks all four of these languages fluently!

Wells Bring Hope helps children in Niger to have access to clean water, which enables young people to be able to attend school and start a small business. When essential needs like clean food and water are provided and children gain access to education, the youth of Niger will have an opportunity to break out of the cycle of poverty. Who knows how many Nigerien children could be talented young musicians in the making? The world needs more people like Bombino, who can sing of their nation’s beauty to the world. Donate to Wells Bring Hope, and make it possible for more children to reach their full potential!

To hear some of Bombino’s music, click here!