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!

 

Turning Over a New Leaf: Land Regeneration in Niger

by Lilia Leung

In 1960, Niger gained independence from France after a nation-wide referendum, and the country celebrated its 59th Independence Day on August 3rd, of this year. Freedom and self-governance weren’t the things being celebrated on August 3rd, however, as Niger also observes Arbor Day on the third of August. In 1975, the Nigerien government decided that Fête de l’Arbre would be celebrated on the same day as Independence Day to signify the importance of trees for Niger’s future and independent identity. The Nigerien government encourages every citizen of Niger to plant a tree on this day in the hope of staving off desertification, the degradation of fertile cropland and forests caused by droughts and deforestation.

Aside from the founding of Arbor Day, there have been other practices put in place to encourage the planting and preservation of trees and greenery in Niger. The Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) is an approach created by Tony Rinaudo, an Australian agriculturist. Rinaudo has worked with local farmers to identify useful tree species and develop ways to prune and protect them. The goal of FMNR is to educate farmers to promote sustainable land restoration techniques that would ultimately increase tree growth and food production. In turn, this will help to alleviate hunger and poverty.

FMNR has been a massive success in Niger. The land regeneration technique has been used on over 50 percent of Niger’s farmland, and the results can clearly be seen in aerial photographs and field surveys.

One of the tree species that was identified as useful for land regeneration was the gao tree, which is now seen as “magical” by local Nigeriens. It has large roots that draw nitrogen from the air and fertilize the surrounding soil. Its leaves fall in the rainy season, which allows sunlight to shine through to the surrounding crops during a crucial time for their growth and development. Crops nourished by gao trees tend to hold water better and generate more produce. The trees also create a cooler microclimate and attract animals. Local Nigeriens can even crush the gao tree bark into powder for medicinal use.

A program with the goal of fighting desertification on a grand scale is the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel Initiative (GGWSSI). The implementation of this project involves planting a “wall” of trees that spans over 20 countries, from Gambia in the west to Djibouti in the east (including Niger). This program was originally envisioned as a project that would restore the deteriorated landscape in the Sahara and Sahel regions while providing jobs for residents of the countries involved. If the program succeeds, both food security and resilience to climate change would be increased for the participating regions.

Because Niger has shown its land regeneration technique to be such a success, GGWSSI has now redirected its focus to sustainable land and water management, rather than strictly forestry. Since the launch of GGWSSI in 2007, it has evolved into an effort to surround the entire Sahara region with a belt of trees. Along with other tree planting programs around the world, FMNR and GGWSSI are demonstrating results in their attempt to “greenify” our earth once again, and Niger is playing an instrumental role in this endeavor. In addition to bringing wells into villages that provide easy access to water for gardening, Wells Bring Hope strives to play a part in sustainable skills education by teaching locals drip farming techniques and ways to use gray water for watering plants. Through hard work and perseverance, we may be able to provide a better environment for our future generations.

#CoupleGoals: How Social Media is Changing Marriage Culture in Niger

by Shayna Watson

We scroll past it daily on our timeline. That girl we did a group project with from middle school just got engaged, under the Eiffel Tower, with the biggest diamond ever. We like the picture and keep scrolling, but if many of us are honest we indulge in a bit of “Instagram .vs. reality” comparisons as we celebrate her excitement. For those living in the major cities of Niger, the requisite engagement ring shot is replaced by “brideprice photos,” images of suitcases filled with money that announce the upcoming nuptials. In many cultures, prospective grooms are expected to give a sum of money or quantity of goods to the parents of their intended bride. This is typically done to provide the family assurance that the groom-to-be is capable of providing for their daughter. Thanks to social media, what was traditionally a very private exchange has become very public.  These brideprice photos generate in Nigerien women the very same pressure and anxiety that ring-selfies can bring out in women in many other countries and a worry that they are falling behind in the marriage race.

With 75% of women in Niger married before their 18th birthday, there is increasing concern that these displays of wealth and prosperity will lead young women to think marriage is their only chance at success. Many fear that social platforms like Facebook and Instagram are having a negative impact on how some women in Niger view marriage and increasing the risks they are willing to take in order to attain the security they think marriage provides.

Increased use of social media is impacting romantic relationships in other ways as well. Women in Niger are forming connections with women abroad who they perceive as empowered in their careers and relationships. Traditionalists in Niger fear that this glimpse of a different way of life is ruining marriages in Niger. In an article published by The Guardian, marabouts of Niger speculated that social media has a direct influence on the increasing divorce rates in their country. Their anecdotes assume a correlation between how easy infidelity has become on social media platforms, and how women in Niger have started to assert their authority over men – going against the tradition of Niger gender roles. A leader of the Islamic association, headquartered in Niger’s capital, commented, “Most of the time, the women are the problem. They watch TV series from abroad and see how women earn money and are equal to men. But here in Niger men look after women and they are superior.” Thanks to the expanded worldview that social media provides, women in Niger are being exposed to a wider range of models for modern relationships. In response to this change in culture, Niger-based social media initiatives have developed in response to this rise in female empowerment and equality.

NigeriElles is one such platform. Dedicated to supporting Nigerien women’s want of something other than the traditional path of early marriage, the organization aims to push women in Niger to “take on womanhood” through training programs, events, and business clubs. NigeriElles offers training and support for female business owners and anyone who hopes to create their own means of income as an entrepreneur. The group’s objective is for every woman in Niger to find success by becoming her own boss.

NigeriElles also provides eye-opening statistics about how much women contribute to the total economy on the continent of Africa and throughout the world. A poll conducted at the end of July revealed that 69% of women in Africa exert an economic activity rate (the workforce supply of the labor market) higher than that of the other economic zones in the world. In Africa specifically, women produce 90% of the food goods consumed and sold. The food and agriculture economy in Africa would not exist without women, and NigeriElles is making sure that they are getting the training, support, and resources that they need to succeed. Education and empowerment allow women all over the world make decisions for their relationships and futures based on their own needs and wants, not from a place of fear or survival. NigeriElles is continuing this very important effort of women supporting women and working together to create a healthy future for girls in Niger. Social media may always be flooded with images of envy-inducing courtships and success attached to relationships, creating a sometimes dangerous expectation of marriage. Thankfully, organizations like NigeriElles are working hard to ensure that photos of empowered, independent businesswomen will also have a prominent place on timelines across Niger.

 

Sources:

https://www.facebook.com/NigeriElles/

https://twitter.com/pollniger/status/1024326290793537536

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/jul/23/how-social-media-is-revolutionising-marriage-in-niger

Charity versus Solidarity

by Jennifer Dees

It’s safe to say that Wells Bring Hope is charitable. But I don’t think charity is the best word to describe what’s being done. Charity is akin to pity, to feel sorry for someone. While pity can be benevolent, it can also stem from negative perceptions. When you take pity on someone, you’re regarding them as less than, as separate. You have something the other person lacks, and their existence must be less because of it. In this frame of mind, the other person is a victim. When someone is labeled a victim, they may feel defined by that label, stuck in whatever circumstance life put them in. So on one side is the victim, and on the other is the hero, an archetypal story playing out through countless charities.

Big change doesn’t happen through charity, but through solidarity—unity in feeling or action. Change happens when we recognize that everyone has wisdom and resources to make the world better, including those who receive “charity.” This mindset is more respectful because the recipients have a say in the solution. It’s not about giving handouts and expecting nothing. Wells aren’t handouts. Wells Bring Hope isn’t just giving rural villages water; it’s giving them a resource. With it, the villagers can work more productively to improve their own lives. With the microfinance program and drip-farming workshops, women have built their own businesses, which provide them with money they can use for food, healthcare, and education for their children. This kind of impact ripples through generations, changing the world.

Global solidarity is already apparent in Niger’s giraffe conservation and in efforts to harbor and support refugees. They have the ability and the desire to do great things; many only need resources, knowledge, or encouragement. By drilling wells, Wells Bring Hope is sharing a resource that will help others to do their part.

Of course, compassion is also key to solidarity. Empathy is not enough. I can search for a point of commonality between my air-conditioned life and the life of a Nigerien woman who has to walk miles for water. But I’ve never been in her shoes, so I can’t claim to really understand her experience. Rather than wallowing in guilt, I can channel my emotions into compassion. When you feel compassion towards someone, their type of suffering doesn’t matter. What matters is that they are suffering. Compassion literally means “to suffer with.” What makes compassion different from pity is shifting from a victim-hero relationship to one of mutuality. I at least recognize what it’s like to be sad and to want help. Even a thousand miles apart, the woman drawing water from a dirty pond and I can nod and hope better for each other. That is where I find my point of commonality.

By shifting the mindset from charity to solidarity, it’s easier to see how everyone is important in making a change. To get to where we need to be, we must raise each other up every step of the way.

Read Shayna Watson’s post on “doing well by doing good” for an example of this kind of solidarity in action.

 

 

In the Sahel, Strong Women Create Strong Communities

by Elaine Wallace

When we hear about the Sahel in the news, it’s often in connection with a humanitarian crisis. Droughts and other disasters regularly push the region into a state of crisis, and the international community usually responds with a large-scale emergency relief effort. In 2012, USAID recognized that these repeated crises occur because communities in the Sahel lack the capacity to withstand adverse events like droughts. They also recognized that emergency relief efforts, which are essential for saving lives, are expensive and do little to address the chronic vulnerability that lies at the root of the crises. In response, USAID adopted a new approach for development in the Sahel. It’s known as “resilience programming,” and its purpose is to build the capacity of local communities to withstand environmental crises. Resilience programming is based on the theory that creating stronger, healthier, and more economically-diverse communities will lead to fewer crises.

The Resilience in the Sahel Enhanced (RISE) program works with communities in Niger and Burkina Faso. One key objective of the RISE program is to empower women. According to USAID, empowering women is critical to building resilient communities. Although women tend to be worse off than men socially and economically, they often have an immense impact on the well-being of others. Building women’s knowledge and skills, increasing their access to assets such as land and livestock, and promoting female leadership improves the economic and physical well-being of the entire community. For example, when women are given the same access to agricultural resources as men, crop yields increase by 20% to 30%, and children tend to be better nourished. Women’s access to these resources strengthens the community by increasing the food supply and improving health.

The RISE program addresses multiple interconnected problems, including chronic poverty, malnutrition, poor health, land degradation, and low agricultural productivity. For example, RISE increases women’s economic engagement by helping them to identify market opportunities, providing the resources and skills needed to take advantage of them, and developing the external systems needed to support them. Since many of the market opportunities are agriculture-based, the project improves economic and physical well-being and helps address ecological problems such as land degradation and low agricultural productivity.

In the Maradi region of Niger, RISE helped women create savings and loan associations to finance small business opportunities. One group of women learned how to transform nutrient-rich niebe (black-eyed peas) into products such as porridge, couscous, and flour for pasta and cookies. They now sell the products at regional markets and agricultural fairs organized by USAID and the Nigerien government and use the proceeds to rent more land, grow more niebe, and buy equipment. The women also planted moringa trees, which mature quickly and produce leaves that are high in protein and vitamins. RISE taught them how to harvest, dry, and grind the leaves into a powder to sell as a food supplement for pregnant and nursing women.

In other communities, RISE trains women to raise sheep and goats for milk, meat, manure, and leather, as well as for offspring that can be sold or given to others in the community to start their own livestock businesses. RISE also teaches agricultural techniques that increase crop yields, such as making compost to enrich soil. By producing more products and bigger yields, these projects bring more food, more economic growth, and stronger, healthier communities. Perhaps just as importantly, they also bring more hope for a better future.

 

Sources:

https://www.usaid.gov/documents/1860/usaid-resilience-sahel-enhanced-ii-technical-approach-working-paper

https://www.usaid.gov/news-information/frontlines/may-june-2017/surviving-sahel-these-women-give-new-meaning-tough-girls

Science of the Nigersaurus

by Lilia Leung

Dinosaur fossils have been discovered on every continent on earth (though of course when dinosaurs roamed, there was still only one supercontinent, Pangaea). There have been numerous fossils found in Africa, including some in Niger. One of the most well-known fossils found was the Nigersaurus, named after the country where it was discovered.

The first Nigersaurus fossils were found around 50 years ago in the Erlhaz Formation, located in Niger’s Ténéré Desert. They were discovered in a paleontological expedition led by French paleontologist Philippe Taquet. It was the first expedition of its kind in Niger, and it proved to be very fruitful.

Upon studying the fossils, the Nigersaurus was determined to have lived in the Early Cretaceous period, more than 100 million years ago. The Nigersaurus was a rebbachisaurid sauropod (which means it was a long-necked, long-tailed, small-headed dinosaur that walked on four legs and belonged to a family of fossils found in South America, Africa, and Europe). The Nigersaurus was estimated to weigh four tons (about the average weight of an adult elephant) and around nine meters long, which is short for a sauropod. It had a wide, rounded muzzle with 500 teeth that were replaced at an astonishing rate of every 14 days.

The blunted muzzle of the Nigersaurus provides a clue on what it ate during the Cretaceous period. The Nigersaurus is often referred to as the Mesozoic Cow since paleontologists believe it often grazed with its head close to the ground. In fact, the Nigersaurus was a megaherbivore, whose diet likely consisted of soft plants, such as ferns, horsetails and flowering plants (grass had not even evolved at that time, and would not have evolved until the Late Cretaceous period). This suggests that back in the Early Cretaceous period, the vegetation of the Ténéré Desert at least included soft plants.

Plant fossils found in the region of the Sahara Desert showed the existence of cycads and conifers in the Cretaceous period (though they were unlikely to have been fodder for the Nigersaurus, as they were not at the appropriate height) in addition to ferns. From the evidence of various fossils, it was hypothesized that the Sahara region had greenery and fast river systems millions of years ago. In the same expedition, the fossils of the Lurdusaurus, the Ouranosaurus, and the Elrhazsaurus were also found in the Erlhaz Formation, and all of these dinosaurs were found to be herbivores as well. This further supports the hypothesis that the area had an abundance of greenery.

While the structure of a dinosaur skeleton provides information about the environment at the time it was alive, it doesn’t provide much information about the climate. Luckily, we’re able to rely on other types of evidence, such as plant fossils, sediments, and our knowledge of the dinosaurs’ diets to learn about the climate. Paleobotanic evidence shows the probability of episodic droughts and semi-arid climates, which would still allow flowering plants and other soft vegetation to prosper.

While it’s certainly interesting to learn what the earth and land used to be like millions of years ago and how it has changed, scientists also believe that gaining an understanding of the environment in the Cretaceous period can help inform our understanding of the process of global warming, which has a direct impact on life today, particularly in drought-prone countries like Niger where people now die not just from drinking contaminated water, but from dehydration as well.

To see all the dinosaur fossil discoveries that have occurred around the world, visit the Paleobiology Database.

 

Resources:

  1. Sereno, P. C., Wilson, J. A., Witmer, L. M., Whitlock, J. A., Maga, A., Ide, O., & Rowe, T. A. (2007). Structural extremes in a Cretaceous dinosaur. PLoS One, 2(11), e1230.

Russell, D. A., & Paesler, M. A. (2003). Environments of mid-Cretaceous Saharan dinosaurs. Cretaceous Research, 24(5), 569-588.

Sew Empowering: How Sewing Classes are Changing Lives

by Shayna Watson

The phrase “doing well by doing good” has been said many times to express the importance of making an impact with our altruistic actions. Documentaries like “Poverty Inc.” warn us about the dangers of giving to communities in need without allowing them to make a future for themselves. With good intentions, aid programs often displace local merchants with the donation of food and clothing in villages who once had their own goods economy. NGOs are becoming aware of these potential pitfalls and are adapting accordingly by ensuring that locals are involved in the development of long-term, sustainable aid programs that work to build on existing local economies and trade.

The Association of Unemployed People, in partnership with USAID, is a local resource that works to give young people in Niger the opportunity to learn trade skills. With unemployment on the rise after a shift in the (local) uranium mining industry, many young people were turning to illegal activity in order to provide for their families. The correlation between the high unemployment rate, mortality rate, and increased crime can be seen in countries throughout the world. In 2016, the association, with support from international aid initiatives, was able to refurbish sewing machines and secure training so Nigerien youth could learn to sew traditional clothing as a trade. Young adults who may have otherwise suffered from the decline in employment opportunities are able to take advantage of the two-year training program that includes sewing, knitting, and current events discussions. Students of the program are able to sell their clothing in the studio’s boutique and also take their talents back to their village to teach others.

Before the revitalization of the studio, only women were trained to sew in most villages. After the revamp, both women and men (ranging in age from 14-27) are able to take part in the training curriculum, and gain a very valuable skill set to provide for themselves and their families. The surrounding communities have shown support and excitement for the growing program, with many tailors hiring students from the studio to help in their shops.

The positive effects of building sustainable opportunities for communities plagued with poverty and terroristic threats can be seen on both the smaller and larger scales in the change it has brought to the Agadez region of Niger. In addition to the trade program, community cohesion initiatives have worked to aid local citizens in detecting, preventing, and responding to threats of violence with awareness training and workshops. These programs hope to empower local organizations to identify at-risk youths, connect them to programs, and advocate for their needs and concerns.

With the inaugural class of students graduating from the two-year program, the sewing studio is still flourishing and even has a waitlist of young adults hoping to join future classes. The citizens of Agadez will hopefully continue to feel the social impact of a program that focuses on addressing financial, social, and emotional needs in their local and worldwide communities.

 

Source:

https://www.usaid.gov/results-data/success-stories/sewing-studio-opens-new-opportunities-youth-niger

The Lifeboat of the Desert

by Jennifer Dees

On June 20, 2018, the world honored millions of refugees for World Refugee Day. Along with their bravery and resilience, I also want to honor Niger, one of the countries that has given refugees hope for a new life.

To understand Niger’s role, we first need to understand the refugee crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa. From Mali and Chad, Cameroon and Libya, hundreds of thousands of women, men, and children have fled the ruins of their homes and the threat of death. Many cross through Agadez, Niger on their way to Libya and on to the Mediterranean Sea where they board tightly packed smuggler boats bound for the safety of Europe. Some never make it to the sea, caught by traffickers, rapists, or ransomers on the long trek. Those who do make it to the coast then begin the most dangerous part of the journey. In 2017, over 3,000 migrants drowned when their boats capsized in the Mediterranean Sea. These tragedies are increasing as more European ports close to migrants, leaving them stranded on the waters. The Libyan Coast Guard often sends boats out to bring them back to shore, but then they’re then held in detention centers where some remain for years.

Migrants wait before being deported by Libyan authorities

This is where Niger comes in, seeking out refugees in Libyan detention centers and on their long journeys north. The UN Relief Agency resettles the refugees most at risk, either in Niger with host families, or in a resettlement location in another country. After resettling 122 refugees in Niger, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, praised the nation: “One of the poorest countries is also one of the most generous. It has security issues, economic problems, and a complex neighborhood, but it has always kept its borders open.” Like a lifeboat in a tumultuous sea, Niger is often surrounded by conflict. Despite its limited resources, it continues to reach out and pull these desperate refugees to safety.

Nevertheless, the number of refugees and asylum-seekers coming to Niger is increasing, and with limited resources, Niger is struggling to keep up. It had to suspend refugee resettlement operations for two months because too few countries would accept them. In addition, many of the Nigerien communities that integrate refugees are extremely underdeveloped and lacking in resources. As Wells Bring Hope continues to drill wells, rural villages will be more equipped to help. Migrants suffer through unimaginable pain and loss, through heat, hunger, and absolute uncertaintythat anyone should have to walk miles for uncontaminated water is heart-wrenching. As Niger continues to keep its borders open, I hope it will serve as an example to the rest of the world, that even in great need, we can offer hope to millions of people just looking for something to hold on to.

 

Resources:

http://reporting.unhcr.org/node/4637

https://www.voanews.com/a/african-refugees-niger-resettlement/4284513.html

https://reliefweb.int/report/niger/niger-country-operation-update-may-2018