Nigerien Hip-Hop: The Voice of Niger’s Youth

By: Elsa Sichrovsky

{Source: rfi MUSIQUE}

Although hip-hop music may be widely considered a product of American pop culture, Niger has also produced hip-hop artists of outstanding talent. They use music as a medium to raise awareness for the social issues of their generation. Nigerien hip-hop was indeed heavily influenced by American culture in its early stages[1]. Eventually, local artists produced a genre unique to Niger’s culturally diverse populace by combining classic hip hop elements with traditional African music.

The mid-1990s was when Nigerien hip-hop and rap exploded in popularity. Although the artists were young people producing music with little financial support and limited facilities, their music about poverty, politics, and gender issues resonated with the public. In particular, the rap group Wass Wong[2] took on political issues such as misuse of public funds, youth unemployment, failed electoral promises, nepotism, censorship, and ineffective governance. They rapped in both tribal languages and international languages like Hausa, Djerma[3], French, and English. International NGOs such as UNICEF have since enlisted Nigerien hip hop artists to participate in compilation albums on issues such as AIDS, female genital mutilation, and poverty.

Nigerien hip-hop has struggled to develop as young performers leave bands, regroup, experiment, and slip in and out of the music scene. Recording quality is a major issue for Nigerien artists, due to the limited number of recording studios and the fact that Nigerien sound professionals are still unfamiliar with this music style. Artists face high production costs and are obliged to supplement their income with odd jobs. They even borrow money from family and friends to support their dreams[1]. They see these young performers as intruding on a space that belongs to the traditional guardians of music – the griots. “In a Muslim society like ours, parents do not really like that choice,” says Wyzzy, a solo rapper, “but I’m passionate so I keep going[1].”

For Zara Moussa (ZM), one of Niger’s few female rappers, gender was another obstacle to overcome. “To be a girl in rap is pretty hard,” she says with a smile, “some boys did not believe I was able to rap[1].” Her family struggled to accept her passion: “My mother is always reluctant. My song lyrics touch her but she would have liked me to express myself with means other than music”. Nevertheless, Zara proved the naysayers wrong. In 2002, her track “Femme Objet” won a rap contest organized by the French Embassy. Her first album, Kirari, was released in spring 2005. While many Nigerien rappers complete an entire album within a few days, Zara took her time to produce high quality work[4]. She uses music as a medium through which to express the cries of oppressed women, those women in forced marriages, as well as women in love.

There are so many talented young men and women in Niger with the potential to produce art and music that will touch hearts worldwide. Unfortunately, many Nigerien young people are caught in the cycle of poverty and disease that leads to high rates of preventable child mortality[5]. Wells Bring Hope educates mothers on how to protect their children from germs and sickness, thus preventing young talent being lost to death and disease. After Wells Bring Hope drills wells for a village, mothers no longer have to walk long distances just to get water for their children. They can attend microfinance training provided by Wells Bring Hope, which enables them to earn an income for their child’s education. By promoting female leadership and requiring that women participate in well maintenance, Wells Bring Hope is giving young Nigerien girls a positive example that will motivate them to work for a brighter future. With more Nigerien youth having healthier, brighter childhoods, who knows what these youth could go on to become?








Specialties of Nigerien Cuisine

By: Lilia Leung

Each country or culture has its own cuisine and food specialties, and Niger is no different. The climate and environment of Niger play a crucial role in the types of food that Nigeriens eat.

Millet is a staple of everyday Nigerien cuisine. A common way to prepare millet is to pound it in a mortar and boil it to make porridge. The porridge is typically served with a sauce, and meat or fish. Other types of grains such as rice, couscous, noodles or bread are sometimes used in place of millet.

In cooler areas of the country (such as southern Niger and the Aïr Mountains), agriculture fares better and thus fresh fruits and vegetables are a larger part of the daily diet. In the riverine areas, fish is plentiful and often used in dishes where it is smoked, grilled, or cooked in sauces. For special occasions and celebrations such as marriages and holidays, more elaborate meals are prepared. Meat is often involved, particularly mutton.

The following are some specialty food items and dishes that are unique to Niger and West Africa.


Koulikouli is a greasy paste like peanut butter that is made with groundnuts. First, oil is separated from the paste so that only the dry paste remains. The dry paste is then rolled into balls, which are roasted or fried. The cooked balls are then eaten as is or ground up again and used as a condiment in cooking. Koulikouli is most common in the region of Maradi.


Kilichi is essentially what we call beef jerky. It’s beef that has been thinly sliced, sun-dried, and grilled. Common flavors of kilichi include salted, salted and spiced, and Koulikouli and chili powder-coated. Kilichi is commonly found in Maradi and Tessoua, where it’s often sold by vendors on bikes.


Halawa is a fudge made from sesame seeds, cane sugar and lemon juice. It’s usually sold as strips, bars or cubes.

Tchoukou / takomért

Tchoukou (as it’s known by the Hausa people) or takomért (as it’s known by the Tuareg) is a hard, dry cheese made from cow, goat, sheep or camel milk. Salt is added, and then it’s dried in the sun. This cheese is commonly made in animal-herding areas to conserve milk in the dry winter months. Its taste may differ depending on the local variety. Favorite ways to eat it include slicing it and dipping it into hot tea, and crumbling it and mixing it into millet porridge.

La boule / foura

What the Tuareg calls la boule and what the Hausa calls foura is a brew or porridge made from pounded and cooked millet. First, the millet is mixed with salt, spices, ground dates or ground cheese. The mixture is then rolled into balls and left to dry. For consumption, the balls are ground again before being mixed with milk or water.


Toguella is a bread made with wheat flour and water, and baked in sand that has been pre-heated with fire. The dough is placed directly on the hot sand, further covered in hot embers and sand, and left to cook. After cooking is complete, the bread is removed and dusted off. Toguella is commonly torn into pieces and dipped in sauce.


The Mechoui is a dish that consists of an entire sheep stuffed with couscous or rice that is cooked in a clay oven until the meat is moist and tender. This dish often appears during festivities and feasts.

If you ever get the chance to visit Niger, don’t hesitate to try some of these West African specialties!

Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the Republic of Niger

by Jennifer Dees

 Image source

December 18th was the 60th anniversary of the Republic of Niger. The event, held in Zinder, celebrates the achievements and progress of Niger since its proclamation in 1958. It was attended by the President of the Republic, Issoufou Mahamadou, and many other officials throughout Niger and surrounding countries.

The celebration against the backdrop of the Zinder Saboua Program initiated earlier this year. The program includes urbanizing 25 km of road and improvements to airport infrastructure, which will give the airport international status. These improvements will allow for more connectivity among surrounding countries and an increase in food cargo. The Dollé Market was also recently modernized, including 2,151 shops, sales halls, an administrative block, prayer areas, and sanitary blocks. It has become one of three modern markets in Niger (Niamey, Maradi, and Zinder). Issoufou hopes that this rehabilitation will restore Zinder to a prosperous commercial hub. Beyond infrastructure improvements, tour circuits were offered to highlight the cultural, historical, and natural potential of the region, from the tomb of an early founder of the region, through the winding alleys between traditional architecture, to the palace of the Sultan of Damagaram. Tourism generates 9,000 jobs and creates 32 billion FCFA per year. All of these additions and improvements attest to the fast growth of Nigerien cities.

The ceremony itself began with a welcome song, performed by children from a Zinder school, and the decoration of several people for service to the Nation. This led into the colorful military and civil parade with representatives from five Sahel countries. The previous three days included competitions celebrating the creativity of actors, artists, writers, singers, musicians, and dancers throughout the region. The festivities included a handicraft fair as well as a competition by I3N to encourage women’s contributions to food security. Representatives from different regions of Niger presented products they processed from grains, fruits, and vegetables. They were rewarded cash prizes for the best product and cooking. These innovations are important for farmers in the event of overproduction. The festivities concluded with traditional satirical theater called Wassan Kara, in which youths imitate various historical figures in Zinder and throughout the world to gain an appreciation of their heritage.

With a celebration of the past, it’s natural to look to the future. While cities in Niger continue to grow and strengthen connections between themselves and the world, Wells Bring Hope strives to help develop the rural villages that interconnect all of Niger. Places like Zinder once had poor water security and little economic opportunity. Along with the unending perseverance of rural villagers, Wells Bring Hope will continue to empower women and girls to recognize that their lives and their futures are also cause for celebration.

Mariama Keita: The Remarkable Legacy of Niger’s First Woman Journalist

by Elaine Wallace

As the end of the year approaches, I find myself thinking about some of the people we lost in 2018 whose lives and work touched and inspired us. One of them is Mariama Keita, who passed away on October 29 at the age of 72. Keita is best known as Niger’s first woman journalist but she was also a lifelong advocate for democracy and human rights, particularly the rights of women and children. She leaves a remarkable legacy and a long list of accomplishments that will inspire generations of women to persevere in the fight for equality and human rights for all.

Keita was born in Niamey in 1946 and began her career at age 18 as an intern at Radio Niger, the country’s first radio station. Journalism was an exclusively male profession at that time, and Keita faced widespread discrimination. It was considered inappropriate for a woman to be reporting on events and conducting interviews, especially with male leaders, rather than at home caring for her family. Even today, women in Niger are significantly under-represented in the media, especially at the highest ranks of the profession.

But Keita persevered, determined to become a successful journalist. At the end of her Radio Niger internship, she traveled to France to study journalism at the Office of Radio Cooperation as part of a program for African students. She returned to Niger in 1967, journalism diploma in hand, to become the country’s first woman journalist.

Keita worked at Radio Niger for many years as a reporter, editor, presenter, and producer, often focusing on issues affecting women and children. She not only pioneered women’s journalism in Niger as the first female voice of radio, she also shattered the glass ceiling. She rose through the ranks to become the director of Radio Niger (by then known as Voix du Sahel) and, in 2003, was appointed the first woman president of the High Council for Communication, the entity responsible for regulating Niger’s media and ensuring a free press.

In addition to her distinguished career as a journalist, Keita was an advocate for democracy and human rights, particularly the rights of women and children. In advance of the country’s first democratic elections in 1993, she helped popularize Niger’s new constitution. She also headed the Association for Democracy, Freedom and Development, one of the first non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Niger.

In 1995, Keita co-founded the Coordination of Niger Women’s NGOs and Associations, a coalition of nonprofits focused on women’s rights. She proved to be adept at navigating Niger’s complex political and religious landscape and at building consensus among different interest groups. She and her organization worked closely with religious leaders, village chiefs, lawmakers, and judges to advance women’s rights in areas such as marriage and divorce.

Keita also worked as a teacher, mediator, and communications consultant, sharing her knowledge and skills with Niger’s next generation of young journalists and with human rights organizations and governmental agencies. She authored articles and working papers, spoke frequently at conferences, and received several national and international awards for her work. Throughout her life, Keita never stopped working to improve the lives of Niger’s women and children. As I reflect on her many accomplishments, I am inspired by her determination, tirelessness, and courage. I am also grateful to be involved with Wells Bring Hope and to be able to play my own small part in empowering the women of Niger and bringing hope to them and to their families.

The Middleman’s Quandary: Niger’s Role in African Migration To Europe

by Hannah Lichtenstein

There are some countries that are thrust into the global limelight, becoming the subject of great discussion and the bearers of intense responsibility, not through any action of their own but merely because of their geographic location. Take the famous case of Panama. The Central American country garnered a lot of attention for its potential as a connector between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. After a lot of hubbub between the world’s superpowers, the Panama Canal was built just over a hundred years ago. Another example is Iran, the only country to border the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf, giving it unique access to massive oil reserves.

Niger, while not to the degree of these other nations, has become increasingly aware of just what “location, location, location” can really mean. Dubbed by some as “Africa’s gateway to Europe,” Niger has become a key player in the ongoing European migrant crisis.

Niger’s geographic importance becomes clear when you look at a map. The West African country is a critical passageway to neighboring Libya, which migrants must cross to reach the Mediterranean Sea where they hope to begin the treacherous journey to Europe. Approximately 100,000 people from Sub-Saharan countries are estimated to pass through Niger each year with the goal of making it to Europe. Facing poverty, violence and other injustices, they leave in pursuit of a better quality of life.

However, in the past couple of years, the number of migrants who successfully make it to Europe has declined dramatically. Europe is, to put it mildly, not exactly rolling out the welcome mat for the hundreds of thousands who risk it all to land on its shores. The efforts to stop the influx has led European nations to make deals with and funnel a lot of money to specific countries that seem to play a key role in the passage. Niger, say hello to desperate, wealthy European countries.

The European Union pledged to donate hundreds of millions of dollars to Niger to help in the project of deterring migrants. Much of this money goes to militarization, infrastructure, and the creation of new policies. Such efforts have taken the form of, for example, a contract with one of Niger’s big bus companies that ensures that migrants attempting to get to Libya are stopped and transported in the opposite direction.

The aid from the EU, in conjunction with a 2015 law that criminalized human trafficking in the country, has resulted in a dwindling number of migrants passing through “Africa’s gateway to Europe.”. Whereas some 5,000-7,000 migrants per week traveled from Niger to Libya a few years ago, that number is now estimated to to be around 1,000. Niger’s role in ameliorating what has often been deemed a migrant “crisis” has not gone unnoticed. The country has been applauded for its dedication and hailed as one of Europe’s “best allies.”

As the statistics come in, it’s quite clear that Europe has benefited from these new policies and partnerships, but what about Africa? It seems that EU money, much of it intended for job creation along these routes, would help poverty-stricken Nigeriens quite a bit. However, as the story often goes with foreign aid, it hasn’t helped in the ways people hoped it would. Money doesn’t always trickle down to those who need it most, particularly in vulnerable countries, instead it falls prey to mismanagement and corruption. What’s more, European migration was big business prior to the crackdown, and that income stream has been eliminated. For example, there were communities near the border, such as Dirkou, that provided services for migrants. Now, the migrants don’t pass through like they used to, and it seems the foreign aid has not been able to offset the economic losses incurred.

The issues don’t end there. With the military presence increased on the traditional paths to the border, determined migrants drive dangerous routes, through mines and miles away from water, to get to their final destination. Unsurprisingly, many do not make it and have to be rescued. Others die trying. Then you have those who made a living driving migrants to the border who have found themselves out of work. What do they do now? Many have resorted to criminal activity — smuggling and robbery — to make money.

Though ensuring migrants get back to their home country has been an explicit mission voiced by the Nigerien government, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and others, it doesn’t always happen. Instead, thousands of migrants end up stuck in Niger, a country with its own population pressures, fighting for jobs in an already-struggling economy.

With people coming in rapid waves by the thousands, carrying with them so many unknowns, putting strain on society and infrastructure, one can perhaps see where the EU is coming from by putting money towards addressing an obvious source of the problem. Once a situation becomes dire, that is the instinctual reaction. However, there’s always an urgent attempt to stop the bleeding when a bad situation unfolds in one’s own backyard. People start to care about crime, disease and a fight for resources when it starts to affect them personally.

Looking ahead, Europe’s money would be best spent on addressing the root causes of migration. Why do people want to get out of these parts of Africa so badly? Funding for education, crime prevention, and economic development is money that would go along way toward alleviating the problem. And those who think these issues don’t fall within Europe’s realm of responsibility should think again. A lot of the problems African countries grapple with are a direct result of European colonization. Europe’s haphazardous administration of these countries, their stoking of racial, tribal, and religious grievances, and their stripping of resources, followed by their essential abandonment in the 19th and 20th centuries have had long-lasting and devastating repercussions across the continent. In the end, EU money that addresses problems from a more systematic, proactive standpoint would ultimately redound to the benefit of Africa and Europe.


Claudet, Sophie. “Niger: Europe’s Migration Cop?” Euronews, Euronews, 26 Oct. 2018,

Penney, Joe. “Europe Benefits by Bankrolling an Anti-Migrant Effort. Niger Pays a Price.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 25 Aug. 2018,

Niger’s Critically Endangered Animals

by Lilia Leung

Many of us have seen the viral video of the brown mama bear and cub that was recorded by a drone around one of Russia’s snowy mountain slopes. While it has raised concerns that such drones may be disrupting the wildlife, there are ways that drones can be used appropriately to help ensure the wellbeing of animals. The government of Niger has recently commissioned the drone surveillance for use in monitoring the status of endangered animals in the Termit and Tin Toumma reserve. With the help of the French conservation group Noe, Niger hopes to maintain a close eye on the animals that are at imminent risk of extinction.


The Termit and Tin Toumma reserve is a 100,000 square-kilometer park located in southeastern Niger. It includes the entire Termit Massif and Tin Toumma desert and is one of the largest reserves in Africa. It was formally established in March 2012 as a protected area, and it is home to over 30 species of mammals and 150 species of birds. These species include many that have been categorized as “vulnerable,” meaning they are likely to become being endangered. The following species have already been categorized as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Saharan addax antelope

The Saharan addax antelope is a native North African mammal that was once partially domesticated in Egypt. It is now very rarely seen in its natural habitat, with likely fewer than 100 individuals existing on unprotected land. There are around 300 in the Termit and Tin Toumma reserve, which makes it the only self-sustaining population in the world. A total of about 600 Saharan addax antelopes can be found in zoos around the world, which may be helpful in restoring the overall population.

The threat of extinction of the Saharan addax antelope is partially attributed to unregulated hunting and poaching. Because of their slow pace, the Saharan addax antelope is easy prey for lions, cheetahs, leopards, and of course, humans. The antelope’s endangered status is also attributed to habitat loss caused by the oil industry, which has been destroying the land that the antelope forages on.

Dama gazelle

The dama gazelle is a sub-species of gazelle that has become the national symbol of Niger. Found predominantly in the Sahara and the Sahel region, the dama gazelle has evolved to survive in extreme desert conditions. It has exceptionally long legs to give it the extra surface area it needs to dissipate heat, and it can sustain itself for a moderate amount of time without drinking water. Unlike many desert animals, however, the dama gazelle cannot go for extremely long periods without water, and it is most active during the day.

There are currently fewer than 250 mature dama gazelles in the world. Their endangerment is due to overhunting, poaching, and habitat loss caused by extensive livestock grazing. In addition, what remains of their habitat has been affected by climate change as available sources of drinking water are decreasing. Due to the , this shift in their environment is further reducing their chances of survival.

Saharan or Northwest African cheetah

The cheetah is categorized as a vulnerable species by the IUCN, but its Northwest African sub-species is already at the ‘critically endangered’ level. The Saharan cheetah lives in the Sahara and the Sahel region, and is mostly active during the night. It can subsist for long periods without water. As long as it is able to catch fresh mammals, it can get its water from their blood. Its main sources of food are the aforementioned Saharan addax antelope and dama gazelle as well as other mammals found in the area such as other sub-species of gazelles and rabbits.

The causes of the Saharan cheetah’s near-extinction include poaching and habitat loss due to the expansion of land for livestock. The fact that many of the mammals that the Saharan cheetah preys upon are becoming extinct as well is also a major contributing factor to its endangerment. It’s believed that there are now fewer than 250 of these cheetahs left in the Sahara.

Aside from these species that are deemed critically endangered, there are a number of other species in the Termit and Tin Toumma reserve that have been categorized as vulnerable (the Barbary sheep, Dorcas gazelle, lappet-faced vulture, and the African spurred tortoise) and near threatened (sand cat, and the Nubian bustard). which will ward off poachers and allow for a close count of the endangered species in the reserve over the next 20 years, the Nigerien government hopes to bring these animals back from the brink of extinction and preserve the diversity of African wildlife.

On Challenging Norms

by Jennifer Dees

Fact: Saying “bless you” after someone sneezes is believed to have originated during the sixth century plague, in hopes that it would ward off death.

The plague’s gone, and we still say “bless you” when someone sneezes.

We do a lot of strange, unnecessary things, and it’s hard to explain why other than “It’s polite” or “It’s what everyone does.” Still, shaking hands has always felt off to me. And “How are you?” feels insincere.

These social norms are fascinating. Some of them are so embedded in our culture that we don’t even realize they’re there. When’s the last time you thought, “I think I’ll eat dinner on the floor tonight”? These silent agreements aren’t exactly bad (otherwise we wouldn’t have things like traffic and schools). They keep us safe, communication clear, and make navigating new situations fairly simple. But anything that doesn’t fit into normative culture is labeled as deviant and unbroachable.

I think a big distinction between the U.S. and Niger isn’t the distance or even the wealth gap. It’s culture shock: these tiny, arbitrary differences that make people feel alien. In rural Niger, for example, punctuality isn’t the default expectation that it is in the West. What’s important is waiting until everyone arrives. I know some people who would be driven insane by that norm, but I can see why it exists. During that time before everyone arrives, people are given the opportunity to mingle and catch up on each other’s lives. They value conversation so much it’s considered rude to ask someone a question without greeting them. And when bad news has to be given, it’s usually given towards the end of a conversation. You might see male friends holding hands while talking to each other, a sight that would make some people in the U.S. feel uncomfortable. And, like in Asian culture, taking shoes off before entering a house is considered polite.

Learning about other cultures, like those in Niger, helps us see just how arbitrary social norms can be and show that, in most cases, one way of living is no better or worse than another.

Of course, norms extend far beyond cultural differences. It’s sad, but in parts of the world, the norm is that women and girls forgo income-generating work and school in order to spend hours every day walking for water that is often contaminated. Since I was a kid, I’ve known these things, but I could only accept them and move on. It’s a norm that I expect to feel safe going to work, that if I get sick I have access to medicine, that I’ll never have to worry about unclean water. For some in rural Niger, these expectations would be completely foreign. The girls who walk miles for water each day don’t expect to get an education because that is the cultural norm, and they’ve never experienced anything different. That’s part of why Wells Bring Hope’s work is so vital—it opens up previously inconceivable opportunities and lets people know that there’s a different way.

As I’ve said, norms aren’t necessarily bad; many are worthy of celebration. However, they’re often arbitrary and should be challenged and reconsidered. We make up life’s meaning, after all, and every interpretation is unique and beautiful. What I want to get across is that the norms we follow are constantly evolving. The philosopher Michel Foucault was one of the people who understood that norms are discursive and can be critiqued: “A critique does not consist in saying that things aren’t good the way they are. It consists in seeing on just what type of assumptions, of familiar notions, of established and unexamined ways of thinking the accepted practices are based…To do criticism is to make harder those acts which are now too easy.” Everytime we say “please” or shake someone’s hand, we’re reinforcing a norm. But it can work the other way, too. Everytime we discuss the difficulties happening in Niger, we remind ourselves that that doesn’t have to be the norm. And everytime we do something about it—by bringing awareness, donating, or innovating—we are instituting a new standard by which to live. That standard is a culture of compassion.




Why Undocumented Births in Niger are a Big Problem

by Anna C.

Niger, the poorest country in the world, is home to 19 million people. It borders Nigeria and is named for the Niger River. In 2017 alone, the population grew just over 3 percent, with an average of 44 births for every 1,000 people.  Nearly 20 percent of the population live in cities, with the remaining population living in rural areas.

With those statistics in mind, it’s important to remember that these are just the documented births.  Many Nigerien births are undocumented, meaning that children born in Niger grow up without a birth certificate – which is legal proof of their identity, including their given name, country of residence, and their birthdate and parent. This is a prevalent problem in developing nations, and Niger is no exception. According to UNICE [2013], one in three children under five does not legally “exist” since there is no birth record for those children.

Reasons why birth certificates are not provided vary based on circumstance, but there are a few possibilities:

  • – Although countries generally have a legal right to register births of children within a mandated time period, this rule is not always enforced.
  •  – Lack of resources – due to the costs incurred to provide birth registrations – may allow for many children to be born in the hospital without a birth certificate to identify them
  •  – Location of births – many births occur away from registration locations or hospitals, often in rural areas, so no documentation is available.

A child without a birth certificate faces a myriad of challenges.  Not only does the child have no record for proof of identity, age, and family relationship, the lack of a birth certificate prevents children from claiming a nationality, traveling, opening a bank account, and voting. In addition, being undocumented increases the risk of abuse and exploitation, as there is no paper trail to track the child’s identity. This lack of documentation also means there is a fundamental misrepresentation of a nation’s birth and death rates. In order to provide humanitarian aid and support services to developing nations, it is essential to have an accurate picture of these statistics, and undocumented births grossly skew the data.

Governments and humans rights groups are attempting to address the problem through awareness campaigns and the issuing of fines if parents are caught not registering their child for a birth certificate. Unfortunately, the efforts have failed to make an impact in the rural areas.

My hope is that with the technological advancements, social media, and public awareness campaigns, the message will continue to spread and more parents will recognize the importance of ensuring that their children have the documentation necessary for successful adulthood.




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

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.

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).

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.



Anderson, Maggie. “Why We’re Inviting Men to Husband School.” Mercy Corps, 4 June 2018,

“Husband Schools: Bringing Men into Family Planning – Women Deliver.” Women Deliver, 19 Sept. 2016,

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,

“Schools for Husbands Gaining Ground in Rural Niger.” United Nations Population Fund, 17 June 2014,