Water Scarcity: A Not So Perfect World

by Ruby Rodriguez

As a teenager in the process of learning more about our planet, I have come to realize what some people go through on a daily basis in order to get something that is always available to me—clean water.

About 844 million people lack access to clean water, which is close to three times the population of the United States

Women lining up for water in Niger

One of the main causes of water scarcity is climate change. The World Wildlife Fund website mentions that as humans continue to let more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, weather patterns will keep changing around the world. Desertification (the process of fertile land becoming desert as the result of drought) is an effect of climate change that causes many water resources to dry up. Without these water resources, vegetation, plants, and trees aren’t able to grow.

Fortunately, many non-profit organizations are helping with water scarcity around the world. One of them is Wells Bring Hope, a non-profit organization that drills wells in Niger, West Africa.

Not only are there non-profit organizations contributing to solve this problem, but 196 nations have also united to fight and adapt to climate change. They have all signed an international treaty, the Paris Agreement, which has a long-term goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to achieve a climate-neutral world.

As people become more aware of the effects water scarcity has on the world, we have to start taking some action in our own lives. My generation can also contribute by building awareness about innovative water conservation projects. For example, desalination plants take ocean or seawater and remove salt from it to provide drinking water. One article, published at the Yale School of the Environment, states that, according to the International Desalination Association, 300 million people around the world now get their water from desalination.

In addition, here are some habits we can all acquire in order to save water at home:

  • Collect rainwater and use it to water plants.
  • Reuse shower water in the same way.
  • Take shorter showers and even flush our toilets less.

A big issue that I struggle with is not finishing the water bottles we grab to drink. Without a second thought, I toss a water bottle when there is still water left to drink. In order to stop this bad habit of mine, I have started to write my name on a recycled water bottle and only fill it up to the amount of water I believe I will finish.

If no action is taken to solve this problem, by 2050, at least 1 in 4 people will likely be affected by chronic fresh-water shortages. The simplest things like donating to non-profit organizations or taking shorter showers can help many people around the world have access to clean and safe water. So let’s start our journey today!

Sources:
https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/water-scarcity
https://e360.yale.edu/features/as-water-scarcity-increases-desalination-plants-are-on-the-rise

 

 

 

 

Empowering Women Will Change the World

By Caroline Moss

Source: Wells Bring Hope

International Women’s Day takes place on March 8th this year. On this day we celebrate women all over the world and highlight their importance and contributions.

Wells Bring Hope’s commitment to providing safe, clean water empowers women in Niger every day.    Fewer than a quarter of young women are literate and only 31% attend primary school because their time is taken up by the need to walk miles every day to get water for their families.

Women and girls are responsible for water collection in 80% of households that do not have access to water. When women have reliable access to clean water, the door to education and opportunity opens. This benefits not just an individual woman, but the entire community around her.

Here are some of the ways education changes lives for women in Niger and developing countries all over the world.

  • Education decreases poverty. With basic education, women are more likely to obtain a job and earn a higher wage. And then spend money on things that support their children and household. One World Bank study found that a year of secondary school can mean as much as a 25% increase in a woman’s earnings later in life.
  • Health education and water access improve hygiene. Education is critical for women’s health and wellbeing. Without access to clean water, proper hygiene and handwashing cannot be practiced.
  • It improves the quality of life. If a girl in the developing world gets seven or more years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children than women with less education.
  • Women help economies grow. Women’s economic empowerment boosts productivity and increases both income equality and economic diversification.

When women no longer have to walk for clean water, 50% of their time is freed up, allowing them to get an education, work, and generate income to support their families.

In addition, Wells Bring Hope is the only organization focused on safe water that provides microfinance training to women in every village where we drill a well. Learn more about the training that Wells Bring Hope implements here

When women are educated, they become empowered and have the ability to change the world for the better. Together, we can change the trajectory of women’s lives in Niger by providing them access to clean water.

During International Women’s Week (March 8-12, 2021), Wells Bring Hope will receive a 50% match on every donation up to $50 from Global Giving. Please consider making a donation to show your support.

SOURCES

Bourne, J. (2014). Why Educating Girls Makes Economic Sense. Global Partnership for Education. https://www.globalpartnership.org/blog/why-educating-girls-makes-economic-sense

Facts and Figures: Economic Empowerment. (2018). UN Women. https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/economic-empowerment/facts-and-figures#notes

Filipovic, J. (2017, October 6). How do you get girls to school in the least educated country on Earth? The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2017/may/15/niger-girls-education-challenge-un

International Women’s Day 2021 theme – “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.” (2021). UN Women.

https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2020/11/announcer-international-womens-day-2021

ONE. (2019, January 9). Why women and girls are the secret weapon in ending poverty. https://www.one.org/us/blog/why-women-and-girls-are-the-secret-weapon-in-ending-poverty/

Pursuing Women’s Economic Empowerment. (2018, May 31). IMF. https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/Policy-Papers/Issues/2018/05/31/pp053118pursuing-womens-economic-empowerment

Turning promises into action: Gender equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. (2018). UN Women. https://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2018/2/gender-equality-in-the-2030-agenda-for-sustainable-development-2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

Passing the Torch: What a Peaceful Transition of Power Could Mean for Niger

By Kayleigh Redmond

Unlike the turmoil surrounding the most recent U.S. presidential election, Niger is anticipating a positive political milestone: an election that could result in the first peaceful transition of power in the country since it gained independence from France in 1960. An uncontested political changeover could mark a new era of democratic, economic, and social success for Niger and its people.

Source: NigerTZai

On December 27, 2020, more than 5.1 million Nigeriens cast their votes for a new president. In Niger, the president is elected to a five-year term by an absolute majority vote, which means that in order to win, a candidate needs to receive more than half of the total votes submitted. In this case, both main candidates – Former Minister of the Interior Mohamed Bazoum and Former president Mahamane Ousmane – failed to reach this threshold. A runoff election, which will finally determine the winner of the race, will be held on February 21st.

Outgoing president Mahamadou Issoufou has said that he will respect the outcome of the election and, unlike his predecessors, not seek an illegal third term. To him, the election represents “a new, successful page in our country’s democratic history.” A transition of this nature would be a welcome change from what the people of Niger have dealt with in the past.

Source: UNCTAD XIII Opening Ceremony

Niger is a country with a long history of military coups and insurrection. In 2010, former president Mamadou Tandja was captured and removed from office after he established a constitutional referendum that extended his term for an additional three years and granted him more power. Niger’s parliament and the constitutional court declared the referendum illegal, but Tandja remained in power as a dictator. As a result, Niger was suspended from the Economic Community of West African States. The European Union and the United States imposed travel restrictions and put a hold on some forms of developmental aid to the country.

Political stability and the success of a country go hand in hand. The uncertainty that follows a forceful political takeover (like the aftermath of Tandja’s regime) can lead to reduced foreign aid and investment. As the poorest nation in the world, the Nigerien government depends a great deal on the support they receive from outside sources.

Quality of life is always affected by the quality of government. Human development has a better chance of being prioritized in a country with a stable and reliable political environment. When a country is respected for its political stability and democratic values, it is more likely to attract support from developed nations wanting to see it thrive. Niger is at that turning point, coming into its own as a strategic socio-political partner worthy of support in the long-term.

While the results of the election are yet to be determined, there is hope that an important precedent will be set later this month. If President Issoufou holds true to his word and peacefully passes the torch to the winning candidate, this could be the start of an upward trend in political stability and greater prosperity in Niger.

Sources:

https://www.electionguide.org/elections/id/3633/

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/12/27/niger-heads-to-polls-in-search-of-first-democratic-transition

https://swap.stanford.edu/20100225195905/http://www1.voanews.com/english/news/africa/Niger-President-Reported-Held-in-Coup-Attempt-84722687.html

https://www.dw.com/en/nigers-presidential-election-heads-to-february-runoff/a-56114951

https://blogs.worldbank.org/endpovertyinsouthasia/can-political-stability-hurt-economic-growth#:~:text=Economic%20growth%20and%20political%20stability,government%20collapse%20and%20political%20unrest

 

Education in Niger: The Impact of COVID-19

By Lara Khosrovian

As a current student within the United States education system, I felt overwhelmingly hopeless when classes were converted to an entirely remote curriculum due to the global pandemic. I felt as though my learning and overall experiences were compromised. However, my resources were never eliminated, support systems were always accessible, and my education never stopped. Unfortunately, none of this can be said about the children of Niger.

In most countries across the world, local schools provide education as well as the opportunity for life lessons and social interaction. These same societies also have designated facilities for healthcare and organizations that provide access to nutrition. This does not hold true for the families in Niger; access to structural necessities is in fact, pure luxury. Nigerien children who are fortunate enough to have a school nearby or are able to make the commute (a distance neither you nor I could ever commit to), rely on school for more needs. For these few students, the school not only provides the basic means of education, but it also serves as a safe place for them to socialize with one another, have meals, and access basic healthcare services.[1] Imagine just how devastating it was for most families of Niger when schools were initially closed in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The situation in schools worsened during the ongoing pandemic. Hardly any schools have adequate water supplies, with even fewer having toilets.[2] Consequently, the spread of the virus was inevitable. Students are required to share their classroom materials, and without proper sanitation, COVID-19 can spread.

Families had to quickly adapt to a life without schooling and children were expected to contribute financially. School teachers also found other ways to make a living; no schools meant the need to find different jobs. Most Nigerien children do not have access to resources to continue learning the way Americans do; this includes printed materials, radios, and various forms of alternative instruction. Without the necessary means to learn from home, many children simply could not continue their educations.

The pandemic has exacerbated the political and economic insecurity in these communities. Fortunately, schools in Niger were able to reopen at the beginning of the academic year, but the vast majority of schools in Niger lack the basic water and sanitation necessary to mitigate the spread of the virus. As things start approaching a more ‘normal’ reality for us and we pick up right where we left off, it is important to recognize that, in Niger, a life post-COVID is still fraught with life-threatening challenges.

Although not a direct part of education, a clean water supply, and hygiene resources play a core role in helping Nigerien children make the most of the schooling that will help them reach their full potential. With your help, Wells Brings Hope can expand access to clean water and encourage a safe return to school.

[1]  https://reliefweb.int/report/niger/niger-12-million-children-and-young-people-were-out-school-because-covid-19

[2] https://www.nrc.no/news/2020/october/12-million-children-forced-from-school-in-sahel/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Together We Are Stronger

By Caroline Moss

Millions of lives were forever changed as COVID-19 spread throughout the world. The vulnerable became even more so as lives were disrupted by a new reality. While some people stayed indoors to stay safe, others found new ways to be part of communities, and many took it upon themselves to help people however they could.

Source: UN Women

One bright spot of the COVID-19 pandemic comes from Niamey, Niger. After social distancing in the spring of 2020, the Nigerien Association of the Locomotive Disabled (ANHL) knew that they could no longer stand to be apart. For many, the group provides friendship, support, and a chance to create income-generating goods. Fati Boubacar, president of the association of disabled women, said, “This group is more than an association for me. It is my family.” Once the government lifted restrictions, the group of women, who Fati calls her “sisters,” decided to resume meeting and see how they could help during the health crisis.

She proudly stated, “Our masks meet quality standards. They only cost 700 CFA francs ($1.50) and can be reused for several years if properly maintained.”  Since the beginning of the pandemic, they have made nearly 33,000 masks from local materials.

By focusing on mask-making, the members have been able to generate income during this uncertain time. Fati and her “sisters” not only sew masks but also participate in awareness-raising workshops on good hygiene practices and learning new skills to live with the virus.

Fati and her “sisters’” efforts have helped mitigate the virus, improve their local economy, and strengthen their community. Their hard work is not only saving lives but also helping Niger be stronger and more resilient.

In the new year, may we all be inspired to help others. Consider donating to Wells Bring Hope to transform lives through safe water.

References:

“Niger: Authorities Ease COVID-19 Restrictions May 12 /Update 6.” GardaWorld, 13 May 2020, www.garda.com/crisis24/news-alerts/341556/niger-authorities-ease-covid-19-restrictions-may-12-update-6.

“Niger: They Fight the Coronavirus in Their Own Way.” World Bank, www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2020/10/02/niger-they-fight-the-coronavirus-in-their-own-way.

World Bank. “Niger: They Fight the Coronavirus in Their Own Way – Niger.” ReliefWeb, 2 Oct. 2020, reliefweb.int/report/niger/niger-they-fight-coronavirus-their-own-way.

 

 

Alphadi: Giving Niger the Chance to Create

By Elsa Sichrovsky

Source: Flickr-UNESCO Headquarters Paris

For Nigerien fashion designer and children’s rights advocate Sidahmed Alphadi Seidnaly, fashion is about more than clothing: “Young boys and girls can find in fashion a form of identity, dignity, a way to express themselves, to be heard, recognized and respected.”  Alphadi strives to use fashion as an avenue to provide Nigerien young people, especially young girls, with profitable employment that is not only a platform for self-expression but also a solution to the issue of child marriage.

Alphadi was born in 1957, in Timbuktu, Mali, his father’s native land. However, his Malian father and Nigerien upper-caste Tuareg mother moved the family back to Niger when he was a child. Even at a young age, he enjoyed putting makeup on his sisters and mother. He also watched Bollywood films to admire how makeup could enhance physical appearance. He started knitting when he was fourteen. His father, who wanted him to be a doctor or to work in the family business, struggled to accept his son’s strong interest in beauty and fashion, which clashed with the gender norms of their native culture. To please his family, Alphadi studied tourism in Paris, attending his classes during the day and going to fashion shows at night[1].

His first couture line, showcased in 1985 at a tourism show in Paris, launched the Alphadi brand, which now includes affordable sportswear and perfume. Now, Alphadi travels between Paris and Niamey, managing a studio and boutique. Alphadi’s designs, such as his “Nomads” collection of light cotton print and silk dresses, combine traditional Hausa and Tuareg styles with Western high fashion, creating a unique brand that continues to attract loyal admirers. The patterns and colors draw inspiration from desert vegetation and landscape.

Source: Flickr-UNESCO Headquarters Paris

Creating innovative fashion is risky in a religious social climate that sees many forms of fashion as promoting promiscuity and immorality. To protest his fashion designs, religious conservatives have sent Alphadi death threats and violently attacked his businesses. In 2000, the fashion festival he founded, International Festival of African Fashion (FIMA), drew a protest of more than 800 Muslim clerics and students, who insisted that a fashion festival would provoke the wrath of Allah[2]. In spite of facing fierce resistance to his art, Alphadi’s passion is to “give Africa a chance to create[3],” be it creating art or creating employment opportunities for women and girls.

Alphadi envisions building fashion schools where girls can gain the skills to eventually launch their own fashion brands or clothing shops in order to achieve financial independence. His fashion festival, FIMA, is an opportunity for young designers to showcase their work. As part of his collaboration with UNICEF, this festival is also a platform for Alphadi to provoke thoughtful conversations about the institution of child marriage. On the first day of the FIMA 2019, he began with an unusual visual display: fifteen-year-old girl models walked down the catwalk with men four times their age, both dressed in wedding attire. The incongruity of a child wearing a wedding dress, combined with the stark contrast between the female and male models’ ages, highlighted how child marriage forces girls to become adults, bound by the duties and expectations of marriage. “I dress women and girls to make them beautiful and value them, not to marry them at 13,[4]” says Alphadi. The Alphadi Foundation promotes the dignity of women and girls and focuses on developing employment and career training.

 

In Alphadi’s words, “The woman is a whole story.”[5] Girls must have access to education that will give them the means to share their stories. Join Wells Bring Hope in providing access to clean water, education, and hygiene awareness to Nigerien girls so that they fulfill their greatest potential and tell the beautiful stories that are in the heart of every Nigerien

[1] https://en.unesco.org/courier/2017-april-june/alphadi-putting-africa-s-creativity-world-map

[2] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/1013878.stm

[3] https://www.unicef.org/niger/stories/alphadi-new-champion-childrens-rights-niger

[4]https://www.unicef.org/niger/press-releases/fashion-designer-alphadi-lends-his-talents-promote-child-rights-niger

[5] https://www.unicef.org/niger/stories/alphadi-new-champion-childrens-rights-niger

 

Fadji Maina: A Nigerien NASA Scientist Fighting Water Scarcity

By: Omair Ali

Source: Awojdyla 

Dr. Fadji Maina (left) with Dr. Eva Nogales (right) at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 2019. 

Growing up with water scarcity inspired Fadji Zaouna Maina, Ph.D., to undertake the extraordinary journey from Nigerien schoolgirl to NASA earth scientist. 

Maina was born and raised in Zinder, one of the largest cities in Niger [2]. Growing up, she saw the hardships for families in her community who were without reliable water access. Either they had to purchase water from neighbors, or they had to send young girls out to find water. Expecting girls to find water several miles from home is so time-consuming that it’s a significant barrier to their education [6]. Unlike many girls in her community, Maina was fortunate to have water access at home, so she was able to pursue an education [2]. 

As Maina grew more aware of the extensive consequences of poverty and climate change—especially the effects of water scarcity—she became driven to find ways to address these critical issues and help families in her community. She pursued a career in earth science by obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree in Geological Engineering from the University of Fes in Morocco [2]. Then, she obtained a Master’s Degree in Engineering and Environmental Sciences and a Ph.D. in Hydrology from the University of Strasbourg [2]. Afterward, Maina held postdoctoral posts in France, Italy, and California [5]. In August 2020, she began working for NASA as an earth scientist [4]. She researches mathematical models that monitor the global impacts of climate change and pollution on water availability [1]. 

Although she’s only in her 20’s, Maina has already achieved significant accomplishments: She’s the first Nigerien scientist at NASA, and she has been honored as a top scientist on Forbes’ 30 under 30 – Science 2020 list [1]. Undoubtedly, Maina will continue to excel in her search to understand and fight water scarcity worldwide. However, for every Fadji Zaouna Maina, there are countless Nigerien girls whose opportunities for educational attainment are beyond reach because of water scarcity. 

Maina understands that she is one of very few Nigerien women to have reached her level of education and influence. As such, she has been an active advocate for improving women’s rights in the Sahel region to address the impact of climate change [3,7]. When also asked what she would say to encourage Nigerien girls to pursue their ambitions, Maina says, “Do not give up. Keep going because everyone would think people from Niger, or a young girl from Niger, would not be able to do this. But just believe in yourself and find an environment that will support you” [4]. 

Maina’s story is a testament to the bright futures that young Nigerien girls could have if they weren’t held back by the burdens of water insecurity. By recognizing the importance of clean water and donating to Wells Bring Hope’s water well projects, you can make a difference in many children’s lives so they can have the opportunity to become brilliant agents of change like Maina. 

 

[1] – https://www.forbes.com/profile/fadji-zaouna-maina/#10def28f2c53 

[2] – https://ne.usembassy.gov/hydrologist-fadji-mainas-path-from-niger-to-nasa/

[3] – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fadji_Maina

[4] – https://africa.businessinsider.com/local/careers/meet-fadji-maina-the-first-nigerien-scientist-to-work-for-nasa/xn0586g 

[5] – https://eesa.lbl.gov/profiles/fadji-zaouna-maina/ 

[6] – https://wellsbringhope.org/the-need/ 

[7]  – https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-03445-z 

A Tradition of Giving

By Nick Baldry

It is post-Thanksgiving, and while we have heard over and over how this holiday has been far from normal, some things remain remarkably familiar. The following is a list of traditions and common experiences that punctuate many Thanksgivings. Despite the global pandemic, many households across the country have at least seen a variation of these scenes that mark any holiday season.

Leftovers – Many households are reaching the stage where even the most versatile cook is running thin on ideas as to how to use up the remaining turkey leftovers. It is a failure of culinary imagination that strikes every year. This is made starker if, like in my household, the bird purchased was the same weight as a medium size dog even though we had far fewer people around our Thanksgiving table than usual. Our large Tupperware box of leftover meat and the shrink-wrapped bowl of the less popular vegetables that somehow survived the weekend’s grazing are the final reminders of our meal. Tonight’s experimental turkey curry is a follow-up to so many variants on otherwise non-turkey-oriented classics that will be received with at best indifference from all family members.

Football – Thanks to social distancing restrictions, stadiums were not filled to capacity this year, but millions of Americans still sat for hours on end watching multi-millionaires run around a bit. Nothing says Thanksgiving more than consuming a week’s worth of calories and then sitting still for hours watching other people burn them off. The truly adventurous may well have ventured into the back yard for a family game of flag football to work up an appetite, but in my experience, these are rarely played to completion. It is hard to finish a game when your three-year-old tight end has just burst into tears because daddy won’t let him have the ball. A scene only ever mirrored in the professional game if, like me, you support Washington.

That racist uncle everyone has – You know the one. You only see him once a year for good reason and every family has their own version of him. Of course he couldn’t come to your house this time due to COVID (which he thinks is a hoax anyway), but on the one day this year we aren’t forced to be in Zoom meetings for work, we instead had a family Zoom call “so we can be together, even when we are apart.” So, uncle whatever his name is still got to tell everyone in the family which minority is lazy/criminal/a drain on society in general. At least this year you had the option to turn the volume down on him once it became apparent that no amount of reason was going to stop him. Having this option at least suggests that 2020 is not all bad!

Black Friday – I will confess I have never seen the appeal of doing this in person. This year, stores were unable to open as they have in the past, so we were spared the annual spectacle of news footage from a Best Buy in St Louis where shoppers came to blows over the latest iWatch or a big screen TV. Instead America’s retail marathon has been largely online. This has been my preferred way to shop for deals for years. No waiting in line overnight. No shoving over other shoppers in the crush to squeeze through the shop door as if that smartphone you have your eye on is the last one on earth. Instead you just open your laptop, input your credit card details and just a few short days later a delivery driver will deposit a box at your front door containing expensive earphones you don’t need, a new sweater that doesn’t suit you and a USB coffee mug warmer that you cannot think of an earthly reason why you ordered it in the first place, even at 80% off.

Generosity – Sure this holiday is largely about consumption, but giving and generosity are absolute bastions of Thanksgiving and the holidays in general. People give food to the less fortunate, volunteer in droves and donate money in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Americans may be thankful for what they have, but there is always a recognition that there are others in need. One of the biggest examples of that is Giving Tuesday. Last year over $400 million was donated one Giving Tuesday, and predictions are that despite everything 2020 has thrown at us, $605 million will be given this year. Even in the context of the economic and health related disaster this country has undergone, 62% of respondents to a survey reported in Forbes magazine said they planned to give this time around, with 34% of respondents saying they would give more than they did last year.

That generosity of spirit is what Thanksgiving and the holiday season are really all about. As you are planning your giving, you cannot go wrong with Wells Bring Hope. The money you give goes to drilling wells in communities that desperately need access to clean water. This life saving intervention is accompanied by improved sanitation, hygiene, drip farming, well maintenance and training for women to start their own small businesses. This holiday season, by donating to Wells Bring Hope, you are giving more than money; you are giving the gift of life to some of the most neglected communities on the planet. In this year of change, that is a tradition worth preserving.

www.wellsbringhope.org/donate

Build It for Ourselves: Interview with Magaajyia Silberfeld

By Elsa Sichrovsky

Source: FreeCorp

“I grew up watching films and wanting to not only be in them but make them too,” is how Magaajyia Silberfeld describes her passion for filmmaking. She is the daughter of French journalist Antoine Silber and Rahmatou Keita, a Nigerien journalist, writer, and film director, whose work includes “The Wedding Ring,” in which Silberfeld starred. She was born in Paris, but spent her childhood traveling with her mother throughout Niger, Mali, Greece, and the United States[1]. At the young age of 14, Silberfeld made her acting debut in Geraldine Bajard’s 2010 film “The Edge.” By the time she was 18 years old, she had directed her first short film, “Me There.”

Silberfeld studied theatre at the Conservatoire de Paris and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy at the Sorbonne. “Ride or Die,” which she produced and co-directed, won Best Ensemble at the Queens World Film Festival in 2015. Her short film “After School” won the Rhode Island Best Directorial Award. In 2017, she wrote, directed, and starred in the short film “Vagabonds​,” which explores familial and social conflict in the life of a young woman living with her Nigerien uncle and his American wife. Currently, she is developing two shorts and a feature in addition to acting as the lead in a short film.

Silberfeld graciously took time out of her hectic schedule to answer my questions about the challenges of her work, which include contending with race and identity issues as a biracial actress, struggling to secure funding, and coping with the lack of a strong local film industry in Niger.

In 2016, she played the lead in The Wedding Ring and participated in the production process. Producing a film in Niger had unique challenges due to the negative perception of female actresses: “People look at our work like it’s “haram” (forbidden),” she says. “When I was helping Rahmatou Keita cast The Wedding Ring, most people were turning us down specifically because of that.” In the Muslim world, she explains, actresses are considered prostitutes, and women who do not wear hijabs only add to the difficulty. But her mother’s influence has given her resilience in pursuing her dreams: “My mother is a documentarist, but the way she goes about things and how proactive she is has definitely inspired me. She never gives up. I get that from her.”

Silberfeld describes the frustration of being multiracial, which in the film industry means not being able to fit into any racial category: “You’re 99% not what people want. You speak English but your accent isn’t American enough. You speak English but your accent isn’t British enough. You’re mixed but they want a darker girl. You’re mixed but they want a whiter girl.” Instead of succumbing to despair, her solution is to direct films of her own: “I’m not trying to be pessimistic, but let’s face it: the industry was not built for us. So we have to build it for ourselves. Or rebuild it.” She raised awareness about sexism and racism prevalent in the French film industry by writing an essay for the anthology, Noire N’est pas Mon Métier​ (Black is Not My Job), and joining the book’s authors in a protest at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival[2].

Faced with an entertainment industry that caters to certain racial motifs and echoes worn-out discriminatory stereotypes, Silberfeld urges young actresses to tell their stories and create art, even if it means producing their own films when the film industry resists their uniqueness or lacks sufficient state funding, as is the case in Niger. Her advice to Nigerien girls interested in an acting career is simple: “Become a filmmaker, or even a producer, and put yourself in your own films. Don’t wait around.”

For girls growing up in a country where one in seven children dies before the age of five, the future can seem bleak. Wells Bring Hope is determined to build a future for Nigerien women and girls by drilling wells that provide fresh water. When that essential need is fulfilled, resources can be allocated towards health education, microfinance training, and perhaps, the pursuit of dreams like filmmaking. Join Wells Bring Hope in empowering Nigerien families to build sustainable lifestyles that will continue to benefit them for many years.

Follow Magaajyia Silberfeld on Instagram: @magaajyia

[1] https://fr.petitsfrenchies.com/interview-de-magaajyia-silberfeld-realisatrice-et-actrice/

[2] https://afropunk.com/2018/05/my-job-is-not-being-black-16-french-black-actresses-take-a-stand-against-erasure/

Women in Niger Empowered to Initiate Divorce

by Barbara Goldberg

Source: willemstom

In January of 2019, NPR’s Rachel Martin interviewed Dionne Searcey, West Africa bureau chief for The New York Times, about a startling change in the social fabric of Niger:  women now feel empowered to initiate a divorce.

Prior to having safe water well in their rural village, Nigerien women walked miles every day to get water and thus could not work and earn money for their families.  When a well is drilled, women have over 50% of their time freed up to work and earn money.

With that comes a sense of accomplishment and pride and a newly shaped identity marked by greater confidence and independence. Women who work and earn money have more choices and, as Dionne Searcey, tells it, they feel empowered to initiate a divorce.

In prior generations, a marriage partner was chosen by a young girl’s parents and the arrangements were made for the economic betterment of the bride’s family, who may have had too many mouths to feed. Rarely was a marriage based on love. One thing that the NPR article didn’t address is that in Niger, some men have more than one wife. Often when a man did well financially, a sign of his affluence was taking on an additional wife. While some families with multiple wives co-exist peacefully, it is often a source of difficulty for one or more of the women. This is another compelling reason for wanting to get a divorce.

In the NPR interview, Dionne Searcey described a divorce court that took place on a public sidewalk, not unusual in Niger, where the judge’s bench was a sheepskin rug. With cars driving by and surrounded by a large crowd of men, she found it difficult to hear.

She told NPR that she went to Niger to explore a story about forced marriage and child marriages but the sight of an Islamic court judge on the street caught her attention. The judge informed her that there had been a noticeable increase in the number of divorces in Niger overall, including ones that were initiated by women.

Searcey was curious why this was happening. She spoke with a teenager named Zalika, who said that she had met a man at a wedding at a time when she wasn’t even thinking about getting married.

Searcey learned, “She told me she didn’t find him particularly attractive, but he was nice to her mom. And she thought they could have a nice life together. She acknowledged that many relationships start to fade as time goes on.  He didn’t want her to work, and she wanted to work. So every day, she sat inside her house and just stewed. Then she got pregnant, and when she was in labor, he didn’t even come to the hospital. And that was enough for her.”

Several other factors have contributed to women feeling a greater sense of freedom to initiate divorce. With both husband and wife earning money, more families are moving to the cities, where there are greater mobility and freedom. Women selling goods in a larger marketplace have greater exposure to the media, radio, and TV shows that depict women leading more independent lives. That helps them see what their lives could be.

Even though divorce has always been legal in Niger, in this very traditional country, a woman’s place was always in the home. Some mothers who stayed stuck in loveless marriages for many years felt that it was their daughters’ responsibility to do the same. Others wanted more for their girls, knowing that it could be possible for them to marry for love.

Searcey reported that women going through a self-initiated divorce expected to find another husband but wanted to marry someone they loved. This is a major cultural change in Niger, one that bodes well for women as they continue to strive for social as well as economic equality—another positive effect of expanding access to safe water wells.