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.


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.




A Hopeful Update on the COVID-19 Outbreak in Niger

By Omair Ali

Source: World Health Organization

The pandemic has brought immense chaos, uncertainty, and disease worldwide, but Niger has been fortunate to have experienced only a small COVID-19 outbreak so far. As of October 19, 2020, there have been 1,210 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 69 deaths, and 14 active, mild cases [1,2], which is remarkable considering the nation has a population of 22 million. Niger has only seen 100 new cases since July 22nd, and there have been no new COVID-related deaths since July 17th, highlighting the success of social distancing and quarantine measures. Other countries in the region haven’t been as fortunate. For example, Nigeria has had over 50,000 cases and more than 1,000 deaths. Niger’s low case count and death rate highlight the effectiveness of measures to prioritize the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.

Containment Measures Have Been Very Effective

Given the abrupt growth of the coronavirus pandemic in March and April, Nigeriens had to quickly engineer an appropriate response to the rise in cases. Fortunately, they had key health partners who have provided logistical and on-the-ground support to assure adequate treatment, quarantining measures and prevention of COVID-19 spread. For instance, UNICEF trained healthcare workers to manage COVID-19 patients clinically and provide psychosocial services. Further, UNICEF promoted water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services and information to ensure better compliance with safety precautions [3].

Perhaps the most effective containment strategies have been the strict travel restrictions, curfews, and crowd restrictions that were implemented early on [4]. During the outbreak, strict quarantine measures have limited migrant travel. These efforts have largely mitigated COVID-19 spread among migrants, but a 14-day quarantine further stressed migrants [5]. The shutdown seems to have stabilized the outbreak. As of October 19, 10 days have gone by without a new case. However, the economic consequences of these measures for the remainder of 2020 have yet to be realized, and new events threaten Niger’s ability to be COVID-free.

Challenges to COVID-19 Containment Remain

In recent weeks, there have been new concerns about containing the COVID-19 outbreak. Migrants from Burkina Faso and Nigeria have been fleeing instability from the Boko Haram crises and some have traveled to Niger in search of safety [6]. At the same time, smugglers in Niger have continued to traffic migrants, who are often abandoned and left at the mercy of a desert climate where temperatures can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit [7,8]. Fortunately, some migrants have been rescued by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and have been sheltered and quarantined. As regional violence continues to displace communities, safely managing the influx of migrants will be an ongoing challenge for Nigeriens.

Additionally, recent torrential downpours and rainy season floods have devastated communities, and as many as 432,000 Nigeriens have been displaced by the storms [9,10]. Displacement of this scale is especially concerning as it can lead to crowding and poor sanitation. However, early efforts to provide socially-distanced shelter and provisions to affected families could help Niger avoid a new outbreak in the future.

Because of the ongoing water crisis in Niger, countless communities don’t have reliable access to clean water and consequently, they are more vulnerable to disease, including COVID-19. Wells Bring Hope continues to address these challenges by drilling deep wells to access clean water reservoirs and training communities to ensure the long-term sustainability of their wells.

You can help address Niger’s water crisis by donating to Wells Bring Hope today!


[1] – https://covid19.who.int/region/afro/country/ne

[2] – https://virusncov.com/covid-statistics/niger

[3] –  https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/UNICEF%20Niger%20COVID-19%20Situation%20Report%20No.%208%20-%208-21%20June%202020.pdf

[4] – https://www.garda.com/crisis24/news-alerts/327466/niger-curfew-implemented-in-niamey-effective-march-28-update-2

[5] – https://observers.france24.com/en/20200428-migrants-niger-protest-quarantine-without-end-covid19

[6] –  https://wellsbringhope.org/boko-harams-devastating-impact/

[7] – https://reliefweb.int/report/niger/iom-and-niger-s-civil-protection-rescue-83-migrants-distress-sahara-desert

[8] – http://north-africa.com/2020/09/niger-dozens-of-migrants-saved-in-niger-desert-after-they-were-abandoned-by-smugglers/

[9] – https://reliefweb.int/report/niger/niger-floods-dg-echo-ministry-humanitarian-affairs-and-disaster-management-un-ocha

[10] – https://www.cnbc.com/2020/09/10/record-flooding-hammers-the-african-sahel-the-latest-in-a-series-of-shocks.html



Interview With Aminata Salifou Mody

By Elsa Sichrovsky

Aminata Salifou Mody is a cultural ambassador whose passion is sharing the culture and beauty of her country, Niger, with the world. To find out more about her cultural celebration of Niger, I contacted her on Instagram and she graciously took time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions. Below is our discussion about how to increase awareness of Niger on an international scale.


  1. Please introduce yourself and your work as a cultural ambassador.

My name is Aminata Salifou Mody, known by the pseudonym of #Hajia culture. My basic training is in the audiovisual field. I was fortunate enough to be part of the Art and Culture branch of Abdou Moumouni University in Niamey coordinated by Professor Tidjani Alou Antoinette and the Master in World Heritage and cultural projects for development in Turin, Italy. I am also the coordinator of the NGO Al Adun Gargajiya (ALDU Niger). As a cultural ambassador, I often say that I am a “patriot” wanting to awaken awareness of our cultural richness.


  1. What are some misconceptions about Niger that need to be challenged?

I would say that the very first is the fact that Niger is often confused with the neighboring country, Nigeria.


  1. How do you think we can help people not confuse Niger with Nigeria?

By promoting Niger as much as we can, through music, film, and interviews. By giving us Nigeriens the chance to talk about our country.


  1. What do you want people to think of when they think of Niger?

Culture, social cohesion, peace, and brotherhood.


  1. What is a place in Niger that everyone must go to?

For me, everyone must go to all the 8 regions (including Niamey) of Niger because every region is special, unique, and has its particularity and beauty.


  1. What are some special places in Niger?

The Mosque of Agadez

The Sahara Desert

The Parc W (W Bénin-Niger National Park)

The Fleuve Niger (Niger River)


  1. What is the mission of AL ADUN Gargajiya?

The NGO Al Adun Gargajiya has set itself the general objective of helping to promote national culture through an ideal of peace, tolerance, and sharing among all young people in Nigerien society.


  1. What new projects are you working on currently?

Taking the NGO to an international level, by creating partnerships that will help me export Nigérien culture.


  1. What would you like to say to Nigerien girls and women?

Believe in yourself, train yourself. When you get involved in a project, you have to go all the way. The first obstacles should never discourage a committed person. Believe in yourself and put education and training first, because that’s the one thing that cannot be taken from you. What’s in your head, no one will be able to get hold of. Also, take an interest in your cultural identity because it is part of you. Choose what’s best for you without trying to prove things to anyone. Live your life…. be yourself!

Aminata’s stirring words to Nigerien girls and women echo what Wells Bring Hope is striving to provide: education for women so they can take advantage of the economic and social agency that comes with knowledge. With access to the education and resources to develop their talents, they, too, can become cultural ambassadors like Aminata and remove Niger from its current state of relative obscurity. Give Nigerien girls and women the power to change their futures by donating or volunteering with Wells Bring Hope.

Follow Aminata Salifou Mody on Instagram: @sensei_cultura

Follow her NGO Al Adun Gargajiya on Instagram: @aldu_niger and on Facebook: Al Adun Gargajiya


Earthquake Blog

By Nick Baldry

Source: Martin Luff

At 11:39 PM on Friday, September 18th my house started to judder violently. As I lay helplessly pinned to my mattress desperately hoping that the ceiling would remain above my head while listening to my six-year-old scream in fear, a small voice in the back of my head told me “Well it’s 2020, what else did you expect?”

Naturally, most Angelinos take a 4.5 magnitude rattler in stride. I’m not a born Angelino though. I come from Scotland, a part of the world where the ground has the decency to stay still underneath your feet. If it does start swaying, that is a sure sign that you’ve overdone things at the pub and now is a good time to stumble home, crawl into bed, and await the hangover that you’ve well and truly earned.

So it was that around midnight I was doing an unconvincing job of reassuring my eldest son that everything was fine after the earthquake, that had followed the Bobcat fire reaching the outer perimeter of our city’s boundary, which was preceded by historic civil rights protests, in the midst of a pandemic, which has caused an unfolding economic disaster, that is the backdrop to one of the most bitterly contested presidential elections in living memory.

Source : Forest Service, USDA

It’s OK. I lie to my kids all the time.

Incidentally, my youngest earned his So Cal spurs by sleeping through the whole thing, blissfully unaware of the shaking and screaming that unfolded around him.

Yes, 2020 has been a complete and utter fiasco for most of us, and the knowledge that we still have to drag ourselves through the last three months of this wretched year is weighing heavily on many. It feels like we lack control over our own destinies at times and we ask ourselves constantly “could it be any worse?”

Well, yes.

We could live in a country where the following are part of everyday life:

  • One in seven children dies before their fifth birthday.
  • 61% of rural villagers lack access to safe water.
  • 96% of people lack access to sanitation.
  • On average girls only get four years of education as the burden of finding water (safe or not) all too often falls on them.
  • 85% of women cannot read or write.

That is the reality on the ground in Niger. Every single year.

The absolute kicker here is that these are preventable problems and access to sanitation and safe water is a huge leap forward in resolving the issues I just listed. You, dear reader, can do something about that right now. Go to the Wells Bring Hope donation page and give $30 right now. Go on. Do it. I’ll wait.

You may be asking yourself why $30? Well, that’s how much it costs to give one person clean water for life. That is a lifesaving intervention for another human being that costs an amount of money that would barely cover a medium-sized family’s coffee order at Starbucks.

I can’t prevent earthquakes. I can’t extinguish LA county’s largest-ever wildfire myself. It will take more than one person to bring equality to our society (though we do have a responsibility as individuals to do our bit). I can’t single-handedly bring a global pandemic to a halt. My consumer spending will not fix the economy on its own. While it is your duty to vote if you have the right, you won’t single-handedly resolve an election.

I can save someone’s life. While 2020 is undeniably a dumpster fire of a year, it is still within my capacity as an individual to do that one bit of good and salvage something from this mess.

If you also want to take control of something in 2020 then here’s the donation page link again. If saving one life doesn’t seem like enough to mitigate the wall of negativity that is this year, then you can always make that donation a monthly one!

Moustapha Alassane: Telling Niger’s Stories

By Elsa Sichrovsky

Source: Alzinous

Moustapha Alassane produced the first African animation in full color, Samba le Grand (Samba the Great), which follows the adventures of its hero, Sambagana, as he strives to ace a series of challenges in order to win the hand of his bride[1]. In addition to directing over 30 films, Alassane has also worked as an actor and a scriptwriter. He was also head of the Cinema Department at Niamey University for over 15 years. In 2007, he was made a Knight of the Legion of Honour at the Cannes Film Festival. However, due to a lack of state funding and the growing preference for Hausa-language films from neighboring Nigeria, locally-produced Nigerien film has declined in popularity since the 1980s, so by the time of his death, he was relatively unknown to the Nigerien public.

Born in 1942 in N’Dougou, Niger, Alassane grew up drawing and making shadow puppet shows to entertain his friends, often using transparent cigarette packaging to make light shows. He even built his own film camera[2]. Meeting a Frenchman who many call the father of Nigerien cinema, Jean Rouch, changed his life, prompting Alassane to give up his career as a mechanic and make film his life’s work. Jean Rouch nurtured Alassane’s talent by providing for his education in Canada where he learned animation[3].

In Alassane’s films, animation is not merely entertainment for children, but rather a medium for communicating culture and telling powerful stories. In one of his acclaimed animations, Kokoa (2001), frogs, iguanas, birds, and chameleons participate in Niger’s national sport, Kokowa wrestling. The film celebrates the sport while its animal characters depict the spirit of competition and domination ironically.

Frogs also appear in one of his earlier films, Bon Voyage Sim (1970), in which the president of a frog nation goes on a journey only to be tossed into the water by his fellow frogs on his return. These frog tales echoed political events in Niger and can be seen as Alassane’s subtle political commentary. He was known for having said that frogs were his favorite animal because they were funnier than humans4.

His dramas celebrate Nigerien tradition while also examining the effect of modernity on a changing society. His first feature film, Aoure (1962), depicted a young Zharma couple living on the banks of the Niger River. Shaki (1973) reflects on the mixture of religions in Nigerien culture with a story of the ascension of a Yoruban king. His 1972 dramatic film, F.V.V.A., (Femme, Villa, Voiture, Argent) (Women, Cars, Villas, Money), depicted how young Nigeriens handled newfound prosperity as Niger continued developing after independence.

Le Retour d’un Aventurier (The Return of an Adventurer) is one of his best-known portrayals of Western influence on Nigerien culture. In the film, a man returns from America to his Nigerien village with a suitcase full of cowboy clothes. His friends eagerly don the costumes and take on the persona of cowboys in a Western. They romp through their village getting into brawls and committing petty crimes, which earn the disapproval of the village elders. The film is a humorous reflection on the inevitable clash between cultures and generations that arises as young Nigeriens began having increased contact with foreign cultures5.

One of his dramas, Toula ou Le Genie des Eaux (Toula or the Water Spirit) retells a tribal tale about a nation cursed with drought, a situation all too real to Nigeriens. The holy man declares that a young maiden must be sacrificed. A young man’s love interest, Toula, is chosen to be sacrificed. He desperately searches for water to save his love, but despite having found water, he returns to find her gone.

Moustapha Alassane passed away in March 2015. His films and animations are a rich legacy that preserves Nigerien culture, while exploring its growth and evolution. By using new approaches to retell Nigerien legends and ancient tales, he made them accessible to the international community and honored his birth country.


You can watch some of Moustapha Alassane’s films here:

Toula ou Le genie des eaux


Le retour d’un aventurier


Samba Le Grand


Bon Voyage Sim


[1] https://www.bristol247.com/whats-on/film/festival-screening/cinema-rediscovered-focus-on-moustapha-alassane/

[2] https://www.lecinemaclub.com/archives/kokoa/

[3] Jolijn Geels, Niger: The Bradt Travel Guide. Bradt Travel Guides (2006)

4 https://hyperallergic.com/378773/the-animations-and-improvisations-of-a-trailblazing-nigerien-filmmaker/

5 https://www.adkdw.org/en/article/1270_le_retour_d_un_aventurier

COVID-19’s Severe Impact on Food Insecurity in Niger

By Omair Ali

Source: UNICEF Niger//YouTube

Like many nations around the globe, Niger is struggling to address many of its ongoing challenges during the pandemic-driven economic meltdown. Before the pandemic struck, many Nigeriens were already struggling to meet their most basic needs, but the economic effects of COVID-19 have made the situation more dire. Perhaps Niger’s most significant challenge right now is not the virus, but the hunger crisis that the pandemic response has unintentionally worsened.

Food production has always been a difficult undertaking in Niger due to its semi-arid climate and extreme weather patterns like long-lasting droughts that make agriculture challenging to sustain [1]. Over the centuries, Nigeriens have found ways to adapt to their climate by growing hardy crops, including root vegetables, millet, sorghum, rice, and beans [2]. Despite the remarkable resilience of Nigerien farmers, the year’s extreme circumstances have made it impossible for Niger to meet the nutritional needs of its population in 2020. According to a report by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the travel restrictions implemented by the Nigerien government this past spring significantly disrupted food supply chains and agricultural commerce. As a result, this years’ food crisis was exacerbated, leaving many communities extremely vulnerable to famine [3]. Even though travel restrictions have now been eased and new investments are being made to promote agricultural entrepreneurship in severely under-resourced Nigerien communities [4], the FAO report indicates that the pandemic has already disrupted critical periods of the growing season, which will ultimately reduce overall food production.

The Nigerien health infrastructure is currently supported by agencies that include Niger’s Ministry of Health, the World Bank, UNICEF, and Doctors Without Borders. These agencies are addressing not only the COVID-19 outbreak but also the rise in malnutrition during the “hunger gap” – a period in the summer when food stocks have been completely used up, and acute food insecurity is prevalent [5],[6]. However, due to the pandemic, it is likely that the “hunger gap” will be much worse this year and possibly next, as food production has already stalled and border closures have delayed food deliveries, making it even more difficult to replenish food stores.

One of the most pressing concerns with food insecurity is malnutrition, Niger’s leading risk factor for disability and death [7]. Adequate nutritional intake encompasses sufficient caloric, protein, vitamin, and mineral intake. A lack of adequate nutritional intake accelerates disease processes and aging and can lead to an early death. Additionally, adequate nutrition is critical to childhood development, and malnutrition can have lifelong consequences like growth impairments [8]. Both UNICEF and the World Food Programme have predicted that in 2020, 15 million child cases of acute malnutrition will occur in six African countries, including Niger, which is up from its pre-COVID estimates of 4.5 million cases [9]. In other words, this year’s food insecurity will cause a massive spike in preventable deaths of children if food distribution measures aren’t scaled up to meet current supply needs. As FAO’s report suggests, the current demand is very far from being met.

Alongside adequate food access, access to safe water is equally critical for ensuring community health. The only water point available to many Nigeriens is open wells or groundwater, which is often contaminated. Contaminated water often leads to. severe cases. of diarrhea, which compound the effects of malnutrition that result from famine. Wells Bring Hope addresses this problem by working with Nigerien communities to drill wells that provide unlimited access to safe water, which is plentiful just 250 feet below ground. If you wish to fight malnutrition in Niger today, please consider donating to support Wells Bring Hope’s water projects.


[1] https://wellsbringhope.org/niger-work-in-progress/

[2] https://wellsbringhope.org/food-of-niger-and-nutritional-health/

[3] http://www.fao.org/3/cb0180en/CB0180EN.pdf

[4] https://scalingupnutrition.org/news/ifads-support-to-niger-for-food-and-nutrition-security-and-climate-change-resilience/

[5] https://www.msf.org/facing-multiple-challenges-responding-covid-19-niger

[6] https://reliefweb.int/report/niger/world-bank-and-unicef-deliver-vital-supplies-niger-s-covid-19-response

[7] http://www.healthdata.org/niger

[8] https://wellsbringhope.org/tracking-malnutrition-in-africa/

[9] https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/west-and-central-africa-more-15-million-cases-acute-malnutrition-expected-2020


Hamsou Garba: Breaking Barriers

By Elsa Sichrovsky

In the 1980s, Niger underwent massive economic restructuring initiated by the aid requirements of the IMF and the World Bank. Young women who worked clerical jobs were hit hard by massive layoffs. Among them, a young Nigerien woman named Hamsou Garba faced being laid off from her job as a typist at a local bank, which she had held for eleven years. But when this door closed, Hamsou Garba found a window.

Far from being merely a typist, Hamsou Garba had been singing and performing from childhood. As a child, she transferred from an elite French school to an Arabic-French madrassa, which offered training in singing[1]. Just as her former livelihood was taken from her, the government recognized her musical talent and offered her a position as a “cultural mobilizer”[2]. This title gave her the status of a civil servant, which included a stable income and pension. It provided Hamsou Garba with the funding to develop a stable career as a professional artist, radio talk show host, and political activist.

Throughout her career, Hamsou Garba has boldly merged the potentially conflicting realms of music and politics. She has been an outspoken supporter of the Nigerien Democratic Movement for an African Federation and has produced songs promoting its leader, Hama Amadou. In fact, she was once accused of civil disobedience and imprisoned for singing a song urging citizens to vote for Hama Amadou[3]. Military regimes recruited her to put on performances to welcome foreign dignitaries. While Hamsou Garba’s political involvement has sparked controversy, having an active role in entertainment and politics as a Muslim woman in a patriarchal society is a groundbreaking achievement. Future generations of Nigerien women will be inspired to increase their public presence and make their voices heard.

She garnered a wide audience by performing in Hausa, Zarma, and French. Her musical talent allows her to be, in her own words, “my own author, composer, and editor” when she produces songs. She choreographs the dance routines that she performs with her fellow performers to accompany her music. With the entertainment group she founded, Groupe Annashuwa, she sings songs ranging widely from love and religion to public health, AIDS, and politics.


Hamsou Garba should have been congratulated for being able to earn a living through her passion for music, but instead, she met with jealousy and criticism from her colleagues. The griot community felt she was subverting their inherited cultural role.  Hamsou Garba did not come from musical family background but was simply pursuing a childhood interest in performing. Without a culturally or religiously endowed role, Hamsou Garba’s career as a female performer goes against deeply rooted social expectations for a Muslim woman. However, Hamsou Garba believes that her talent is a “gift from Allah”, which she is responsible to develop for the benefit of society.

In addition to her musical career, Hamsou Garba strives to empower women through her radio talk show. She discusses issues such as the lack of female representation in the local government to encourage women to be active in the political life of their communities. She actively engages with the audience and encourages them to call in with comments on the topic of debate. This gives women a platform to publicly express their views on important political and social issues, rather than remain invisible in a male-dominated political structure.

Wells Bring Hope seeks to give women the financial means and the social support to emerge from invisibility and develop their talents. There is hope for the new generation of Nigerien girls to have the confidence and the resources to pursue their dreams, starting with education and social awareness,. Join Wells Bring Hope in breaking the cycle of poverty and give Nigerien young people hope for a brighter future unimaginable to past generations.

You can enjoy Hamsou Garba’s energetic music here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vRdIKH3W0Z0

[1] https://africasacountry.com/2013/12/four-nigerien-women-musicians-you-should-know/

[2] Ousseina Alidou, Engaging modernity: Muslim women and the politics of agency in postcolonial Niger. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005.