By Amber Persson
When the sun breaks, the people of Ouallam, a refugee camp in Southwestern Niger, are already up and beginning their long days of working in a brickyard, garden, or another trade. They are 6,000 of the nearly 270,000 refugees from Nigeria, Mali, and Burkina Faso that have flooded into Niger to escape violent jihadist attacks over the past few years.
As time passes, many refugees come to the unfortunate realization that they may never return to their home country and that they must start making a new home for themselves. To do that, they must find a way to earn money, if not for themselves, then for their children, many of whom have been born in the camp.
The market garden launched in 2020 by UNHCR, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, has provided an opportunity for the refugees, the majority of whom are women, to create a sustainable source of food and income. Many women have learned modern gardening techniques like drip irrigation that will help preserve water resources. Tending the garden has become a joint effort of daily survival between refugees and displaced local people.
The brickyard on the other side of the camp has been another joint effort. Bricks made of soil, water, a little bit of sand and cement are left to dry in the sun. After they are dried, they can be used for construction. Notably, these innovative bricks use less resources than clay bricks, which must be baked using scarce fuel in order to set.
Many refugees have made money—something they have not seen in a long time—from selling goods from the garden or brickyard. They are working, getting married, and starting families in a place that was a temporary camp at first but has now become their long-term community. Ouallam is an example of the local people collaborating with refugees in their time of need, a welcome symbol of hope in a time when the future can seem so bleak.