by Hadiara Diallo
Do you remember the water fountains in the halls of your school, where you could just stop and take a few gulps? Kids in Niger don’t have that luxury. However, if they’re lucky enough to attend Simiri Junior High School, 50 miles outside of the capital of Niamey, they can drink water from a well drilled especially for their use by Wells Bring Hope.
The school in Simiri is a co-ed junior high school serving 392 students in 6th through 9th grades. It was built only about five years ago, so the stucco and the brown and blue paint are still gleaming. The school grounds are very clean and the students take great pride in keeping them that way.
It was an honor for me to participate in the dedication of the well in Simiri CEG. During the recess, everyone gathered around the well and the school administrators introduced me to the students. I spoke to them about Wells Bring Hope and what the organization stands for. I also shared with them the name of their benefactor, Kareem Ahmed, who single-handedly financed this and many other wells in Niger. It was quite a moment to experience; the reaction was swift, the kids immediately started to clap and cheer, shouting “Merci, Mr. Kareem.”
As I was passing the dedication certificate around, three boisterous boys, Boubacar Yaye, Salamatou Boubacar and Sakiya Gado became my sidekicks. They shared with me what it meant to have a well on their school grounds. Besides providing them with a clean source of water for drinking, sanitation facilities were also installed in the school so that girls in particular had the privacy they so badly needed. Having a well at their school also meant that they could carry back water to their families on the way home. After the dedication, I was shown the recently planted trees that the students hoped will provide them with shade and help contribute to the fight against desertification. Irrigation provided by the well has made this possible.
I am in awe at the maturity and level headedness of the students at Simiri CEG who have been given a chance at a higher education. They are the privileged ones. In Niger, few children go beyond primary school. The Simiri CEG students are thriving and know that they have the opportunity to become anything they want to become. After graduation, they have the possibility of going to high school in Ouallam, only 20 kilometers away; or they may choose to attend an accelerated teacher training program. Clearly, they have HOPE for their futures.
One of the major benefits of drilling a borehole well in a village is that girls no longer have to walk miles to get water; they can go to school and become educated. During my visit, I talked with Assistant Principal Mr. Garba Seyni as well as Mr. Gado Issa, the School Supervisor, about the government-led effort to increase the attendance and retention of girls. To help support this effort, each parent enters into a contract with the school, promising that they will not withdraw their daughters for early marriage. This is a major step for my country, and I am so proud to witness such a clear shift in cultural and social behaviors; education for young girls is becoming a priority for ALL.
In addition to all of the improvements the new well has provided in the area of education, it has also brought with it new opportunities for women. In every village where Wells Bring Hope drills a well, women are provided with microfinance tools and education so that they can work toward opening small businesses, and Simiri is no different. After the well was drilled in Simiri, the women of the village came together to form savings groups called “bani-bani,” which literally means “peace-peace.” Bani-bani works by creating a community fund from which the women can take a loan of 17,500 CFA ($28), which they must pay back at 5% over three months. This allows the women to gain the knowledge they need to establish and sustain micro-economic institutions while serving to bring women of different age groups together in a spirit of participation and cooperation.
The main goal of these groups is to improve the socio-economic environment by establishing a village-based microfinance institution that allows members to acquire gardens and grow food, ensuring that families in Simiri have enough to eat. All of this was made possible by one generous donation of $5,600! Thank you, Mr. Kareem Ahmed!