"When I met Zeinabou she was not interested in school. Each morning she left her house, telling her parents she was going to school - but it was a lie. Now, thanks to my counseling, she has changed a lot. She likes school and enjoys learning to knit with me." - Fatimatou Silimane with her student Zeinabou Takar
Keeping at-risk girls succeeding in school.
The literacy rate for nomadic people in Niger is less than 15%, and is even lower for girls. Girls especially face cultural and financial obstacles to staying in school, such as early marriage and the need to help at home. Girls who do attend school have a hard time adjusting and often drop out after only three years. RAIN’s mentoring program offers solutions to these obstacles. Based on the long standing nomadic tradition of women educating their children, RAIN recruits women in the community to act as mentors, to encourage girls in attending and succeeding and advocating with their families, in effect, as a "second mother" to those whose mothers are usually searching for pastureland. The mentors counsel in life choices, teach practical skills, and advocate for the girls with parents and teachers. These unlettered women are dedicated mentors in every sense of the word, walking miles to meet with their students, committed to offering these schoolgirls opportunities that they never had.
RAIN’s mentoring program keeps at-risk girls in school – where they return and succeed in greater numbers than students not in the program - and where they learn life skills as well as academic knowledge. Above, mentors in Artlit. At left, a girl learns practical skills in Iferouane.
"RAIN's mentoring program is very strong....the commitment of the mentors, who sometimes walk up to seven kilometers to meet with the girls, is remarkable." - Lisa Kays, Aurora Associates International, and Stephanie Psaki, AED, RAIN Performance Monitoring Report, 2006.
Health education passed on from mentor to student.
At left, mentors in health education classes provided by RAIN and the Izumi Foundation. In the fall of 2010, RAIN and the Izumi Foundation set out on a mission to train 25 mentors in the villages of Iferouane, Ingui and Gougaram about the most common diseases in their communities and good hygiene practices, with the goal of raising awareness among the students and their parents about disease prevention. Mentors in all three communities are now able to recognize early symptoms and are referring students for treatment and following up with parents, and parents are increasingly bringing their children for treatment at first signs of illness. Happily, school attendance has increased 16% -18% as a result. Since health services for children have been provided free of charge, a child who is ill can avoid missing school for long periods. Within six months, the project has raised awareness about health issues for more than 2,000 people and provided free medical care to 700 nomadic students. RAIN and Izumi will continue to partner this pilot project into 2012.
Mentors + goats = program support. RAIN's mentoring program has proven to be wildly successful, and just in the last year alone, we’ve brought mentoring to ten new schools. It takes twelve years for a child to complete high school. This brings us to the question: how can education programs become sustainable?
Our mentors responded that with RAIN’s help, they would run businesses. The profits would provide them with payment for their mentoring services, and pay for the materials they use in traditional skills classes.
So began a pilot program in mentor husbandry. Mentors in the region of Arlit have been keeping a herd of goats to support their mentoring program, with a starter herd and training in animal nutrition and health provided by RAIN. Above, a RAIN mentor with her starter goat.
Just as in artisan and other school supporting enterprises, the women directly benefit from this activity while also supporting school programs. RAIN plans to launch similar herding programs across our partner communities.
Adults and children learning together. In every country of the world, the use of reading and writing – literacy – is part of life. It’s vital that everyone have the ability to take part in this universal human legacy of written communication.
Sending a child to school seems like a basic thing to do. But when, as a parent, you have never attended school, you cannot read and you don’t speak the same language as the teachers, and you feel you need your child at home to help, it’s hard to imagine the value of the experience.
Parents have their first experiences of education through volunteering at the school. They then seek literacy and begin to learn to read and write. This process is what RAIN calls “the Literacy Loop.” Parents send their own children to school and study along with them, reinforcing each other’s skills, creating a “loop” of educated generations into the future.
RAIN's bilingual adult literacy classes began in January of 2008 for thirty women mentors of RAIN scholarship students and other RAIN volunteers. RAIN teaches adults to read and write both in Tifinagh (the Tuareg written language) and French. The classes are joyous, as women approach the blackboard and proudly, for the first time in their lives, write their own names. Everyone, from mentors and parents to the artisans in our cooperatives are benefiting from having the world of literacy open up a world of new possibilities. At left, Iferouane mentors in class.
RAIN for the Sahel and Sahara is a nonprofit 501(c)3 working to make a lasting difference in Africa.