Conditions in Niger, West Africa are so harsh, one wonders how people survive. A small investment is often all that is needed to help a family get by, or for a child to attend school where nutritious meals are provided. This year, that one vital investment became a reality for the village of Bonfeba.
In 2010, RAIN was selected by the Rotary Club for our ability to reach the most remote nomadic populations in greatest need of aid, and a partnership was forged to install a school market garden for Bonfeba. Bonfeba is located on the Niger River, in the Tillaberi region, approximately a two-hour journey from the capital, Niamey. Tillaberi receives little aid, and yet is one of the most food insecure areas of the country. Above, the community of Bonfeba gathers to thank RAIN and Rotary.
They say life began in a garden, and this also holds true for RAIN. There are a number of organizations that donate food to some of Niger’s schools each year. These gifts are generous and appreciated, but once the food is gone, the same barren schools with the same hungry children remain. Not so for Bonfeba. With the help of dedicated parents, RAIN installed a half-acre school garden, complete with well, cistern fence, motor pump, drip irrigation and a gardener salary for the first three months. The new garden will grow fresh food for the children, produce cash crops to meet garden expenses, and generate funds for the school, where 247 children must live while their parents search for pastureland.
Dr. Bako, village chief of Bonfeba, expressed his feelings about the new garden: “This modern garden brings much hope for future food security in Bonfeba. It gives us the possibility of generating food, along with money to help the school. In the view of this community, this garden project is salutary!”
Bonfeba is located beside a shallow and stagnant pool of water that served as the only source of drinking water. With the new well, the community now has clean drinking water for the first time, bringing better health to hundreds who regularly suffer from dysentery and other water borne illnesses. It will provide the additional benefit of freeing the children from water carrying duties so they can attend school. At right, Dr. Bako, Rotary members and the Bonfeba school Director by the well.
Since the children must live at school, food must be provided for them. Thanks to a large food donation by Rotary International, the Bonfeba School opened in the fall, and the students have come. This aid was especially timely in the wake of the summer food crisis of 2010, leaving parents struggling to feed their children, with no extra food for their children at school. The supplemental food will be enough to provide support throughout the 2011 school year while the garden reaches fruition.
One mother expressed: “We are happy because our children can be in class and also have food.” The Bonfeba school Director added: “This project is especially timely coming at the start of the school year, when we need it the most.”
Rotary’s food donation is unloaded at the Bonfeba School. Approximately 150 kg. of rice, beans, millet, corn, cassava, condiments, oil and herbs were distributed, with more to come as the school year progresses.
Girls and boys alike will get extra help to attend school and succeed. In rural Niger, fewer than 15% of girls attend school, and the percentage of boys is not much higher. With Rotary International, RAIN is providing supplies to the school while installing RAIN’s mentoring program to encourage and support students. The mentor pilot program will comprise five mentors, who will mentor a total of twenty-five students.
Community women, the majority of whom are unlettered, volunteer to help students succeed in school by serving as their mentors. The women receive a small stipend each month, and their dedication is extraordinary. They come to the schools every week to encourage the students and advocate for them with their parents and teachers. The mentors offer weekly classes in traditional crafts and other skills. Children and their parents alike appreciate the importance of these classes, which will lead to livelihoods for many. As the Bonfeba mentoring program continues, more children will attend school and more will succeed.
Now equipped with food and school supplies, a mentoring program in place, and a school market garden growing the promise of future food security, the village of Bonfeba is in a more empowered and joyful place after a year of hardship.
Bonfeba is a great example of the power of RAIN's programs working together to bring long lasting change.
Above, teachers and students with school supplies.
RAIN for the Sahel and Sahara is a nonprofit 501(c)3 working to make a lasting difference in Africa.