In the village of Boubounga, Niger, a group of women welcome us to sit with them away from the hot, afternoon sun. They pull up two chairs for us while they sit on a long wooden rail, their clothes bright against the green of the millet field behind them.
These women are part of the education groups Samaritan’s Purse has been conducting in their village for the past three years. The project helps farmers cultivate stronger crops with improved seeds and offers education groups for the women. Through the education groups, the women have learned principles of health and nutrition and basic information on hygiene and sanitation, as well as how to take care of their children; manage pests; and grow plants like cabbages, tomatoes, and carrots. In Niger, women have little opportunity to go to school, so the majority of information they have on health and hygiene comes from what their mothers and older women can teach them. With Samaritan’s Purse, the women learn how to better care for themselves and their families.
Not all the women from the groups are able to speak with us; some are still working in the fields. Those that are present enthusiastically tell us about the education they’ve received. One of their favorite topics was exclusive breastfeeding, which teaches the importance of mothers giving their babies only breast milk until the baby is at least 6 months old. The women tell us that now they understand that their babies will be stronger and healthier by only breastfeeding during this time. Knowing this, the women can fight malnutrition in their children at an earlier age.
The women also have garden areas through the project. Samaritan’s Purse gave the women improved seeds and helped them to set up their own gardens so that they can provide food for their families and sell crops to make a profit. This has been significant for their families.
“It helps so much,” one woman said.
Not only can they feed their families, but they can also buy books and school supplies for their children with the money they make.
The improved seeds grow faster and result in stronger crops than the women had before, but they still face a big challenge—water. Other women around their village want to participate in the project, but the garden area can’t support them because there isn’t enough water.
Even if not all the women can be part of the project, they’re still able to benefit from the information taught in the education groups. The women say that their neighbors have seen how much better their gardens are because of the techniques from the groups and have started to copy them. Even without the improved seeds, their neighbors have seen better results. Because of this, one woman in the group comments that others have asked her if they can be beneficiaries of the project, too.
Affecting Future Generations
I ask the women what else they want to learn in an education group, and they have a lively discussion among themselves. Finally, they tell us that they would like to receive training on savings and credit. Another organization presented similar training in the past, but now that the project is over, the women are eager to continue learning. Whatever the training is, they don’t want the education groups to end.
The women in the project are eager to learn; the project manager noted that the women in this village are especially hard-working. It’s clear to me from even a few minutes that the education groups have helped develop not only knowledge, but determination. The benefits from their training give the women motivation to continue using what they learned, which in turn means that future generations of Nigerien women will be affected as their mothers pass on principles of health and hygiene.
It’s planting a seed of knowledge that the Nigerien women are determined to cultivate.