We are almost at the end of this year’s program for the Girls at Risk school (www.nvoc.ca). Our school year ends in June when the rainy/planting season begins here in Niger and some of our girls travel back to villages to be with their families. This is the first year of our second cycle of girls and it has been a great year to really get to know them well. Many of these girls and their families are already connected to our program as they have siblings or neighbours who were with us in the first cycle. I love that we can continue on with the same family and established trust to keep working. It is also evident that we have both a more serious group of girls and invested parents as our attrition rate for this year has been remarkably low, especially when compared with our first year attrition in 2010. I believe the community knows what we are all about and we have proven that and how much we want to partner with them and honour them. All of our staff are also back full time and we employ 6 local women vocational skills and who teach and who cook for the hot lunch program.
We have continued to tweak our curriculum as well although it’s core still remains the same. We have a strong vocational skills focus (sewing, knitting, embroidery and tailoring clothing) and also teach Math, French, health, hygiene, women’s health and childbearing, prenatal and postnatal and moral stories to become respected young women in their own community.
We break some classes into two different groups based on their prior education. We have some girls who are almost totally illiterate and others who have gone up to Grade 6. So for French and Math and business they are separated. But we all come together for the other half for what we call “life skills”.
We also hosted a 2 week batik making class in the end of March where we taught fabric dying and batik making from scratch. So much fun! We had a visiting team from Red Deer here to help with that as well. If you want to read more about the batik weeks you can check out the school blog at: http://nvoc.ca/2015/03/24/lots-of-new/
This year we area also working with 8 of our graduated young ladies to start a next level group of advanced sewing skills, taking community tailoring orders (which will be the bread and butter of their own shops when they are ready to launch out on their own) and making lots of adorable bags, table runners, aprons and more for the expatriate community which we market internationally.
I honestly love this group of gals. We have been together since 2010 with them now and to see them go from teenagers to young adults, half of whom are married and having babies and transitioning in life, is so fantastic for me personally. I love to come into the room and sit with them and chat, work on projects together, hold their babies while they sew and just to talk and laugh and do life together. We go and visit them in their homes, celebrate their milestones, and have developed deep friendships with some of them. This relational side of the school has always been a huge goal for me.
Sitting and having lunch with our 8 apprentices.
We also host “parties” from time to time when these young ladies come to our homes for events such as Easter and Christmas. We have a big meal and sit and laugh and share stories, etc. We are trusted people to their families so they allow their women to come out and spend time with us. Tuareg women are in general “protected” once they are married with kids and often are just at home in their courtyard. So they also love the chance to go out and get dressed up!
In this culture, you often purposefully will wear the same fabric as friends or family. It is done all the time for weddings especially or other special celebrations. It is something that shows “togetherness” and honours the person whose special event it is. I have often has these uniforms made for weddings of friends and we also have a custom made fabric for the girls school that we will all be wearing at the end of this year! (Check back in a month for the pictures!) My best Tuareg friend Miriama had a baby in July and I sewed us these outfits for the baby naming celebration day. In North America you don’t normally want to show up to big events all wearing the exact same thing (unless you are a bridesmaid I guess) but here it is a reason to smile, high five and cheer that you are together in life!
I am so lucky to have made good friends here. To step into their culture and language is not always easy, but they are so gracious and I love the time we spend together each week. I bring Ella to many visits with me and the big kids when they are not in school. It makes me smile laugh when Ella is comfortable sitting with them and playing with the cooking dishes, chasing their goats and wrestling with their kids. Bennett plays soccer all the time with their kids and Arielle likes to help with the cooking I love the worldview and big picture we are able to share with our kids.
So that is what we have been up to on the women’s side of the program. A mix of running the school and teaching the girls and visiting them in their homes and mentoring and walking through life with them.