Aichatou Bety beamed her warm smile as we talked about the efforts of Montessori schools and students to bring water to the people of the Azawak. This was a special connection for her. Not only has she known Ariane Kirtley since 2003 when they both worked in the offices of a humanitarian aid organization in the region of Tahoua in Niger, but also Aichatou is a trained Montessori teacher. She studied Montessori education after college and earned her certification in a teacher-training program in New Rochelle, New York.
She speaks of Ariane as a friend of the people of Niger. "She understands the basic needs of the people," says Aichatou.
Aichatou hopes that one day she can bring Montessori education to her country and get other people involved, perhaps even start a school in the capital city of Niamey. Right now, Aichatou uses the skills she learned as a Montessori teacher in her work as a child labor activist with Catholic Relief Services in Niger.
I met Aichatou when she traveled to the Washington DC area a couple of months ago for a conference. As a citizen of Niger, she knows first hand the needs of marginalized people. "If you don't have water, you don't have anything," she says.
In a region like the Azawak where temperatures soar to 120 degrees and drought consumes the land for nine months of the year, survival depends on obtaining water just to keep alive. Without that basic need fulfilled, improved health conditions and educational opportunities cannot possibly be offered. In a nomadic culture where people depend on their animals for sustenance, water is the first and most important need.
When Ariane discovered the dire circumstances under which the people in the Azawak struggle to survive, she decided to do something about it at their request. "Ariane captured the hearts of the people because she kept her promise and came back," Aichatou confirms. "She had their trust because she knows the environment and knows the people."
Aichatou congratulates all the Montessori students, teachers and parent community for their efforts toward helping the people of the Azawak gain access to water.