While in Niger, I had the opportunity to visit the village of Tangarwashane, the site of Amman Imman's first borehole. The people in Tangarwashane are the folks with whom Ariane connected with when she first visited the Azawak in 2005. These children are the ones she called, "her children". Being with Ariane when she met them again was especially heartwarming for me.
When I arrived, I felt like I was coming home. An odd way to feel given that I had never been there before and the environment of tented and adobe homes on a sandy expanse was quite foreign to me. But Ariane's stories had settled into my heart, and for me the people in that village were part of my family as well.
I was surprised to learn that Alhassan, Ariane's host father back in 2005, did not speak French. Rather, he spoke English, which he had learned in Nigeria. Immediately, this solidified my connection because, given my inability to speak French, he was one of the only people with whom I could directly communicate. He warmly took my hand when I arrived to show me the borehole and facilities.
Alhassan, Denis and Ariane
We were happy to discover that a school was in session. The building, made of millet stalks, had a sandy floor. It was cool inside, thankfully for the 20 children who were learning their subjects in French. Shy at first, the children were very happy to see Ariane. From photos, I knew some of them by name: Mariama, Hassi, Mouheni....
On our second visit to the village, we did a Friendship Exchange with the children. With a pile of beads protected from the sand on their laps, the children made bracelets to give back to their friends in America. They were so very happy and proud to have a photo of their American friend!
The children demonstrated their lessons for us, counting and reciting in French with great enthusiasm. This is quite significant because most of their parents speak only Tamachek, the local language. These children, who now have water to support their healthy development, will have greater opportunities and choices in their future.
In Tangarwashane, the Amman Imman team worked with both men and women to strengthen the committee that runs borehole operations. One goal was to ensure an active role for the women of the village, an important ingredient for sustainable success in any development project. With the assistance of translators, Ariane met with the women while Denis met with the men.
Then the two groups came together. An open and honest discussion took place where the lessons learned from a year and half of borehole operations were drawn upon to formulate a new management structure. Now, the women are supervising the money collected from village families and nomads who use the borehole for their water source. This will ensure that the proceeds go back into the community for its future development. We also established a local Nigerien team that will follow up with the men and women of Tangarwashane as they learn to work together.
Respecting traditions while encouraging a greater role for women requires delicate but stable support. I was impressed at how Ariane and Denis spoke frankly with the people of the village, maintaining their trust while getting them to shift their habits into new patterns that will sustain their future. At one point while meeting with the men, Ariane stood up and walked out of the meeting, until the men agreed to bring in a woman. That action created an opening that set the stage for real change to take place.