KONKORINDO, Niger - Every year, during the soudure, or hungry season, thousands of men embark on an "exodus," leaving their villages and traveling to urban centers both in Niger and in neighboring West African nations. Nigerien men peddle shoes and belts on the streets of Cotonou, Benin, unload secondhand vehicles from freight ships at the port in Lomé, Togo, stand guard at wealthy estates in Lagos, Nigeria. Their sole intent: making money to send home to their families so they can buy food. On exodus, as immigrants and outsiders, Nigerien men are often subject to terrible living conditions, discrimination, abuse and illness.
Rabiou no longer has to leave his family in order to support them.
Rabiou left on his journey to Kombangou in the middle of the night. Newly married, he didn't want to share an emotional goodbye with his wife, Mourija.
Like so many young Nigerien men, Rabiou had little choice. The annual agricultural season had ended, and his harvest would not be enough to sustain him and Mourija over the coming year. It would be at least nine months until the rains came and he could plant again, and an additional three months before the harvest. "I had dreams of making it big outside of the village. I would come back with money, a new radio and gifts for the family," Rabiou says.
A Dream Deferred
Rabiou hitchhiked and traveled on foot to the border of Niger and Burkina Faso, more than 400 miles from his village. There he found work as a migrant laborer at the Kombangou gold mines. He and others worked 12-hour shifts at the mine in deplorable conditions.
Rabiou's brow furrows when he describes the worst part of his job: working inside a hole nearly 200 feet deep, where the men extracted the gold. Rabiou explains that he and the other men worked in shifts, as only one man could fit into the narrow hole. Rabiou couldn't extend his arms inside the narrow hole. He clasps his hands together, demonstrating the width of the hole - from one elbow to the other. "It was deep, dark and hot. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't see, and I feared at any moment that the walls would cave in around me," Rabiou says in a voice tight with dread.
After months of hard labor, Rabiou returned to his family in Konkorindo with enough cash to buy a month's supply of millet. His big dreams of buying a radio and gifts for his family were dashed. Most of Rabiou's earnings were eaten up by the voyage, taxi transport, and his daily meal of rice and sauce.
Determined to Succeed
Men tend their crops in the community gardens.
Once back in the village, Rabiou learned that the Konkorindo community had started a gardening project with the help of CRS Niger. CRS constructed 12 wells at the community garden site and organized seed vouchers and fairs that allowed 90 families access to the seeds and tools necessary for gardening. Determined to succeed at home in his own country, Rabiou eagerly joined the project, planting several plots of vegetables in the community gardens. His family members consume some of the produce, but most of it is sold at a local market to earn additional income. With the profits of more than $50 a month, Rabiou is able to buy food and other necessities throughout the year, and no longer has to leave his village to provide for his family.
Through the expansion of its community garden projects, CRS Niger is working to improve food security and economic opportunities in rural Niger. So far, CRS Niger has constructed 170 garden wells to serve 3000 families and provided them with seeds and tools through seed vouchers and fairs. In February 2007, CRS trained 900 gardeners across Niger - 27 from Rabiou's village - in ways to take advantage of market opportunities.
Adriane Seibert was a communications officer for CRS, based in Niamey, Niger. Adriane has also worked for CRS programs in northern Sudan.