Last summer I was able to complete the construction of the second well, which is now in use in the village and the whole village is happy about this. So this year during my visits to Europe, my goal is to raise enough money for an ambulance. The village is remote and so really needs this ambulance so that any sick person can be quickly transported to the hospital in Agadez. Also, many women suffer during childbirth and they will benefit from an ambulance which can take them to hospital if there are complications with their labour. My second goal is the construction of a granary. It is important for the village to have this granary or cereal bank as it is not always possible to go to Agadez for supplies because, for example, many people may not have money at the same time as they need food and sometimes the roads are flooded roads during the rainy season, which prevents anyone making the trip to Agadez. So if a family has no money, they can be supplied with food from that cereal bank in exchange for crafts which they have made. Then our Co-operative Taoureynoufous can sell these crafts.
There are some women in the village who have lost their husband and have children to bring up, but they are extremely poor and have no income from anywhere. In the future, I wish to generate funds which can be kept aside to help some of these women become independent. For example, to buy them two goats which they can breed and so sell the young goat later. Or to have some chickens for eggs to sell.
There are many ways that the lives of the people of Azel can be enhanced, and I hope to accomplish as many of these as possible, during my travels and overseas trade.
The last six months have been very difficult for Mohamed. There are many problems in West Africa at the moment, such as the war in Mali which is affecting all of the neighboring countries and has virtually stopped tourism in the whole area. The need for travel has increased as this is the only way of raising money for the village. Also the recession in Europe has not helped.
Despite all the problems, Mohamed is still working towards the goal of a second new well, as the existing well is not enough to supply the whole village; a cereal bank and a village ambulance. The ladies of the village sometimes suffer badly in childbirth and having transport to the hospital in Agadez (15km away) if there are complications during labour, could be life-saving.
Mohamed is the Manager of a co-operative called TAOUREYNOUFOUS - the meaning in Tamasheq, the language of his people, is "everything which is hand-made". The co-operative is based in his village, Azel, which is north of Agadez. Mohamed is Manager because of his language skills and his confident ability to travel and make contacts worldwide. For many years, he has been responsible for the sales of the co-operative's goods through Europe, and other African countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo, Benin and Chad. From the sales made during Mohamed's last visit to Europe in 2009, the village now has one good well and the people now have access to clean water for their own use and also for their animals. The women are also now able to grow out-of-season crops. There are 200 people in the village who benefit from this.
The people of Azel suffer badly from typhoid, which was partly because of the contaminated water of the old well. But since the new well was built, the cases of typhoid are now reducing.
The plan now is to have a second well, as the first does not always have enough water for the entire village. A second location is being investigated. The village has been given a quote of around £4000 by a company who specialize in digging wells- this will construct a 35 metre deep well that should be sufficient to provide all that is needed. There are also plans to build a cereal bank in the village which the co-operative will fill with millet. Millet is the staple diet of the area but does not grow locally. It has to be purchased from the Hausa (another ethnic group in Niger) who are living in the south where it grows in abundance. The co-operative plans also buy sugar, green tea, pasta (from Algeria and Libya), rice, salt, soap, cooking oil, toiletries and clothing for the bank. These items can then be traded with the villagers for jewellery, stone carvings, leather work and goats cheese. The goats cheese will be sold locally and the other items can be sold to tourists and also by Mohamed on his travels. Mohamed and the elders of the village will look for a Manager to look after the sales of the goods.
Mohamed was born in 1966 in Azel, a village north of Agadez in Niger. His family have been silversmiths for many generations. As a child, on Saturdays and Sundays Mohamed would go to his father to learn how to make traditional Tuareg jewellery, he would make small pieces to sell to tourists.
Mohamed is from a large family; he has eight brothers and three sisters all of whom work in this trade – the men making silver jewellery and the women leather work such as traditional bags, purses etc. The women learn from their mothers.
Most of the villagers in Azel are silversmiths, leather workers and stone carvers. They all work as a co-operative ensuring everyone can make a living. Mohamed is the representative of the co-operative responsible for promotion and sales. There are approximately 50 families in the village each having 8 – 10 children.
In the past, the children of the village did not attend school as the villagers believed this would take the place of their traditions. In the 1970’s the Sultan of Agadez asked that each family send one child to school; many of the villagers moved away so that they didn’t have to oblige. At the time, Mohamed’s father was an important man in the village and he was a friend of the Sultan, so Mohamed went to school to set an example to the village. At this time schooling was free. Now only the teachers are free and the family has to pay for books and uniforms.
The villagers now believe school is a good thing and are happy to send their children to be educated. All lessons are conducted in French for the first 7 years (primary school) after which they take exams, and the children who pass the exams are sent to Agadez for further study. This is where Mohamed learned to speak English. (He also speaks Tamasheq, Hausa, French and a little Arabic). The children who don’t pass the exams stay at home to carry on learning the trade of the village.
The standard of living in the village is improving with the sales of the jewellery. The more money made from sales, the more food can be bought by the villagers. Also clothes and medicines when needed (and when they are available.) The co-operative is also looking to raise enough money to drill a new borehole. as the only well in the village is contaminated and many of the people have typhoid because of this. And they are also hoping to set up a clinic and employ a doctor to work there.
Mohamed wishes to use his education to help his village overcome their problems to improve their lives and for them to profit from his contacts and his travels to Europe by selling their jewellery.
Before Mohamed was able to travel, all of his sales were to tourists who ventured to Agadez. In 1990 the tourists stopped travelling to this region because of insecurity, due to a Tuareg rebellion against the Government. The Tuareg were, and still are, fighting for their autonomy. This has made it very difficult for the people of Northern Niger. Mohamed now travels to Niamey to sell his jewellery to tourists for a few weeks at a time before returning to his village.
The silver used for the jewellery would have originally come from trading. A caravan would travel across the Sahara to Bilma where sugar, rice, onions, dried tomato and dried meat are traded for salt and dates. Then the salt would be traded in Nigeria for clothes, shoes, and silver coins. Traditionally the jewellery would be made by melting down old silver coins; these are becoming increasingly difficult to find so now new silver is purchased from traders in Niamey.
Silver jewellery is very important to Tuareg women. Traditionally silver is passed to the eldest daughter on her Mother’s passing. Each family would have a large collection of antique silver. A bride is given silver jewellery for her wedding. The Agadez crosses are made using the lost wax method. All of the other pieces are cut from sheets of silver and hand stamped. It would take approximately one day to make one cross.