Articles & Stories

SERVIR-West Africa: Planting Seeds of Success with Young Women in Science


This post was written by Boubacar Mainassara Abdoul Aziz and Assiya Alhassane Chekaraou from SERVIR-West Africa, and was originally featured on Climatelinks. View the original blog post.

It’s not unusual to see stretches of dry land in Niger, West Africa. The Saharan terrain is often baked by the scorching sun. However, for 18 year-old Rimana Issoufou Hassane Mayak, the climate she has known all her life is changing. And, as she makes her way to school, she notices something different almost every day.

Two girls looking at seedlings during crop workshop
Organic crops workshops encourage middle and high school students 
to learn about food security and environmental protection. 
Photo credit: Abdoul Aziz, SERVIR-West Africa  

“In my country, the climate has changed considerably in recent years. During some months it is extremely hot and then extremely cold during others. Also, the floods are more and more devastating. The climate is now very variable, and this has repercussions on agricultural and pastoral production,” Rimana said. One of hundreds of young girls in the Nigerien capital city, Niamey, Rimana is growing more aware of the changing environment because of a unique mentoring program called Kimiya Yan Mata (Girls in Science). Established by USAID partner, SERVIR-West Africa, and jointly supported by NASA, the program is designed to encourage students, especially girls, to become more involved in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) subject areas. Conducted on school grounds through hands-on activities, the program educates students in areas related to agricultural development, sustainability, climate change and more. For example, the students learn about the importance of threats––such as increasingly variable climatic conditions––that can affect global food security and how to proactively address nutritional needs through building micro-gardens. From planting moringa, tomatoes, chili peppers, and other vegetables, the students learn how to grow crops and then train other students. The students are also encouraged to continue to grow crops in micro-gardens at home and share their newly acquired agricultural skills with their families. SERVIR-West Africa’s Assiya Alhassane Chekaraou works with students and highlights that this program is more than just gardening. It’s a program that literally plants seeds of success in the ground and in students; seeds that will feed the future in more ways than one.

“The idea is to have long-term effects on food security in terms of quality organic production and environmental protection,” Chekaraou said. Growing organic crops, Rimana and her friends don’t mind kneeling in the dirt and getting their hands dirty. It’s all a part of becoming junior experts in agriculture and taking care of the environment. “The micro-garden, one of the first activities I had to do with the club, was very beneficial for me and my friends. It allowed us to be budding biologists by following seedlings throughout their evolution and to make us more critical, respectful, and responsible towards the environment,” Rimana said.

Additionally, the program cultivates leadership skills. The engaging extracurricular club is based in various middle and high schools in Niger. In a traditionally male-focused educational environment, Rimana is a rising star. Like some girls, the thought of being a researcher or a scientist was not top of mind. And it is uncommon for women in her community. However, SERVIR’s program has given her a new perspective regarding academic studies connected to STEM.

Photo of Rimana Issoufou Hassane Mayak
For 18 year-old Rimana Issoufou Hassane Mayak, 
the climate she has known all her life is changing.  

“SERVIR made me understand that science is not only theoretical and that I had to experiment with new things,” Rimana said.

She’s also learning more about how to lead. She’s the first female president of the SERVIR club, which is involved in Kimiya Yan Mata at Mariama secondary school. She is also the President of the Young Parliamentarians of Niger. In both roles, she has helped to boost interest in proactively engaging others in actions to protect the environment and fight climate change. “Thanks to SERVIR, I have been able to acquire better listening and communications skills, and more tolerance. I feel that I can now coach people, and I have more perseverance to carry out my activities,” Rimana said.

Committed to learning more about how the environment is changing, and how the change is impacting the terrain around her, Rimana is also devoted to using the skills she has acquired through the program to motivate, educate, and lead fellow club mates in engaging actions geared towards protecting the environment. Rimana believes that communicating in a creative way about climate change education is key in changing behaviors to support environment protection. Recently, she and a few other students created a poetry slam performance to help raise awareness about climate change.

“For me, by helping young people understand the importance of the environment, we can encourage them to take care of it. And as I have learned, one of the simplest and most beautiful ways to take care of the environment is to plant a tree,” Rimana said.

With Kimiya Yan Mata and, thanks to funding from USAID, SERVIR-West Africa will continue to promote STEM-connected career choices, especially for girls, with hopes of one day filling the gap in qualified female scientists and engineers in the sub-region. A student with high academic marks, Rimana continues to work hard in her studies and is now passionate about another area of science geared toward helping people. “I would like to become a biomedical engineer, a discipline that will allow me to study in a laboratory in order to discover more about certain diseases and to develop revolutionary tools in the field of medicine,” Rimana said.

Students participating in a digital mapping workshop
Digital mapping workshops are another activity offered through 
SERVIR-West Africa’s mentoring program.  

Currently with this project, more than 250 boys and girls have participated in various SERVIR-West Africa Food Security and Agriculture activities including soilless gardening, water quality assessments, and digital mapping. “Specifically, in regard to digital mapping, each club has developed a project. There is one school that has planned to map the flood areas of their city, and another club has planned to map the health centers and schools in their area,” Chekaraou said. From micro-gardens to digital mapping, all activities are designed to engage students now and in the future. As for Rimana, as the environment changes, she and others are taking action toward promoting positive behaviors aimed at promoting a healthy environment for all now, spurring hopes of a brighter future.

“In Niger, I hope that in 20 years’ time, we will have trees as far as the eye can see, clean streets, and responsible citizens who are aware of the climate issue,” said Rimana.

Molding future leaders like Rimana, SERVIR-West Africa is feeding the future through hands-on education in Niger by inspiring students—especially girls—to dream big, work hard, and plant seeds that will one day yield food and career opportunities.