Niagara Notables

Helping at Home

Haoua Hamza, Ph.D., envisions a large net when she speaks about her recently established nongovernmental organization, the Global Network for Niger. “Like a net catches fish,” she says, “we are creating a global network to capture resources for those in need.”

The people she is referring to are the women of Niger, a landlocked country in West Africa that is one of the poorest in the world. Because their families are dependent upon them for subsistence, these women work 16-18 hours per day on difficult, labor-intensive chores. They have little money, power, or access to information, and the vast majority are illiterate. Dr. Hamza knows the situation well. She, herself, is a native of Niger. While her life is markedly different from most of her countrywomen, she is nonetheless committed to helping those who are not as fortunate as she was.

Dr. Hamza’s inspiration for this work comes from her mother, Hadjia Awa Oumarou, who served as the regional chair of the Women’s Association of Diffa for more than a decade, and who was involved in numerous projects that supported local women’s initiatives for self-sufficiency during her lifetime. Many of these activities took place in her own living room for lack of a dedicated space. “Even though my mother passed, we can still try something to continue the work,” she says. “That’s why I want badly to do something and to take others along with me to see what they can do.”

That’s where the GNN comes into play. Developed as a clearinghouse to connect Nigerien women with the resources they need, specifically in the areas of education, financial stability, and health, the organization is expected to reduce poverty and empower women socially and economically. A vital component of this plan is collaborations among government entities, individuals, and educational institutions in Niger, Europe, and the United States, including Niagara University.

“I am interested in creating opportunities for our students and faculty to be involved in service abroad,” Dr. Hamza says. To that end, she is exploring possible partnerships between Niger’s University of Niamey and Niagara’s colleges of Education and Arts and Sciences that could include exchange programs, study-abroad opportunities, and online courses. Already, several of her Niagara colleagues have offered to assist with the project.

While the GNN currently has no physical facility in Niger, the organization received a vital show of support in November when the mayor of Diffa donated a 500-square-meter plot of land on which an office will be built. Here, women will be able to access health care and educational programs, as well as develop skills that will help them to launch individual and collective income-generating businesses. For Dr. Hamza, this donation was tangible evidence of the trust the people of Diffa have in her project.

There is still much to be done, including securing funding, material resources, and volunteers, but Dr. Hamza is confident that the GNN will make a difference in the lives of the women of Diffa. She points to a group of women in a photo taken in her mother’s living room. “If one of these women is able to write her name in her own language,” she says, “if I can see one more woman getting healed, another girl graduating because of GNN, I think that’s success.”