Sewing Studio Opens Up New Opportunities For Youth In Niger

Students present their sewing studio creations
Two students proudly present their creations for sale at the sewing studio’s own boutique.
Lacking formal education, students learn a trade and find direction
“This image of a street girl that stuck to me has been replaced by a girl that neighborhood women are approaching for sewing their dresses or clothes for newborns.”

August 2017—Abdoul* wasn’t particularly happy to enroll in sewing class. “My parents made me join the class as they had heard of the opening of the studio,” he said, “but now, for the first time in my life, I feel useful.”

In Arlit, a mining town in one of the most remote regions in Niger, a newly refurbished sewing studio has turned into a much solicited training center for youth like Abdoul, eager to learn a trade.

Arlit used to be a prosperous town, attracting European tourists as well as many local youth with the opportunity to work in the uranium mines. After terrorist attacks in 2013 destroyed the tourism industry, the region was dealt another blow in 2014 when mining operations slowed significantly due to plummeting worldwide uranium prices, labor disputes, and renegotiations of mining contracts with the government. Foreign mining companies in Niger laid off thousands of young workers.

The town is also where numerous bandits and armed groups operate, including Islamist militants. Disillusioned youth, left without employment and any formal education, often end up engaging in banditry to make a living.

The Association of Unemployed Persons is an important local resource for youth seeking assistance, providing them with training to dissuade them from participating in illicit activities. One of the association’s most successful projects is the sewing studio, where youth learn how to make traditional clothes.

In 2016, USAID, through its Office of Transition Initiatives’ Niger Community Cohesion Initiative, supported the association to refurbish the sewing studio, creating more space to accommodate students and buying additional equipment to improve the quality of the training.

A year later, the sewing studio has become a flagship project in one of the most destitute neighborhoods of Arlit. Before the refurbishment, the sewing studio was an all girls training center. But after the center was revitalized, and against initial doubts in the community, the studio was opened to both girls and boys, providing a common space to learn. Currently, 13 boys and 42 girls are taking sewing classes, and 17 more youth remain on the waiting list. Students' ages range between 14 and 21 for boys and 15-27 for girls.

“The community is recognizing the importance of what we are doing,” explained Alhassan*, who oversees the center. “Currently we do not even have one place left; people are jostling for their children to have a place.”

In the two-year training program, students learn different sewing and knitting techniques to make clothes that are then sold in the studio’s own boutique. As most of the students don’t have any formal education, one session each Friday morning is dedicated to discussing issues of concern to the community, covering topics such as elections, migration, citizenship or a sense of community.

Aminatou*, one of the female students, continues to knit at home whenever she finds the time. “Some women from the neighborhood come to my house for me to teach them how to knit, and I am able to sell my products,” she said, visibly proud of her success.

Like Aminatou, many of the more advanced students pass on their knowledge in the neighborhood and are solicited by tailors to help out in their studios at night, allowing them to earn some money. For these students, the sewing studio is a new beginning, breaking with a life of roaming the streets of Arlit, frowned upon by the community.

“This image of a street girl that stuck to me has been replaced by a girl that neighborhood women are approaching for sewing their dresses or clothes for newborns,” said Aminatou.

The Niger Community Cohesion Initiative began in August 2014 to address key drivers of extremism, including large numbers of unemployed youth, increased reach of violent extremist organizations, and long-held feelings of exclusion among certain groups. The initiative works in some of the most marginalized and remote areas of Niger, including Agadez, Tillaberi and Diffa, where it partners with local leaders to increase their ability to address violent extremist threats. The program provides communities with the knowledge, skills and resources to resist extremism, and connects governing authorities to constituents to address historical grievances.

In the vast Agadez region, the program works with local citizens to strengthen their ability to detect, prevent and respond to threats of violent extremism through awareness trainings and workshops targeting key leaders. Through these trainings, a network of community-based organizations called Agadez Eveil (Agadez Awakening) was formed to help the local population identify at-risk youth, raise awareness of radicalization, and help advocate their needs and concerns to local authorities.

*Last names omitted to protect security.


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