Nelly Bassily | September 15, 2008
Oumou’s day starts much like any other Nigerien gardener’s. She wakes up at 5:00 am. The slight, forty-year-old woman eats breakfast, then heads to her field. There, she tends to manioc and mandarins, peppers and potatoes. She says watering is the hardest part. There always seems to be another row of plants.
After five hours in the garden, the desert sun is blistering and it’s time for Oumou to put away her watering pail. Dragging herself forward with outstretched hands, knees swinging in a semi-circle, she propels herself forward with the near-empty pail balanced on her head. Leaving the pail at the edge of the well, her gardening is done for the day.
Oumou was paralyzed by polio at a young age. She has always been industrious, but used to rely on her family who loaned her money to buy straw so that she could weave mats. She never imagined that she could grow her own food.
A local community-based organization called Re-adaptation for the Blind and Other Handicapped Persons, or PRAHN, gave her a start. PRAHN provided wood for a fence, materials for a well, tools, fertilizer, and seeds. Over time, she will have to pay back the equivalent of 500 American dollars (about 350 Euros).
With the support of PRAHN, people with disabilities run 40 year-round gardens in the western regions of Dosso and Tillaberi.
Claudio Rini is the West Africa director of Handicap International. He says that, generally, disabled West Africans are seen as unproductive and are pushed aside by their families and communities. In times of economic hardship, a disabled family member can be perceived as a burden.
But ever since Oumou started gardening two years ago, her produce and her income are highly valued. Previously, her family could rarely afford to add vegetables to their daily millet meal. Now, they regularly enjoy fresh zucchini, carrots, tomatoes, and cabbage from the garden.
Oumou’s tasty harvests attract customers from up to 20 kilometres away. She sells leafy greens for 25 Nigerien francs (about 5 American cents or 0.03 Euros) a handful. Altogether, she earns the equivalent of 300 American dollars (or about 210 Euros) each year. Oumou is also proud to say that this income pays the school and clothing expenses for her nieces and nephews.
But Oumou doesn’t like to part with much of her produce. She says it’s so delicious – she prefers to keep it for herself and her family or share it with her neighbours.