Planting Seeds of Success with Young Women in Science
Tetra Tech’s Boubacar Mainassara Abdoul Aziz and Assiya Alhassane Chekaraou share how our team is engaging young women in climate change workshops to encourage their pursuit of courses in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). This blog highlights 18-year-old Rimana Issoufou Hassane Mayak and her experience with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) partner, SERVIR West Africa. Through SERVIR West Africa, Tetra Tech is applying our suite of Tetra Tech Delta technologies to deliver solutions that combine science and engineering to address today’s most pressing development challenges.
This post originally ran on ClimateLinks.
It’s not unusual to see stretches of dry land in Niger, West Africa. The Saharan terrain often is baked by the scorching sun. However, for 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.
“In my country, the climate has changed considerably in recent years,” said Rimana. “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.”.
As one of hundreds of young girls in Niamey, Niger’s capital, Rimana is growing more aware of the changing environment because of a unique mentoring program called Kimiya Yan Mata (Girls in Science). Established by SERVIR West Africa, and jointly supported by NASA, the program is designed to encourage students, especially girls, to become more involved in 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. Planting moringa, tomatoes, chili peppers, and other vegetables teaches students how to grow crops and how to train other students. The students also are encouraged to continue growing 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,” said Chekaraou. “The idea is to have long-term effects on food security in terms of quality organic production and environmental protection.”
Rimana and her friends don’t mind kneeling in the dirt and getting their hands dirty when growing organic crops. 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 did with the club, was very beneficial for me and my friends,” said Rimana. “It enabled us to be budding biologists by following seedlings throughout their evolution and to make us more critical, respectful, and responsible toward the environment.”
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 is uncommon for women in her community. However, SERVIR West Africa’s program has given her a new perspective regarding academic studies connected to STEM.
“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 leadership. She’s the first female president of the SERVIR West Africa club, which is involved in Kimiya Yan Mata at Mariama secondary school. She also is the president of the Young Parliamentarians of Niger. In both roles, she has proactively helped boost interest in others to protect the environment and fight climate change. 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. “Thanks to SERVIR, I have been able to acquire better listening and communications skills, and more tolerance,” said Rimana. “I feel that I can now coach people, and I have more perseverance to carry out my activities.”
“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, SERVIR West Africa will continue to promote STEM-connected career choices, especially for girls, with hopes of one day filling the gender gap for qualified female scientists and engineers in the sub-region. Rimana excels in academics, 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 enable me to study in a laboratory in order to discover more about certain diseases and develop revolutionary tools in the field of medicine,” Rimana said.
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. “In regard to digital mapping, each club has developed a project,” said Chekaraou. “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.” 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 encouraging 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.