Life in Niger in the time of COVID-19

Below is a glimpse into how life in Niger has changed since the arrival of COVID-19.

Using masks…

Before the pandemic, it cost only 100 CFA (West African franc) for a mask ($1CDN Dollar = $433 CFA). But as soon as the Government announced the first case of Covid-19 in Niger, the cost increased to 500. The following day it jumped to 750, then 1000. Soon after, it was impossible to find masks in any of the pharmacies. 

Since it has become so serious, people have started making their own — but because of the conditions they are being made under, they’re not very safe. The cost of a locally-made mask  is around 300 to 500 CFA.

women on the road don't care

Today, fewer than 1% of people are using a mask in Liboré.

It’s not easy to purchase masks for all members of the family as the priority is on food. Today, fewer than 1% of people are using a mask in Liboré. In Niamey, 20 to 30% are using a mask because they can easily purchase them and there are government protocols in place on wearing masks in public places (supermarkets, markets etc..).


Effects on food…

Only 1% of Nigeriens are able to stay at home and have enough food for their family.

99% of Nigerians get what they eat on the same day they are working. So, if they don’t go to work one day, they will not have food.


The fact that the borders are closed has made everything very expensive. Many families have changed their eating habits because of this.

It’s difficult not to share germs because people eat from the same plate, and drink water and tea in the same glass without washing them with soap, but many are trying to do what they can.

people are at home but no masque and they are using the same bol for drinking watter or tea


Trying to keep our distance…


One small example of people observing social distancing

The Government has asked people to not pray together and to not visit the mosque, and taxis must not take more than 3 people at a time. All ceremonies and training have also been suspended.

Niamey has been closed for the past three weeks. No one can enter or leave — which has had a big effect on the country’s business.. 


Many people are still visiting the local market

The Government wanted to close all markets, but they know that people need to visit the market to buy what they are going to eat each day.

In the bank, there is a hangar that people must wait under before entering — it gives a bit of shade, but on “pay-days” the wait time to enter could be over an hour.

even if Niamey is cloosed, inside of the town, people are free to conduct their works.

The streets are pretty empty these days…

Electricity companies can’t cover 30% of the country and in the few families who can get electricity, many of them are not able to buy a fridge to store food.


New modes of transportation…

Due to the closed borders, there is a new mode of transportation. People are coming to this country because of Ramadan and also because of the rainy season — which they don’t want to miss, because it’s one of the only times they can get food for their family. Now that the borders have been closed, people have been taking bicycles from places like the Ivory Coast or from Ghana to come to Niger, usually in groups of 5-7. So it’s not uncommon these days to see someone travelling over 1000km on a bicycle. 

Since they limit the number of people in public transportation, motorbikes are now available for hire. Instead of paying 1000 CFA to be transported by car, the cost to travel by motorbike is 4000 CFA to go the same distance — 4 times the price!


…And that’s the latest update from our community. Wishing everyone safety and health in these unprecedented times!

“Here’s a Picture Worth More Than a Thousand Words”

Woman in Balleyara points to large board depicting the farming plan for the year.

We all know the old saying.  As a piece of art this picture is worth no more than the plywood it’s drawn on. But as a plan to maximize profit for this 4-acre Farmers of the Future vegetable garden, it’s worth over $100,000! And for 50 women from this rural village in Niger, that’s a lot of money!!!

Read the full post on Eliminate Poverty Now’s website.

“It Takes a Village”

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It was decided years ago that a book Professor Dov Pasternak had written about horticulture in sub-Saharan Africa needed to be translated into French for it to have the most impact.

Our colleague, John from Eliminate Poverty Now has gone with his wife to Niger for the next ten days, and has posted a series of blog posts about the two-year long saga bringing this book to life!

“Several years before he died, Dov Pasternak, father of Farmers of the Future, took the time to capture all his experiences and philosophy in a book he called Agricultural Prosperity in Dry Africa.  In typical Dov fashion it’s funny, opinionated and full of stories about the obstacles to successful agricultural development in Africa and the keys to actually make it happen.  It’s a very important book.”


Read Part 1 – of the saga in bringing Dov’s book to life…

Read Part 2  – explaining the obstacles that were surmounted to bring it across the finish line.

Read Part 3  – a happy ending!

2019 – a year of small but mighty successes!


We sometimes measure success in terms of large accomplishments, but it is often small steps that bring the most significant impact into people’s lives. This past year was one of incremental yet meaningful change for the community we serve.



Farmers of the Future continues to move forward: 

This has been a wonderful year for our Farmers of the Future program, as we moved closer to launching the Dov Pasternak Horticultural Training Centre in an official capacity.

We have been developing curriculum, identifying professors who will be the trainers in the Centre and, most importantly, we have built the Training Centre Garden. In this half-hectare adjacent to the Training Centre we have installed a solar pump and solar panels, five different kinds of irrigation, built a guard house, meeting space, compost section, tree nursery and more. A portion of this site will be set aside for Apprentices to learn techniques and practice. The remainder will be an income-generating garden to help defray the operational costs of the Centre. With the generous support of our sponsors, including LUSH, we have been able to complete this important phase of our Centre and move closer to receiving official status as a school, from the Ministry of Training. We are tremendously proud of our Leadership Team in Niger: Hamani Djibo, Saidou Abdoussalam, and Issaka Housseini whose dedication, expertise and energy fuel our success.

Farmers of the Future is a partnership between Pencils for Kids and Eliminate Poverty Now ( EPN , an NGO in the USA), and from inception has been guided by the late Professor Dov Pasternak. The Farmers of the Future (FOF) program encourages farmers to think of farming as a business. It promotes the cultivation of high value irrigated crops, primarily vegetables, and provides training and opportunity, so that farmers can begin to prosper and not just survive.


½ Hectare Training Garden – before the transformation

½ Hectare Training Garden – before the transformation

1_2 hectare in progress

…After the transformation!


Different ways to irrigate.


Onion storage

Onion storage

Solar panels on guard house

Solar panels on guard house

Meeting Area

Meeting Area



Scholarships for Girls 

Three more girls graduated in 2019 to bring the total to 33 who have gone on to university or post secondary institutions since our scholarship program began!

P4K has provided 540 scholarships to 253 girls since 2009, and 145 of those girls received scholarships in more than one year because of their consistently high academic achievements. Pencils for Kids is tremendously proud of having been able to support the educational advancement of young women in the Libore community. 

This year, our Scholarships for Girls program, in addition to its regular assistance to junior and senior students, helped give girls in their final year of Secondary a “second chance”. Many of these girls were no longer eligible to repeat their final year if they did not pass. We knew that this was the result of school strikes throughout the year, national examinations that were considered enormously difficult, and personal struggles. We are very proud of the effort these girls made and delighted that three of them passed their final exams and are now moving on to University or other post-graduate institutes. 


From left to right: Sarifatou Moussa Issaka, Madia Alzouma Adamou, and Sahadatou Alzouma Adamou

From left to right: Sarifatou Moussa Issaka, Madia Alzouma Adamou, and Sahadatou Alzouma Adamou



Cooper Sewing Centre

We are celebrating its 11th year anniversary with an extraordinary donation from The Travel Agent Next Door, its agents and suppliers! 

The Cooper Centre, founded by P4K with generous support from the Cooper family, is a sewing program where girls take a three-year course, pay their own tuition, and participate in examinations that are accredited by the National Sewing Association. The goal is to give girls and women, who are no longer in school, a second chance to get a profession. P4K started this program with only four girls in 2008, helping them acquire an income generating skill. They are learning embroidery, sewing, knitting and dyeing and also take courses in numeracy and literacy. Students pay a yearly fee to help cover the costs of the teachers. 

In 2019-2020, 50 new girls have been enrolled in first year, 48 girls have passed into their second year, and 30 girls are in the final year of their three year program.

This year, thanks to the generosity of The Travel Agent Next Door, and its suppliers and agents, 30 new sewing machines were donated to the Centre along with 5 new knitting machines. In addition, we have been able to repair 300 chairs and purchase two tarpaulins to support the chair rental business that helps to cover the ongoing expenses of the Sewing Centre. 

5 new knitting machines!

5 new knitting machines!

30 new sewing machines

30 new sewing machines

Broken chairs for chair rental business

Broken chairs for chair rental business

300 newly woven chairs

300 newly woven chairs

Ceremony for the huge donation of books, sewing machines, computers and chairs! Over 1,000 people attended this important event to celebrate the generosity of The Travel Agent Next Door, its agents and suppliers.

Ceremony for the huge donation of books, sewing machines, computers and chairs! Over 1,000 people attended this important event to celebrate the generosity of The Travel Agent Next Door, its agents and suppliers.



Other News

In 2019, Pencils for Kids completed building its first basketball court. We are now hoping to find donations of uniforms, shoes and balls – and bring trainers and coaches to the community of Libore! 

Basketball comes to Libore!

Basketball comes to Libore!


Some special thank you’s! 

We’d like to acknowledge some of the unsung heroes behind Pencils for Kids. Bernie Friedman is one of our heroes. For the better part of the last decade, Bernie has tirelessly volunteered his time to create a meaningful, useful and functional database for our Scholarships for Girls program. His determination, his humour and his character have inspired us all – and we feel blessed to have him on our team.

In honour of the special birthday of our Treasurer and Program Director, Louise Sherman, and her many contributions to P4K, her friends bought a sewing machine for the Sewing Centre and outfitted the entire Theatre Club with special custom T-shirts. Louise founded this Theatre group over a decade ago and it has brought joy and inspiration to hundreds in the community.

T-shirts in honour of Louise for the Theatre group!

T-shirts in honour of Louise for the Theatre group!

Sewing machine donated in honour of Louise Sherman!

Sewing machine donated in honour of Louise Sherman!

Students at Richmond Green Secondary School donated five additional sewing machines after a full year of fundraising.

Students at Richmond Green Secondary School donated five additional sewing machines after a full year of fundraising.


Thank you for supporting the work of Pencils for Kids and letting the children and women know how much you care!