Being a Nigerien-American girl can be difficult and confusing because there are so many differences between each culture.
The first time I went to Niger I was 5-years-old. As a kid it was really fun. Kids could be kids and none of us worried about a lot. My cousins, brother, sister and I would play in the sand, share toys and peel vegetables in large buckets of water to say cool. We wore whatever we wanted and there weren’t too many rules to follow. As I grew over the years and and matured, it became clear that I had become completely different from my female cousins and peers in Niger. The same growth changes occurred in my friends and family living in Niger. However, our interactions on subsequent vacations became more distant. I could no longer goof around with my male cousins and my female friends became more adult-like while I stayed more like a girl. Even though my trips are still great, it’s in a different sort of way.
What I realized on my last trip to Niger over the holiday break December 2018, is that teens in America have an advantage, called choice. Not that teens in Niger don’t have choices, they have a few.
Sadly, Nigerien girls only have access to life choices if they remain in school long enough and do really well academically to prove an education is worthwhile for a girl. The other defining factor that’s a barrier standing in between our two cultures and my peers is that American girls, like me, have ample resources at our disposal to understand what opportunities are out there.
When I have a choice to do something or not, I have resources to help me make a decision in my best interest for a fulfilling future, whatever that may be. I have school counselors, nurses and caring-quality teachers, as well as my parents and friends. I feel that girls in Niger should also be given this option and not limit themselves. Not having good resources in school and the community prevents girls from dreaming big and understanding ALL the opportunities available to them. For the most part, educated girls are often limited to traditional sectors like teaching and nursing, whereas, uneducated girls become housewives with limited economic skills. For example, my close Niger friend got married and was sent far away to live with her husband on another continent! I don’t know whether or not this was her choice 100% or if her parents realized she was showing an interest in boys. She began to slack off a little in school, like I do sometimes, so at the end of the school year her Mom arranged a marriage for her. Unfortunately, people in Niger skip the middle part of learning how to build a relationship and jump right into marriage without considering compatibility. Whereas, my American peers and I are fairly disturbed by the thought of an arranged marriage at an early age. We want to write college applications, hang out, travel and figure out who we are as people. I am really glad my family in the U.S. and Niger support me being a girl and young woman for as long as possible.
With that being said, I am really happy Remember Niger Coalition supports the Hamsa Girls Education Center in Tahoua. I am proud of the beautiful facility that has been created in my Dad’s hometown. It will help girls feel safe, get a quality education and provide supportive resources for a world of opportunities for them!