"Niger could be the place at the beginning of the end of the world- it's the landscape that does it. There's black volcanic mountains towering over green oases, cascading waterfalls, desert cities with wide tree-lined boulevards, camels camels, camels! and the dramatic, if lonely, beauty of the desert. The landscape is almost matched by its inhabitants. It's a country of aristocratic desert nomads, skilled artisans, silversmiths with amgical powers, and a race of tall, lithe, people so physically beautiful that even men enter beauty contests."

Republic of Niger:

Area: 494,130sq mi, Population: 20,000,000 "2016"

Niger is severely landlocked. At nearly twice the size of France, it is one of the largest West African countries, but one of its least densely populated with 90% of its people clustered in the greener areas down south, away from the searing deserts of the North. Two-thirds of it being desert and one third semi-desert, or Sahel. The ration of desert to semi-desert is ever increasing, and there is a danger that the country one day, may disappear under a blanket of sand. Water supplies in Niger are limited, and the Niger River flows only through a small region down the very south of the country.

In such a context, the life of the women in rural areas is quite difficult:

In such areas, women are overworked. They devote 17 hours a day to work actively in agriculture, animal husbandry or handicraft apart from their many house-hold chores. They spend much of their time fetching water everyday. Quite often, they are illiterate: they have no time for education, no time for taking care of themselves. In some regions, young girls are often kept home to baby-sit and help with the chores. The health-care centers are rare and miles away. There is not enough transportation to get there.

Under such conditions, women can't provide enough for their families. Poverty and malnutrition are fed by all these circumstances. A landmark study by UNICEF in 1996 concluded: "No matter how much a mother may love her children, it is all but impossible for her to care properly for them if she herself is poor, overworked, uninformed and if she is without the necessary support from the health services, her family and her society."

A Project to Empower women

To empower women to reclaim their basic rights for education, health care and respect as human beings, the ox-carts project was chosen.

An ox-cart brings the water needed for the whole day. It is rented to the men to transport wood and bring the grains to the market: it is a source of income. It serves as an ambulance and helps the transportation of elderly and pregnant women. It is shared by a few women and serves the whole community.

The ox-cart frees the women and the young girls to receive more education. The women take better care of themselves and their families. They have time to learn new skills, manage their money and become more independent economically. They become better providers.