With the Sahara Desert occupying 80% of its landmass, the country of Niger contains some of the harshest environments on Earth. However, this has not prevented cities and towns from growing along the fringes of what can only be described as Martian terrain. One of these is Agadez, a large city in central Niger that has acted as a trade and transportation hub for centuries.
While Agadez has over 100,000 people, it contains little to no industry. The primary drivers of its economy are transportation and trade of goods. Unfortunately, the majority of this trade is done on the black market involving smugglers, human traffickers, and other bad actors not limited to supporters and associates of al Qaeda, Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), and similar violent extremists. The lack of opportunity and alternative careers pushes otherwise law-abiding citizens towards these malign entities as they struggle to eke out a living in the desert. Young people are especially vulnerable and often specifically targeted for recruitment.
A US Army civil affairs team working in Agadez identified this concerning trend and is working to change things for the better. Through close partnership with the Mayor of Agadez and the Ministry of Education, a plan was hatched to create economic opportunity, develop skilled laborers, and usher in hope through the creation of a trade school in Agadez that will teach at-risk youth metalworking, welding, and carpentry skills.
The trade school will employ a skilled Ministry of Education instructor, a large unused hangar, and new tools and materials provided by Spirit of America. With these resources, an initial cohort of twenty students will complete a nine-month curriculum in order to learn a trade and start a career. This program is designed to be self-sustaining, meaning students will complete paying jobs requested by local businesses in Agadez. The small amount of revenue generated by the completion of these projects will restock supplies and repair any damaged tools allowing for future classes.
The benefits from the establishment of this program go even further to positively impact the city, as evidenced by the program’s first job: repairing 200 broken and unusable school desks for area schools. These desks sit unused and unrepaired while hundreds of students sit on dirty floors in crowded classrooms as they attempt to pursue a valuable education. The new trade school will provide a lower cost and affordable way to repair these desks, which will immediately be put to good use helping improve conditions and enable the instruction needed to build the local economy and lift these students out of poverty.
With your generous support, this metalworking and carpentry trade school can become a reality and help change the lives of thousands of vulnerable Nigeriens. The ripples from this project reach far beyond Agadez and will not only benefit the youth of impoverished Agadez, Niger, but also combat the influence of terrorist groups bent on harming our service members and countering American interests.