Winner of one of this year’s Davis Projects for Peace grants, Rayanatou Laouali ’12, discusses her project to bring economic agency and sustainability to impoverished female peanut oil laborers in Niger. By increasing their productivity and setting up a community fund she hopes to help the women earn more and enable their children to go to school instead of working.

With her $10,000 grant, she returned this summer to her childhood home to help women there in their small peanut-processing business, allowing them to better provide for and educate their children.

She received the grant under the Davis Projects for Peace initiative, funded by philanthropist Kathryn Wasserman Davis. Her project was one of 122 selected in a competition held on more than 90 campuses, in which students design grassroots projects that they themselves will implement throughout the world.

Laouali grew up in Maradi, Niger, the poorest of eight provinces in Niger, which is in turn one of the world’s poorest countries. While visiting Maradi in 2009 and 2010, Laouali talked with women in the Hadin-Kay cooperative, a 10-member group that works together to hand-process about 70 kilos of peanuts per day. Hand roasting, peeling, and grinding peanuts for a local farmer earns them each about $2.25 per day, barely enough to survive on. Laouali felt compelled to help.

Says Laouali, “With a grant from the Davis Projects for Peace, the cooperative can expand its business, allowing the women to buy their own peanuts, and to make and sell their own peanut oil, in addition to processing their clients’ peanuts. As a result, they’ll be able to double their daily income.”

Laouali is just the person to implement this project. She speaks Hausa, the same language as the women, and shares their culture, but is also a role model for the importance of education for girls. She is majoring in economics and applied math and statistics, and has taken on various internships to prepare herself to someday start a microfinance nonprofit in Niger. And she is undeterred by failure—this was the third year Laouali had applied to the highly competitive program.

Her project will include:
•    Constructing an expanded work space with more equipment, e.g., peanut roasting pans
•    Developing a more sophisticated
accounting system and setting aside a portion of profits for maintenance and for investing in other community projects
•    Holding woman-to-woman workshops on the topics of educating children, reducing mosquitoes and malaria, and creating a healthier environment.

“Peace is the ability to live in a state of security,” wrote Laouali in her proposal. “It begins with using one’s skills and strength to provide for basic livelihood needs, such as for food, housing and clothing. It is also the ability to prepare one’s children for a better future by giving them the right to go to school and be educated like other youth in developed countries.

May 13 2011

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