Each summer, art classes take place in Niamey, in order to engage Nigerien youth in cultural activities, and entertain them during their summer holidays. This year, over 60 children between the ages of  8 and 18 participated in a one-month art summer camp at two youth centers in Karadje and Talladje neighborhoods, in the outskirts of Niamey.

 
Seyni explains the basic of drawing the human face at the art summer camp at the Karadjé youth center. Photo: IOM/ Monica Chiriac
 

“When I was five, I started to draw with a piece of coal because we were too poor to afford pencils. At the time, I didn’t even know what drawing meant. I just took a piece of paper and improvised,” says Seyni Hima, co-founder of the NGO Art Monde.  “With time, I got better, and it made me want to pursue drawing on a professional level.”

The workshop "Art Vacances", organized by Seyni’s local NGO, is meant as an educative space through visual arts for Nigerien youth, but also as an opportunity to explore the children’s hidden talents. More than anything, the art summer camp is intended as a place of sharing and exchange between young people from different social backgrounds.

 
Children at the Karadjé youth center pose for a group photo while proudly displaying their works of art. Photo: IOM/ Monica Chiriac
 

In a fast-paced world, children in Niger are rarely exposed to creative and digital activities. “Children here certainly have many talents; we just need to give them an opportunity to showcase them,” says Seyni.

The art camp initiative started in Côte d’Ivoire and then extended to Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso and Niger. More than 500 children have participated in Niger’s twelve editions so far. The organizers have added various activities to the agenda over the years, such as discussions around health, education, migration, culture, environment and peace.

 
 

Many teenagers in disadvantaged neighborhoods are drawn to petty crime or even tempted by criminal networks when they are not engaged in any activities, be that income-generating or not. Parents have been sending their children to the camp for years as a way of making sure they stay off the streets during the summer holidays. “He is here, learning a skill. If he was not, he would be roaming the streets with his friends. At least now I know where he is at all times,” says laughingly Rhamatou, one of the mothers.

At the age of eight, Yasmina is attending her first edition of the art summer camp in Niamey. “I don’t draw when I’m at home so I’m happy I can do it here,” she says. Her uncle Amadou is visibly proud of his niece. “You can see she has potential. The characters’ heads are a bit too big, but she will work that out with time,” he laughs.

 
The camp’s trainers (from left to right): Seyni, Souleymane, Hassane and Fati. Photo: IOM/ Monica Chiriac
 

Seyni is convinced that some of the kids have a real future in art, even though he says becoming a successful artist in Niger is somewhat of a foreign notion to him. “It’s easy to paint, but it’s hard to be an artist. People don’t really understand the value of art here,” Seyni explains. “A marabout once told me not too long ago, that it was even considered haram (Arabic for ‘forbidden') to paint. I explained to him that art has been part of our lives, from prehistoric cave paintings to the 500 franc CFA note he was carrying in his pocket.”

Some of the children have participated in several editions and are now selling their paintings for a living. Schools are particularly interested in buying relatively cheap paintings to decorate their classrooms.

 
During the workshops, the children also learn how to stretch and frame their canvases. Photo: IOM/ Monica Chiriac
 

To refresh the children’s knowledge during the summer holidays, local company Niger Digital delivered two training sessions on math and French for the children enrolled in the summer art camp at the Karadjé youth center. Niger Digital is a start-up specializing on the development of IT tools that can respond to the needs and specificities of the local context.

The sessions were delivered using the innovative solar powered box School+ which can be particularly useful in rural areas, where there is no electricity or internet connection to provide students with high quality interactive content. Thanks to the headsets provided by the company, the children were also able to experience virtual reality for a few hours while learning about science, the human body and marine life.

 
The Talladjé youth center where around 30 teenagers are learning about the basics of drawing. Photo: IOM/ Monica Chiriac
 

Kadri Amadou is one of the trainers at the second youth center hosting the art camp in Talladjé, where around 30 teenagers are eagerly learning about the basics of drawing and ways of creating complementary colors. “We teach them that everything they see in nature can be simplified in forms and lines,” says Kadri.

Balkissa, aged 20, has been attending the art summer camp for the past 12 years. “Since drawing runs in my family, I decided to give it a go as well,” she says. “It started as a hobby, but it has now become a real interest. I definitely feel I have improved over the years and I will surely be back next year.”

 
One of the girls participating in the camp at the Talladjé youth center proudly shows her work . Photo: IOM/ Monica Chiriac
 
This story was written by Monica Chiriac, IOM Niger’s Media and Communications Officer.