Whatever Happened To ... The Guy From Niger Who Dreamed Of Being A Leather Maestro?

Soumana Saley has a passion for leather crafts — and for education. But the pandemic has presented challenges as he builds his reputation and his school in Niger.

9/16/2020 1:40:00 PM

We last spoke with Soumana Saley in 2018. Now he's facing a tough year because of the pandemic. He lost his factory job and craft fairs have gone on hiatus. Despite the hard times, he's committed to sending money to support his school in his native Niger.

Soumana Saley has a passion for leather crafts — and for education. But the pandemic has presented challenges as he builds his reputation and his school in Niger.

Pearl Mak/NPRBut Saley is facing a tough year because of the pandemic. Because of the risks posed by his asthma, the 48-year-old has not been able to keep his day job in a plastic pipe factory. And craft fairs have gone on hiatus. He says he's working to develop more affordably priced leather goods and sell them online.

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Despite the harder times, Saley is committed to sending money to support his school — about $1,000 a month covers rent and teacher salaries, he says. He reports that there are currently 50 students from Niger along with 26 refugees from Mali, who enrolled six months ago. His first class will graduate in July 2021. One student has already opened

— with two apprentices.This month, the school is launching a new program that teaches a traditional style of weaving calledtera-terato 10 students. The weavings, with vibrant colors and geometric patterns, are a popular wedding gift — but tera-tera is a vanishing art in Niger, says Saley.

The education of Saley's students, who are in their teens and early 20s, is different from his own life as a young apprentice, when he hid his leather studies from his parents. They were farmers; he thought they wouldn't see a future in leather. When they learned of his plans, they tried to talk him out of his dream.

Saley's students definitely see a career path — and often ask if they can bring friends into the school's program."So many of those students either never had the opportunity to go to school or weren't able to continue beyond a couple years beyond primary school," says VanderKamp of the Remember Niger Coalition."For them getting to go to a school like this is like winning the lottery."

Saley's school doesn't follow the instructional methods he experienced from his early teachers. When his young self made mistakes and cut a hole in the hide while attempting to slice off thin layers to turn into leather goods (see Saley demonstrate the skill in the video below), he recalls,"The boss was very mad. If you make mistakes, they can beat you."

Source: NPRCredit: Pearl Mak Read more: NPR »

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