7:00am: I wake up and wonder where I am. I’m so tired, I have to pry my eyelids open. I hear a knock at my door and suddenly remember that I’m in Niger, therefore this must be the result of jet-lag. Yesterday, we flew from Niamey, the capital of Niger, to Maradi, a city 10 hours away by road and 3 hours by plane. I’m now staying in a nice hotel, where I share a room with my brother. I go to the door and there’s Kara with clothes in one hand and coffee in the other – both for me. Again, I suddenly remember that my luggage was lost by the Air France and I am now dependent on my travel mates to share their clothes and resources with me. Despite this challenge, I’m really excited to be here to see the schools and children we support through the Remember Niger Coalition. My family has been involved with the organization for several years, I am now an intern for the organization, and today is the day that I get to meet the students we sponsor and work with.
8:00am: We travel to the first school with the windows open and the hot air blowing in my face. The air is full of dust, which creates a strange, yellow hue. I cannot take my eyes off of the activity I see along the side of the road as we work our way through Maradi, a city of about 300,000 people. The road is shared with donkeys, mopeds, bicycles, and cars being used to transport multiple people and objects. The streets are lined with vendors, homes, storage huts, animals, and pedestrians. Soon we are in the smaller village of Tsibiri, the location of the boarding school that we support. We drive through roads that do not seem like roads, but like front yards of those who use them for play, cooking, washing, and other things. We arrive at the school, driving through a gate, and pass a soccer field on our left that is filled with students. We park under the shade, and before we can get out of the car, the principal, Isti, greets us. Isti then takes us on a thorough tour of the school, pausing to point out when he spots an area with which our organization can assist the school, such as with the food in the kitchen, with mosquito nets in the dorms, and with books in the library. After the tour, I complete a job for my internship- taking photos of sponsored children holding a piece of chalkboard, on which is written what they want to be when they grow up. This is truly heartwarming, because I know that by sharing this with those back home, I am helping these children get closer to their goals.
After this, Char and I gather a group of first grade students to play parachute games. None of these students has ever seen a parachute and none of them speaks English. Char and I do our best with explaining the games with our limited French vocabulary. However, it is with the help of an extraordinary student who is able to interpret English colors and numbers to French and Housa, that we get the games flowing. Once the children begin to understand what is going on, their faces begin to soften, and many smiles and giggles escape. Soon, there is full on laughter and silliness, despite the language barrier.
12:00pm: Around noon, we make our way over to the kitchen, where the students are fed. Each student’s bowl is placed on the patio and filled with food, ready to be sought out following the student-led prayer. The boys get and begin eating their food, then the girls. I remember that I will be having pizza, a cheeseburger, or some canned chicken from my luggage back at the hotel, while I observe that these children are eating rice and beans. I sit with a group of boys, including a set of twins, and joke with them as they eat, enjoying hearing their giggles when I try to convince them that people truly call me, “Cat.”
4:00pm: We arrive back at the boarding school in the afternoon after our lunch and rest to find all of the students back in class. The 5th graders are in the garden. There is a “classroom” on the edge of the garden where the students learn about plants and agriculture and then have the opportunity to put into practice what they learn. After class we interview 4 or 5 girls about why they are in school and about their experiences as students. After talking to several, we see a pattern developing. The girls know that they are lucky to be in school. Statistically, only 37% of girls in Niger attend school. For one reason or another, the girls’ parents highly value education and see this a long-term investment. (Kara says that during the next trip we will interview some of the parents.) We were able to get more details from Amira.
Amira’s Story: Amira tells about how her mother went to primary school when she was young. Unfortunately, she did not pass the 6th grade state exam that everyone must take and pass in order to go onto middle school. This was a very big disappointment in Amira’s mom’s life. When a sponsorship became available at the boarding school, Amira’s mom jumped on it even though it meant that Amira would have to stay in the dormitory away from home during the school year. Amira would not be at home to help with preparing the food and taking care of her siblings. These are important jobs for girls in Niger. For Amira’s mom it was worth the sacrifice. She knew that Amira would have a great chance to pass the 6th grade exam and go on to middle school – nearly 100% of the students at the boarding school pass every year.
7:00pm: We leave the school, arriving exhausted back at the hotel, only to discover that there is a family eagerly waiting to present us with food. They claim that they have made for us the national meal of Niger, (though they are surely not the first to make this claim)! They sit and chatter with us, as we enjoy the incredible meal of lamb, beef, potatoes, couscous, rice, carrots, and an unidentifiable (but wonderful and spicy) sauce. They make us so much food, that we cannot help but offer some to the guards and the staff of the hotel after the family has gone. After our very long, but refreshing dinner, some of us sit down to look over, compare, and upload photos from the day, while others of us write blog posts to share our tales with those back home. As the evening rolls on, we enjoy a few games of cards, though some of the group goes on to bed. At the end of the evening, we make our way to our beds, collapsing after an eventful and rewarding day, and setting our alarms for another early and exciting morning.