By Ann Carswell, volunteer
Ready or not, in late October off I went to Niger, Africa. I had no idea what to expect… But nothing prepared me for what I witnessed firsthand…the people were incredible. In my almost 3 weeks there, I never witnessed any sign of despair or of conflict. The adults were going about their business and the children were happy, at least the children in school were. The schools were a joy to visit and to see the students eager to engage and to learn.
The national language of Niger is French, but most of the children (and a lot of the adults) spoke an indigenous language. So besides learning the alphabet and numbers and all the things little kids learn in school, they have to also learn it in a second language – French! Many of the people I met there were fluent in several languages. I was more and more jealous of this as the time went on. English is NOT widely spoken.
The classrooms were bare-boned, with not much more than a chalkboard and well-used desks. But the children were polite and respectful to us and to each other. It’s hard to imagine going to school in a building with no electricity or running water, but these schools make it work. In one primary grade where we were observing, it was heartwarming to watch the students who would answer a question correctly get a round of applause from the other children. There was definitely pride in learning!
At several other schools, I often got to hold hands with 10 kids at once. They would surround me as I got out of the car and vie for one of my fingers. We would walk or jump around like a clumsy elephant, all shouting “bonjour” to one another. It would be hot and sticky and loud, and I loved it.
Food is a precious commodity in this part of the world, and many private schools provide meals for their students. Niger has seen famine in recent years, and receives aid from relief agencies. Even so, malnutrition is far too common. Many meals consist of little more than rice (or other grain) with sauce and perhaps some fruit. There are some new farming initiatives that we saw in some of the rural areas, hoping to supplement the local diet.
On one visit to the school in Tsibiri, we were doing a coloring project where the kids were to draw a picture of themselves. Before we got to the instructions, I looked around and saw to my dismay that I was the only adult in the room. With about 40 students looking at me expectantly I was at my most awkward. But I pantomimed and explained the project as best as I could, using all ten of the words I knew in French, and even resorted to drawing an example card in which I drew myself. After a few minutes their puzzlement turned to laughter. And in a “glass half full” moment, I realized that about half the class had drawn a picture of themselves, and the other half had drawn a gray haired white woman. Who was in serious need of a makeover.
The time I spent in Niger was wonderful. It renewed my awareness of how blessed we are, and how even small acts of kindness truly can make a difference. The students want to learn techniques and professions that will help lift their country to its full potential. Change needs to come from within the culture and citizens of an affected area, and education is the key. I have no doubt that the children in these schools will have a lasting impact on the future of Niger.
by Julie Frye, Communications Director, Remember Niger Coalition
Our partners from Niger visit the United StatesTwo years ago when we began planning the Remember Niger Coalition 10th anniversary, we never could have imagined what an honor it would be to witness our supporters in the U.S. meeting our partners from Niger! When the time finally came in October 2019, it was our pleasure to welcome Ibrahim Abdou and Mariama Harouna to the United States for the first time.
Mariama didn’t miss a single moment to take a picture, attempting to capture the “good, good memories” of her very first visit to the United States. Her smile and her laughter were contagious as she expressed joy and gratitude to every Remember Niger supporter she met. Ibrahim greeted everyone with sincere thanks, sharing stories of children in Niger and the many ways they are being helped by your support.
Ibrahim Abdou represents Remember Niger Coalition(RNC) in Niger. He assists with project implementation, and monitoring and evaluation. In this role, he works closely with the administrators and leaders of the schools and often coaches and mentors them. Additionally, he provides valuable insight into cultural norms and helps navigate legal and governmental issues. He has assisted with RNC projects since we were established in 2009. Ibrahim and his wife, Hadiza, live in Maradi, Niger with their three children – two twin girls and a boy.
Mariama Harouna is a founding member of the Salama Primary School Committee, which has partnered with the Remember Niger Coalition since 2016. She began her career as an English teacher. She was chosen from among her peers to help establish a new public middle school in Tahoua, Niger, of which she was assigned as the first principal. In this role, she was dedicated to the success of all of her students, including those within the most vulnerable populations. She currently works at the Education Department for Inclusion for Children with Disabilities. Mariama and her husband, who is the Pastor of the Salama Church, live in Tahoua, Niger, and they have four children – three girls and one boy.
We spent one week in Charleston, South Carolina and one week in Washington, DC. The time was spent visiting churches, schools, giving presentations and attending events. But in the midst of the busy schedule, the most meaningful aspect of our time together was witnessing the interactions between Ibrahim, Mariama and you, our supporters in the United States. Friendship, respect, and love surpassed the language barrier and the many miles that usually come between us. We laughed and shared stories of our families and our lives. Most of all, we were deeply moved by the stories shared about the students and their families in Niger.
While in Charleston, we took a walk on the beach, where Ibrahim and Mariama saw the ocean for the first time! There were many other “firsts” on the trip, including gazing at the giant oak trees, seeing dolphins, and eating oysters. We were hosted by Rockville Presbyterian Church and by James Island Presbyterian Church on different occasions to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Remember Niger. We were invited to meet the Mayor of Charleston, John Tecklenburg, and Capt. Johnny of “Sail Folly” treated us to a tour of the beautiful Folly River aboard his catamaran.
In Washington, DC, we were welcomed by the Nigerien Embassy. The Ambassador hosted a special reception for more than 80 people at his home on Friday evening.. Nigerien foods were served, several special guests addressed the crowd and it was a celebratory time of reflecting on the impact of our work and the great need that exists in Niger. Saturday morning was the GPC Rally for Niger 5K at the beautiful waterfront. We were happy to join with many friends that morning for a brisk walk to raise awareness and funding for girls’ education in Niger. The two-week visit culminated with a spectacular celebration on Saturday evening held at Georgetown Presbyterian. Board members, volunteers, rotary club members, foundations, students, teachers, Nigeriens and Americans – we all enjoyed the music, photos, speakers, Nigerien food and crafts, and the time that we spent getting to know one another better.
Thank you for celebrating this very special year with us as we looked back on the first 10 years of Remember Niger Coalition. We look forward with renewed excitement about the future and all that we will accomplish together.