Trees and Schools, by Coleen Colton

aguie_tree_planting
Planting a tree in 2011

I have been to Aguie two times. The first time was in 2011. We were there on August 3, which is Nigerien Independence Day, the day they celebrate their independence from France in 1960. Since 1975, it has become a tradition to plant a tree on Independence Day as part of the fight against desertification.

On that day in 2011, I had the opportunity to visit the school building during its construction. Several volunteers from Remember Niger toured the work site with the EERN Education Committee. We talked to the contractor and the principal, took pictures, and planted trees. It was interesting to see the school taking shape – it had a floor, walls and a roof, and the prevailing sentiment was hopeful excitement. We planted and watered our trees with much ceremony and a bit of laughter, and departed feeling pretty optimistic about the school we were building.

My second trip to Aguie was in March 2014, just a few months ago. Things looked very different. The little tree was gone – a much larger one was in its place! I couldn’t believe it could possibly be the same one, but I was told that these trees grow quickly. In only two and a half years, it had grown much taller than I am and was giving shade and beauty to the grounds.

Aguie Tree - planted in 2011
Aguie school yard in 2014

The school was different too. The empty shell was complete, and another block of classrooms stood next to it. A spigot in the schoolyard brought water to the grounds. The classrooms were full of children reading, writing, and reciting their lessons. When school was dismissed, they swarmed outside and formed orderly rows around the flagpole in the center of the schoolyard. As the green, white and orange flag was ceremoniously lowered in the golden afternoon sunlight, the children joyfully sang the French words of their national anthem, La Nigerienne, which say in part,

Arise! Niger! Arise!
May our fruitful labors
Rejuvenate the heart of this old continent!
And may the song be heard
In the four corners of the Earth
As the cry of a fair and valiant people!

I said to Kara, “I can’t believe how much has changed here! This empty field has become a wonderful school!” She replied matter-of-factly, “You did it.” I looked at her in amazement, not understanding what she meant. She continued, “You believed, you helped with the Laying the Foundation Campaign, and the school is here because of you!”

Kara would say the same to any of you who have contributed your energy, prayers and funds to make the school a reality. Never doubt for a second that the school exists because of you. It has grown as quickly and as surely as the little tree, and the result is every bit as beautiful.

There is another empty lot in Niger, in a town called Madaoua. The people of Madaoua have the same dream as the people of Aguie: to have a local school for their children. The Laying the Foundation Campaign is a way to make their dream a reality. Please consider adding a brick to our virtual school. Every brick brings us one step closer to achieving our goal of a quality education for the children of Madaoua.

Sincerely,

Coleen Colton, Board Chairperson