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Zinder/Matameye, Niger
Corps de la Paix B.P. 14 Matameye, Niger

Monday, November 24, 2008


Pleasantly surprised by the progress made while I was away for the election.

They made it to the window and door frames, double the work of the first two weeks, in just one week!

Kari (my dog) evaluating the progress. ;)

Greetings from us to you!!

These guys have done great, and expediant work. I am so thankful for that!

Sha'aban, my go to guy, me, and Kari (car-ee) excited with the progress, but chilly on a cool morning in the desert.

Without these guys, and your help this wouldn't be possible.

Doors and windows!

My little brother, Samedi, playing by the new classroom.

My friend Kira, and the boys checking out the progress inside. We've got blackboards.

Now we just need a ceiling and some floors!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Here We Go!!

After all of the anticipation, the construction of the school is finally underway! We signed the contract Thursday and the builders arrived with the materials on Monday (Oct. 27th). They have been hard at work all week. Here are some of the pics of the builders and the villagers getting set to build. Enjoy!

The foreman and his crew laying the foundation bricks.

Village women carrying water to the site.

Day Three: Hard at Work

All the bricks were made in the village. Keeping them moist has been a tireless task.

This sweet old guy's job is to construct the rebar supports.

The kids taking a break from classes to watch the truck unload.

Unloading 100 lb. sacks of cement on Day One

The kindergarten girls greet you!

Everyone was excited to hear the supply truck roll into the village.

Getting ready to unload.

The Gourmey school yard, with millet stalk kindergarten classroom.

The builder, Attaher with my villagers measuring the site.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Many Thanks!

Phew! I was beginning to think I wasn’t ever going to be able to write this blog entry. After lots of waiting, hoops, hiccups, red tape, frustration, and lots of hope and persistence, I can finally say that funding for the school has been secured and is in transit to me and my villagers as I write this. In the next week or so (hopefully) we will begin construction of the school.

I will be posting pictures and hopefully some video of our progress in the next few weeks So be sure to check back fairly regularly to watch our progress. My villagers are beyond ready to begin construction, and the kids are very excited about having a room to call their own. I am sure I haven’t seen my last set of challenges with this project, but it feels great to have made it this far, and with my villager’s help we will get this project completed in a “timely” fashion.

I’d like to thank everyone who has contributed in any way to the project, I don’t have all of your names, but I know you are out there. To everyone who has been able to contribute any amount, to those who have provided encouragement and support, and to those who have helped with logistics, I am so grateful. It is hard to express how difficult it is to coordinate an undertaking like this in a place with little reliability in phone and internet access. I have had lots of help from back home and some from the staff here in Niamey. Without their assistance, I can honestly say this project would not have been possible.

This has truly been and will continue to be a group effort. I am thankful for everyone’s generous contributions, but I would specifically like to thank a few people who have gone above and beyond to assist me and my villagers from day one of the project, I hope I haven’t left anyone out:

+ Mary and Dick Pirwitz and the congregation of Bethany Lutheran Church for their organization and donations through Brat Fest fundraising efforts.

+ Dave and Brenda Cook for all of their help and the wahala (misery) they sha’d (drank) to help me and my villagers through the fundraising effort, and for their contribution.

+ LaCrosse and Portage Rotary for their contributions.

+ Thrivent Financial for their matching funds of the Brat Fest.

+ Amy Hamm for her fundraising projects and efforts through Davis Child Care.

+ Heidi and Craig Finucan, Wayne and Veronica Flock, Molly and Joe Flock, Mary and Wayne Preuss, Judy and Terry Sosinsky, Jim and Meryle Henry, and Linda and Henry Huetten for their contributions.

+ Vacuum Technologies, Inc. for their generous contribution that got us to our goal!

+ To Mary Abrams for her assistance and follow up with this project with the bureau in Washington. She has been instrumental in getting the funding mess finally sorted out.

+ To my villagers for their support in guiding me through the protocol, helping with contractors, for their upcoming labor efforts, and for their patience in waiting for this day to come.

+ To my fellow PCVs who have listened to me vent, offered their advice, and support, encouraging me to keep pushing through…I have a feeling I’ll need some more of that before this is all said and done.

+ And last, but certainly not least (actually most) to Dale, Chelsea and especially Cindy Preuss for all of their unwavering support and dedication to this project. I can’t even begin to cover what they have done for me and my villagers. Thank you for all your phone conversations, chasing paper trails, listening to my tears and frustrations, contacting potential donors, following up with Washington (multiple times), and for your generous contribution. Without them I surely would have thrown in the towel long ago. It is because of you that my village kids will have a new classroom, you should be proud. Thank you.

So now that actual fun begins. Stay tuned.


Saturday, October 04, 2008

A List

With my close of service quickly approaching I have begun the reflecting process of what my time and service in Niger has been and what I hope it will mean for the rest of my life. This will continue in my last months of service and I am sure well into the first weeks and months of readjustment to American life.

An incomplete and on going list of the things I will miss about Niger, and those that I wont.

I'll Miss...

  • My Nigerien family, Binta and Ousmane and my three little brothers Samedi, Harlit, and Maman Ser
  • My best little buddies in my village, Awoli, Basilou, and Oonounou (Hamadou Tdjani)
  • Walking through the bush.
  • Aspects of rainy season (the sky is blue instead of a sun glared white, green everywhere, millet and sorghum fields, semi-cool temps, the storms, sleeping outside when it rains)
  • My dog.
  • Zinder (city and team).
  • Time.
  • The simplicity of life in a rural village.
  • Pulling water.
  • Sleeping under the stars.
  • Living outside.
  • Open-back bush taxi rides through the bush.
  • The feeling of "this is Africa!"....the good version.
  • Wane.
  • Eating with and napping at Binta's.
  • Holding babies everyday.

Those I Won't...

  • The RED TAPE
  • 14-27 hour bus rides across country.
  • Reaking of gasoline everytime I take a bush taxi into or out of Zinder.
  • Sitting on gas tanks in said bush taxis.
  • Aspects of rainy season (mosquitos, termite infestations, mice, roof cave-ins, illness, humidity, cross country bus rides are at best 2 hours longer)
  • Being told I don't hear Hausa or that I still can't do things the "right way"...even two years later.
  • The feeling of "This is Africa"....the bad version.
  • The wahala of trying to get anything accomplished.
  • Having no control over when and or how long it will take to get somewhere.
  • What appears to be a lack of elementary logic/common sense.
  • The feeling of being baked in an oven, and it's only 10 a.m.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Let's Build a School Together

Greetings Everyone!
Wow, it has been far too long since I've updated the blog. I've been quite busy as of late, which is a very good thing! I've been planting trees with my students, having a girls fair for 15 girls from the Matameye sub-region, and now we're getting ready for the upcoming farming season.

In addition the keeping busy with smaller projects, for the past six months my villagers and I have been getting the wheels moving on the construction of a classroom for our youngest students in the village.

My villagers have been awesome in demonstrating their effort and desire to get a classroom built. They have been holding meetings and making work schedules for the families to provide water, sand, gravel and labor during the building process. We are now at the part where you can help. Since my villagers are subsistance farmers, rarely generating income beyond what they need to feed and clothe their families, funding the construction of a school is not possible for the villagers of Gourmey.

Lots of family and friends have inquired about what they can do to help either me or my villagers. The opportunity to do so is here!

Currently our youngest students are attending school in this shack:

The students are exposed to the sun, wind, rain, blowing sand, and believe it or not the cold throughout the year. This discourages students from attending class, and being distracted while they are there. Our goal is to provide the students with an environment that will promote learning. After being in Niger for a year and a half, I believe that educating its young people is Niger's greatest hope for improving the quality of life for all Nigeriens.

If you, your co-workers, family, friends, church groups, civic groups, etc. have any interest in contributing to the construction of our classroom, my villagers and I will be eternally grateful!

Click here to make a tax deductible donation!

The link will lead you right to my project's listing, no amount is too small, every dollar will get us closer to our goal. If you have any questions about the project or logistics of donating please feel free to contact me at . Feel free to pass this website along to anyone you think may be intersted in donating (

Together, with your help, we can get this classroom built in time for the upcoming school year.

I'd like to thank everyone who has provided me with support for projects, encouragement, letters, and care package during this past year and a half. Kind words of support have helped me get through the rough patches, and have encouraged me to keep giving it my all when I wasn't so sure of myself. I thank you sincerely for all you have given thus far.

Lots of you have sent care packages for me and my villagers. If anyone was still thinking of sending one, consider donating to the school instead. As much as I love getting a magazine or dried fruit and M&M's from home, getting this school built means the world to me and my village.

On behalf of myself and the villagers of Gourmey we send sincere thanks your way,


Monday, January 14, 2008

A Year In Review (Part II)

It is hard to believe that it has been a year since I set off to begin my Peace Corps journey. It has certainly been an interesting ride, and time has flown by!

The past year has been marked by a lot of learning, growing, frustrations, small victories, new friendships, cultural discovery and understanding, more than my fair share of being sick, a growing family of sorts, a visit to see my family and friends, and a visit from my sister (she is such a trooper by the way!). It is certainly a year I won’t soon forget.

The year began in Philadelphia, were 36 of us met to embark on the “toughest job we would ever love”. We spent two months in Hamdalleye, living with host families, and learning as much as we could about Niger; culturally, linguistically, and technically, only to find that we had barely scratched the surface when we found ourselves dropped off by the “white car” to find our own way in our new communities.

The first month at post, during the height of Niger’s hot season (I’m glad I didn’t have a thermometer to tell me just how hot it was), was intense to be sure. There was lots of uncertainty, frustrations, anxiety, etc. But those were also the early days of developing relationships with the people in my community that I now hold dear. It is only upon looking back that I realize how far I have come.

The next few months proved to be challenging in a different way. I managed to have e.coli, bacteria, ameobic dysentery, and bacteria again from May through July. Being sick that frequently took its toll and I wasn’t too sure I would be willing to face another rainy (sick) season in Niger. Being sick, means being out of the village, getting meds, and recouping, this doesn’t do much for developing relationships with your villagers. Many of us have found out, the longer you are out of your village the more difficult it is to go back.

While I was in my village, I spent my first farming season in the fields with my villagers planting and weeding by hand. As a villager has said “Niger is a little late”…ie’ John Deere has yet to be introduced to the millions of farmers who live in the Nigerien bush. So if you were young enough to be strapped to your mothers back, or old enough to carry and drop seeds, you found ourselves out in the fields shuffling along, planting (multiple times, due to a lack of rain) and tending the fields, only to have a disappointing harvest which will make feeding their families challenging in the coming year.

The end of August and most of September were spent in Zinder, with a villager and her young, malnourished infant. At eight months old, Shaibou only weighed eight pounds. It took nearly a month at the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) feeding center before he gained the two pounds required to be released. I am happy to say that Shaibou is doing much better now, and while he is extremely small and developmentally delayed for being nearly one year old, he is still around and fighting. I hope that no one in my village will ever need the service of MSF in the future, while they do excellent work, that is no place any mother or child should ever have to be.

Less seriously, in late September I got to attend the Swear In ceremony of my childhood friend, Maeghan, who was sworn in as an education volunteer here in Niger. Later that night I got to fly home to celebrate the wedding of one of my best friends, Amy on October 6th. I was so fortunate to be home for about three weeks, and got to see many friends and family members, that I have really missed.

I also had the opportunity to share my Peace Corps experiences with various groups while I was home. I spoke with Mrs. Duren’s fourth grade class that I correspond with while I’m over here in Niger, I also had the opportunity to speak with the freshman class at MHS, the congregation at Bethany Lutheran Church, the middle school students at St. Patrick’s, the Neecedah Girl Scouts, and the employees of Parker Haniffin. I really enjoyed that opportunity to share not only my experiences, but also to be able to bring a bit Niger and the lives of my villagers into the consciousness of my fellow community members at home. There has been an outpouring of generosity and interest in the well being of my villagers that I am beyond grateful for.

Between a trip to Minneapolis, to Amy’s wedding, lots of day trips to see family and friends, to a Packer tailgate party to wind it all up, it was a whirlwind trip, but one I am extremely thankful for. I had the chance to see this experience from a distance, which definitely improved my outlook on it, and also got a chance to recharge my batteries a bit to gear up for the remaining year of my service (a few days in Paris with Megan and Mike also contributed significantly to that).

Readjusting to Nigerien life, after having the comforts of home for nearly a month, was a bit difficult, but once I got back to my village and got back to a normal routine, life improved significantly. I am now realizing bush life agrees with me quite well (Chelsea might argue too well). Upon my return, I was able to finish up a World Map project in one of the classrooms, and also began working with the headmaster of my school to bring Environmental Education to my village, via the GLOBE program. I’ve also had a couple of meetings with my villagers to discuss larger scale projects that we will do together. Right now it appears that we will try to build a classroom for the youngest kids in my village and the surrounding hamlets; as of now they are attending school in a millet stalk shack. It was great for morale to have my villagers demonstrate an interest in projects and actually have some concrete progress made.

My first holiday season in Niger, couldn’t have been better, if they had to be spent away from home. Our team (Zinder) worked together to have a great meal to share together. I think we were all pleasantly surprised by how well everything turned out and we all enjoyed the company. The day after Thanksgiving I became a horse owner, which has definitely been interesting…Trouble has definitely earned her name…but she and my Christmas puppy are quickly becoming best friends…so that’s cute.

Christmas was spent in my friend Paige’s village. Her parents were here visiting from the US, and they brought lots of goodies for us to celebrate with, it was also great to have some parents to spend the holiday with, even if it wasn’t my own. We also had a “Christmas Parade” and went wassailing with her village kids, and spent the evening singing Christmas hymns and reading the Christmas story. It was actually kind of nice spending Christmas in a simple fashion. We even rode in on an ox cart, and the only light came from candles and the moonlit night sky; it was a beautiful Christmas.

To end this eventful year, I was lucky enough to have the company of my sister, Chelsea, for a couple of weeks! I was so excited to have her here, to see what life was like in a developing country. She got to do a few touristy things, Niger is not known as a tourist hot spot (even though it’s plenty hot), but she got to see Hippos and got very up close and personal with some Giraffes (that’s a shout out to hungry Bob and shy Frank). She was such a trooper and endured the two 15 hour bus rides across the country to make it out to and back from Zinder, so she could see my village. She also got to ride in a bush taxi that had a record number of people shoved inside (21 full grown adults in a mini van…lucky you Chels!). Besides being able to see and spend time with her, the part that meant the most to me was that she got to meet and spend time with my villagers and the people who are my family and friends in Niger. Even though they couldn’t speak to one another she got to see who I spend my time with and had a glimpse into my life here in Niger. We also had lots of adventures have made many memories that will be able to look back on for years to come! I think she really enjoyed the trip and managed to remain relatively healthy while in country, but I think she was definitely ready to get on that plane back to WI!

For those of you following international or news coming out of Niger, the past couple of months have been a little tense in-country. When I was in the US I briefly mentioned the conflict between one of the minority ethnic groups (the Tuaregs) and the Nigerien govt. This December there have been landmine incidences related to that conflict. For us PCV’s that has meant limited travel, and a two week stretch of Standfast in mid-December. We are all hoping that this is something that does not continue/escalate, but that is something that time will tell.

I don’t want to end with something so bleak, so I’ll end by greeting you all (my villagers always tell me to send greetings to my family and friends at home). My first year of service has been an amazing one (if not entirely pleasant at all times) and I look forward to the coming year, there is a lot left to experience, see, and do, and lots more memories to make on this journey, I can’t wait!

A Year In Review