July 5, 2001 - Personal Web Page: Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger by Jason Hahn ’99

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Niger: Peace Corps Niger : The Peace Corps in Niger: July 5, 2001 - Personal Web Page: Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger by Jason Hahn ’99

By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, February 16, 2003 - 7:42 pm: Edit Post

Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger by Jason Hahn ’99

Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger by Jason Hahn ’99

Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger

Jason Hahn ’99

Bonjour! Ça-va? Mate aran kani? Such were the greetings I heard almost every morning as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger. I served in the Peace Corps in Niger, a country in West Africa, from my graduation from Washington and Lee in June of 1999 until October of 2001. The Peace Corps is a government agency founded by President Kennedy. Its goals are three-fold: to provide technical assistance to developing nations, to allow Americans to increase their understanding of other nations, and for the people of other nations to increase their understanding of Americans. I found my work to fulfill those three goals in Niger both challenging and rewarding.

After 3 months of training I spent my first year in Niger living and working in a small village of 400 not far from the Niger River. My life was very simple, no running water, electricity, or television for distraction. Just the BBC and VOA from my trusty short wave radio and plenty of conversation with my neighbors and friends. I spoke a local language, Zarma, as none of the people in my village spoke French, Niger’s official language. Luckily the people I lived with really enjoyed teaching me their language. Their understanding of my situation, as a foreigner thousands of miles from home, and their desire to make me feel comfortable was incredible. Zarmas have a saying “your guest is your God” and they certainly made me feel that way for most of my time there. There were times, of course, when my ability to understand their culture and their ability to understand mine reached its limits but throughout my experience I was in awe of their openness to many things I am sure they found very odd about me.

During my first year I spent much of my time trying to build up the institutions in my village. We, my villagers and I, worked together to set up a community bank that 30 women contributed to weekly. They used the money in their bank to invest in grain, selling it later for a profit, and to give loans with interest to women in the group. The bank served both as a vehicle for women to save money and as a source of credit in a nation where available credit is scarce. Working on the bank also gave women the impetus to organize to work communally on other projects such as rehabilitating over-farmed land. Additionally, I worked with the men and the women to set up a village peanut bank that gave loans in peanuts, before planting, and collected the loans with interest, again in peanuts, after the harvest. This provided a dependable source of peanuts for planting every year. Both of these projects provided good preparation for the grand finale of convincing the Ministry of Education to place a school in our village. I worked as a liaison between my village and the Ministry officials to secure a teacher and then I helped the village build the school and sign children up for classes. All of this work involved leading meetings, designing and implementing projects, and then conducting evaluations of those projects – all skills applicable to jobs here in the States.

During my second year I lived in a larger town and lead a team of 6 other volunteers. In addition to the perk of being one of the last Peace Corps Volunteers in the world to drive a motorcycle I spent a great deal of time working on HIV/AIDS education. It is well known the threat HIV/AIDS poses to Africa and we spent a great deal of time educating Nigeriens on HIV/AIDS and its methods of transmission and prevention. I also worked a great deal with the Ministry of Education and local non-governmental organizations to encourage parents to send their daughters to school. Often because of traditional or economic reasons parents would not send their daughters to school. We reached parents through village meetings and over the radio to encourage them to send their daughters to school. The work on HIV/AIDS and on Girls’ Education required organizing diverse groups, administering budgets, and working with government agencies all while speaking a language other than English – all experiences with direct application here in the United States.

If you volunteer in the Peace Corps you will increase your foreign language skills, learn how to work with people of different cultures, have responsibility for projects with a direct effect on people’s lives and have the opportunity to serve those in need. If you are struggling to find an opportunity which allows you to do good and develop skills for your life in a globally aware job market then take a closer look at the “toughest job you will ever love” and join the Peace Corps!

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Niger; PCVs in the Field



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