March 12, 2003: Headlines: COS - Mali: PCVs in the Field - Mali: South Bend Tribune: PCV Paul Miller is building a school in Mali

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Mali: Peace Corps Mali : The Peace Corps in Mali: March 12, 2003: Headlines: COS - Mali: PCVs in the Field - Mali: South Bend Tribune: PCV Paul Miller is building a school in Mali

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PCV Paul Miller is building a school in Mali

PCV Paul Miller is building a school in Mali

South Bend native finds Peace Corps stint rewarding


Tribune Correspondent

Paul Miller, a 2001 University of Notre Dame graduate, poses at graduation. Miller is serving in the Peace Corps in Mali.

Paul Miller of South Bend, a 2001 University of Notre Dame graduate, has learned something new in his Peace Corps stint in Mali: Dooni, Dooni kononi b'a nyaga da.

That's Bambara for "Little by little, the little bird builds its nest."

"In other words, I'm learning that development work -- that which has a positive impact -- is a very slow process and happens little by little," Miller said in an interview by e-mail.

"Sometimes it seems like in my two years here I can't really do much, but in the end I think I'll have done a little bit," he said. "And ideally the person after me will do a little and so on and so forth until the village no longer needs a volunteer to help them.

"Anyway, the villagers love the fact that I eat their food and can speak their language."

The Peace Corps volunteer challenges the villagers' impression that Americans are eager for war.

"Most people don't perceive the United States in a very good light because of its position on Iraq," Miller said. "They think the United States is always at war or likes fighting. So having Americans here, Peace Corps volunteers who are willing to come to a poorer country not to fight but to try and help the people, has a big impact."

Miller, son of Pat and Carol Miller, is among more than 165,000 people who have worked with the Peace Corps in 136 countries since President Kennedy launched the organization in 1961.

The Peace Corps approach focuses on small, grass-roots projects that Miller expects to yield long-term fruit.

"Our projects for the most part are small and don't involve massive amounts of money, but in the long run I believe they work better than a lot of larger projects where the money is just given blindly.

"We are there living in the village, understand the culture, understand the people's real needs and wants, and have a better idea, I think, of how to go about meeting those needs. Educating people and motivating them to help themselves goes a lot farther, I think, than giving large gifts."

Miller proposed a school construction project for his village, hoping that his Notre Dame ultimate Frisbee team could help, but seven other donors noticed the project on a Peace Corps Web site and paid for it.

"The need for a school is one of the greatest needs in my village of 500 or so poor farmers who speak Bambara," he said. "They are uneducated and illiterate for the most part and thus don't speak French. My Bambara has become very good because of this.

"Two years ago, they built the structural framework for a schoolhouse out of mud bricks but could not afford the more expensive to finish it -- metal for the roof and cement. With the funds I've just received, they should be able to complete the schoolhouse in the coming months. It is a lot of work because the mud structure has suffered much damage through two rainy seasons."

The team likely will get another chance to help, he said.

"Aside from a school, the other pressing issue is water," Miller said. "At the moment there is one hand pump in the village. The water is clean and safe to drink. However, being the only potable water source in the village, it undergoes a lot of wear and often breaks.

"When the pump breaks, the river is three kilometers away, there is a very deep traditional well within the village of which the water is very dirty, or there is a neighboring village -- a bad option, for it causes fighting amongst the villages.

"One thing I'm hoping to do is to repair the top of the traditional well and clean it out so that people will be more willing to get water from it. This is a relatively easy project and hopefully will take wear off the pump."

Helping the people is helping him, Miller said. "I think by the end of my service I will have benefited the most just from the friends I've made, the lessons I've learned, and gaining a broader perspective on the world."

When this story was posted in December 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: South Bend Tribune

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



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