Sitting in front of the computer waiting for inspiration to come and not knowing what to write about I just remembered no one on this planet outside of Niger has hardly heard from me or know what I have done or seen. Isn’t that enough?
Dan Saga, the region, people, etc…. Dan Saga is a quaint little village located over 100km North by North East from Maradi which is the 2nd largest city in Niger. Of those who have visited all stress how wonderful the place is and looking forward to seeing the range of work I will do there. The tuwo (one of three everyday dishes eaten in Niger) is tasty, the people are reasonably educated, progressive, and have lots of k’ok’ari (effort). My village was recently used as a shining example of a village in an internationally published news article detailing efforts in Niger’s to embolden its farmers role in thwarting desert encroachment and improving nutrition while adding economic stability during hard times by planting an array of useful trees. Honestly I’m glad to see something actually recognized in America about Niger other than the incredibly erroneous claims by our commander in clown when he lied about Saddam attempting to obtain Uranium from Niger.
According to lonely planet Maradi is populated by 60,000 but more likely 150,000-200,000 souls and is the center of the agricultural trading due to its close proximity to Nigeria, easily Niger’s big brother. Niger and Nigeria do share a few things in common such as some common culture (Hausa) but I compare their relationship similar to Mexico’s integration into the American economy due to less stringent regulations and abundant cheap physical labor. In Shallah (If god will’s it) A very common phrase here then hopefully the USA and Mexico will continue to integrate and eventually Mexican and Hispanic culture will be just as normally accepted and integrated into Americana. You know me; less white in the picture means more room for color.
Did I digress?
Okay traveling up a very nice but very untypical two lane highway in Niger between Maradi and Zinder there is a medium size town of lets say about 10,000 named Aguie. Aguie has is a pretty decent market town and is a sub-regional HQ for many development agencies. In my case my NGO Non Government Organization the “Aguie Project is an international agricultural and economic development project funded by the EU. Look it up. Maybe you’ll have luck. I’ve been at post for 2 months and I just learned about what it does two weeks ago. Needless to say transportation in this country is difficult at best, communication is a headache, and being told exactly what my role here took quite a long time but whose pointing fingers. Peace Corps is a great organization and is not without its plague of bureaucratic nonsense, so its natural for one to fall between the cracks from time to time.
After learning more about Dan Saga from my NGO counterparts last week when I visited the INRAN compound ( its a huge program working on agro-forestry, soil nutrition, , and agricultural improvements)I have come to learn that Dan Saga is at the center of a concerted effort to maximize development potential in Niger. There are many international agencies currently there and a few more vying for a spot to work. In a sense a model community attesting to the many efforts being made to improve life in Niger.
Currently there are four ambitious but reasonable goals.
1. Improve soil quality
2. Increase crop yields
3. Utilize agro forestry for conservation agriculture and additional income
4. Maximize market potential
These are not complicated or unattainable matters and accomplishing these goals sounds easy enough to achieve. However what becomes difficult is implementing change and organizing the villages willingly from the outside. My sources tell me that’s why they are so excited for me to be a part of Dan Saga because the villagers have been overwhelming supportive of development agencies but they grow weary from hearing “you need to do this and do that” Who wouldn’t? After a while even the most compromising of villages patience will wear thin and their efforts wean and eventually most of their efforts will fall on the deaf ears or the very few with ambition and vision to understand the long term goals.
Okay this is how my roll in development works here and is more influential than the build it and go type of development work. I am given no money, little resources and pointed in a direction and told “Go!” But the greatest part is that I am part of the village. In theory I will be respected for taking the time to live with them, listen to them and share their lives, to me this is truly the most beautiful aspect of my role.
Today’s key buzz word for you to remember is PARTICIPATORY DEVELOPMENT. What is PD? PD is working to develop an area while being a part of the community instead of apart from it. It is working for progress and organizing the locals from their perspective. This is where my work with the Peace Corps is unique and ultimately the most personally rewarding, but most demanding of all development models.
In Niger there are many other types of “Peace Corps” type development agencies modeled after JFK and Sergeant Shrivers creation of the PC. It was a stroke of genius to find a way that countries can use their most ambitious and idealistic to its favor and even more ingenious to make them a part of the very communities.
Modeled after the PC many other States have developed their own “PC like” agencies. The Japanese are here, the French, Canadian, and a handful of other countries have their own PC type of agencies but what some of them lack is their effort towards total integration, while Participatory Development is only partially realized.
More often than not and is often the case occurs while having a conversation with my counterparts or any person about the PC is that it seldom turns bitter. However when other agencies are mentioned they are often remembered many do accomplish great things but the individuals themselves are remembered for their arrogance and unwillingness to conform to local standards by choosing not to live with the people. Donating more money than time says a lot about an agency and the Nigeriens miss very little in details. I don’t look down at non-participatory development agencies we all have our role to play in this game, some are just different and this is what I see from the ground looking up.
I think the word development and its work is cheapened and marginalized by those who only know how to throw money at a problem. Development is considered at its best when those working for it start by learning about issues from its roots and implementing change through relationships. Cleansing your conscience and donating money is kind and generous but the real generosity is to donate your time and life. That is the greatest gift of humanity, human inner-connectivity at its finest. In this case it is the act of a small town farm boy bringing only his mandolin, a few worldly possessions and a heart full of love from Missouri to a village in a forgotten corner of the world. The idea here is that buildings will ultimately crumble but words and stories shared of real consequence last forever.
Lastly my efforts over the next few months will consist of improving my Hausa, learning more about Dan Saga, Niger, while integrating further into local culture and customs while developing my knowledge of Sahelian agriculture. Because it is a whole’nother ball game here when it comes to agriculture. But I will write more about this later.
This is about all I can write at the moment I have many things to prepare before going to my IST “In Service Training” which starts tomorrow and will last for 3 weeks so feel free to call, or write I always enjoy mail, packages, or hearing a kind voice from home.