The proposal to establish AREN (Archive de la République du Niger) has evolved out of the long term relationship between the Republic of Niger and the USA beginning after Niger’s independence, and the advent of the Peace Corps there. This was followed much later by the relationship, linkage, and then student exchange between the Université Abdou Moumouni (UAM) and Boston University (BU).
latter relationship began in the 1980s, when BU Professor John Hutchison served
as a Fulbright Lecturer in Linguistics and Kanuri Language Studies at the UAM
during 1984-85. At the end of that year, he and the BU African Studies Center,
with the assistance of Dr. Jennifer Yanco, a Nigerienist linguist and former
Niger Peace Corps Volunteer, applied for and gained a 3-year USIS University
Linkage Grant (1985-88) for the exchange of faculty members between BU and UAM.
This exchange was rooted in the areas of languages, bilingual education,
linguistics, and education. It linked faculties of education/pedagogy and
departments of languages and linguistics.
Karen Boatman was one of the BU School of Education professors who visited
Niger. She had the foresight and vision to recognize the importance of
proposing student exchange and study abroad between BU and UAM. This next stage
in our collaboration resulted in the Niger study abroad program which came to
be directed by Susan Rosenfeld. It made it possible for BU students to spend a
semester or more in Niger working in internships, coursework and the study of
Nigerien languages and cultures in an international development context. The
program endured for a quarter of a century, from 1987 until 2011.
The long-term relationships that grew out of these collaborative activities and programs have had an enormous impact on the lives and careers of the Americans and the Nigeriens who participated in them. Those who served as Peace Corps volunteers over its nearly 50 years in Niger, as well as the many BU students who did their study abroad there, have benefited from the wisdom of their co-workers, professors, colleagues and friends in Niger. The result is a body of human resources capable of facilitating change in a wide range of mutually beneficial ways. So today when we come together to join our two countries, our institutions, and one another, in this project of establishing AREN at Boston University, we are establishing a forum which brings together many stakeholders, and also which has the potential to facilitate collaborative efforts and the sharing of knowledge. From both sides of the Atlantic, AREN will make it possible to connect for example both Nigerien non-profit organizations and American non-profit organizations, and it will be conducive to collaboration in fundraising and project development that can be mutually beneficial.
In February, FON approved a project with the Kirker Foundation of Niger (KF/N) for $4,000 to help them deliver critically needed medicines and medical supplies, strengthen KF/N advocacy for health services in Niger, and increase local government inputs to promote long-term sustainability of KF/N efforts. These funds will help with the internal Niger costs of clearing the first MAP International shipment of medicines of 2019, over $20 million of medications including antibiotics, eyeglasses and accessories, vitamins as well as medicine for cancer and heart disease, and delivering the medicines to approximately 12 hospitals in Niger. It is due to arrive in Niamey in early May. Just to provide some context, two MAP shipments of medicines in 2018 provided one third of all medications used by the hospitals in Niger.
While we are supporting KF/N in this first MAP shipment through the FON grant, a number of former Niger PCV’s have been helping finance other shipments in earlier years. KAMRA, the US organization that arranges for US donors for the shipments, has been very proud of the RPCV response and wanted us to let everyone know that for each $100 donated, $280,000 in medicines will be made available to the people of Niger this year, a very impressive value for our contribution.
There is a lot of good news coming from the impressive work of the Kirker Foundation, but there is unfortunately still bad news. The good news is that KF/N is helping the local hospital and school in Maine organize kitchens that will serve one meal a day to hospital patients and one meal a day to school children using fortified rice-soy meal packets provided by Rise Against Hunger(RAH), another US organization that works in the poorest and most needy countries. The first two kitchens will have enough packets to provide one meal a day to 400 Nigeriens for up to six months. Once these kitchens are fully running, RAH hopes to expand shipments to set up other kitchens in the hospitals and schools in the Diffa Department and later elsewhere in Niger.
But equally impressive is the work KF/N and KAMRA have done to address health needs of Nigerien women by supporting a shipment of medical equipment and supplies from MedShare to equip a new operating room at the Maternity Hospital in Niamey. When the new OR is set up, Conscience International, a US NGO,very impressed by the seriousness of KF/N and the Ministry of Health, will be sending a team of surgeons to Niamey to train Nigerien providers from hospitals throughout Niger in fistula repair. Fistula is a devastating condition frequently experienced by Nigerien women as a result of early and frequent childbearing and a contributor to the high maternal morbidity and mortality rates in Niger.
The FON grant was also aimed at strengthening KF/N advocacy for health services and increasing local government inputs. KF/N has done well on meeting both objectives. In 2018, the Governor of Tillabery contributed funding to transport medicines from a shipment from Niamey to Tillabery. Transport costs were valued at US $1,000. KF/N is seeking similar local cost-sharing for the currently approved shipment, again from the Governor of Tillabery, as well as from other hospitals throughout Niger where shipments will be targeted.
The bad news is that no single week goes by without Boko Haram attacks in Niger, with more than 80 Nigeriens killed in the Diffa region in March alone. Just last week, Boko Haram attacked the village of Tam, only 10 miles from Maine-Soroa, decapitating the village chief and taking several hostages. Doctors Without Border office in Maine was burned to the ground on
April 27, 2019 and we are unsure how many casualties were involved. The situation in the Tillaberi area is also deteriorating.
The resilience of Nigeriens is amazing, and as disheartening as it is for all of us to see the reports of the continuing problems confronting this poor nation, we cannot give up on them. We should all take pride in the leadership that some Nigeriens are showing in the face of overwhelming odds, and to the extent that we can, we need to continue to find ways to support them.