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News Stories

DVDs of Brother From Niger Now Available Free of Charge

During this year of the 50th Anniversary of Peace Corps the Board of Friends of Niger would like to encourage Friends of Niger members to distribute copies of the DVD of Brother from Niger, which follows former Friends of Nigerpresident Jim Schneider in 2002 as he returns to Niger, a country he once called home, a country that is still as poor as when he left it in 1966. In a ‘Brother from Niger’, award-winning journalist Andrew Younger brings a story of courage, hope, and struggle from one of the world’s poorest countries.

This DVD would be very helpful for teachers of an African Studies Unit in elementary school or Global Studies teachers in high school, for Multicultural Studies Programs, or for Returned Peace Corps Speakers Bureau Programs. Friends of Niger will ship the desired number of copies free of charge to encourage members to bring the third goal of the Peace Corps: bringing knowledge of our country of service back to the people of the United States. Copies are also available in VHS format.

To request copies, send an email to current president John Soloninka at For questions or more details, please contact FON Vice President Gabriella Maertens at

Peace Corps Suspends Program In Niger

Due to recent security concerns in Niger, the Peace Corps program has been suspended until further notice. All 96 Peace Corps volunteers in Niger are safe and accounted for. This notice from the Peace Corps web site has some more details.

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With similar concerns, Boston University has also suspended their Study Abroad program in Niger. It is not known when the program, which has been operating for some 20 years, will be resumed.

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A Note From Friends Of Niger

After nearly 49 years of continuous operation of Peace Corps in Niger, this is a sad and sobering moment that will affect many lives. One of our primary goals has always been to help out those in need in Niger, and the Peace Corps volunteers have always been critical in-country liaisons. We can only hope that conditions improve as quickly as possible so that we can continue our work with as little interruption as possible.

We, the Friends of Niger board, will be assessing how we can best continue to carry out our work, and will report to our members as soon as possible. As always, your feedback and suggestions are always welcome.

Some Good News From Niger

Policy changes are paying off for the environment.

This is a note originally sent by Jamie Thomson to the Niger III group. It is reproduced here to spread the good news about what’s happening in the struggle against desertification in Niger.

It’s a slightly long but very inspiring read.

It is nice to know that, as a result of a policy change, a reform of the forestry code that was in force in the mid-60s in Niger, which removed the institutional incentives, the old rules created for Mafia-like ‘rent seeking’ on the part of Nigerien foresters, the Sahara is having difficulty spreading in that country. The same policy problem was formerly worse in Mali, where the Mafia paragraph in the forestry code stipulated that 10% of all fines collected at the local level had to be pushed up the Eaux et Forêts hierarchy. Everyone knew the system was working properly if the Directeur National could annually afford a new Mercedes sedan (on the backs of Malian farmers). And the same system provided him an easy way to evaluate the performance of foresters in field-level cantonnements. That policy seems over and done with.

What difference has this made on the ground? There is satellite image evidence for Niger, subsequently verified by a couple of Sahel-seasoned geographers (Dutch [Chris Reij] and American [L. Gray Tappan]) that Nigeriens have ‘produced’ over the last two decades some twenty million new trees. Basically, they have stopped hoeing up Acadia albida (gawo) seedlings when they cultivate their fields, because now they know that they can cut gawo, trim them, do what they want with them when they want and no forester can extract a bribe from them for having committed what is no longer a crime. Free-ranging goats devour the nutritious gawo seed pods when they drop off the trees in the fall, thin out the tough seed coverings with acids in their G.I. tracts while recycling the nutrients in the seed pods, and then stochastically excrete them (enveloped in natural fertilizer) all over the Nigerien Sahel. The resulting natural regeneration isn’t all lined up, but scattered-sited trees, if there are enough of them, function just as well as straight line windbreaks in braking the otherwise devastating impact of early rainy season winds on tender young millet plants.

All that vegetation on the sandy soils of the southern, agricultural section of the country has certainly slowed, if not stabilized or even reversed, the spread of the Sahara. Eric Eckholm’s piece in the New York Times, forty years ago, reporting what he claimed was incontrovertible evidence that the Sahara was inexorably moving south at a rate of 35 miles a year should have meant that Lagos, by now, would lie on the southern edge of the desert. Not so. That same Acacia albida species, which drops its nutrient-laden leaves at the beginning of the summer rainy season (green manure), also provides the under sown young millet plants latticed shade (think American outdoor nurseries) during periodic short intra-seasonal droughts and so buffers the millet plants sown on all those now re-stabilized dunes from the impact of short water supplies. In addition those trees fix nitrogen, so that the gawo/millet combination turns out to be pretty powerful in terms of food production.

Fulani pastoralists, moreover, are pretty happy because they now have farmers in the agricultural belt who want them to climb up and lop off gawo branches during the dry season. Those fallen limbs provide one of the animals’ rare sources of green vitamins during the dry season, as well as construction materials and firewood to keep the tuwo fires burning. Since the forestry code reform, when a Fulani asks a farmer if he can lop some gawo limbs the answer isn’t invariably ‘No!’ as farmers no longer have to worry about foresters extracting bribes. So farmer/herder interpersonal relationships have taken a turn for the better. If the Fulani stay around for a time, as their animals clean up the crop residues on a farmer’s field, the farmer benefits from the animals’ manure. Herder/farmer conflicts have receded somewhat, since the gawo trees are no longer a bone of contention between the two groups, but a win-win situation. None of this means, of course, that lots of Nigeriens aren’t hungry part the year. But they’re not all constantly starving to death either.

Sahelians are a resilient people. Bad drought/poor harvest in Tahoua (or Tanout, or Zinder, Gouré, Tessaoua, Maradi, Filingue, Mayahi, Matameye, Magaria)? Better travel to Nigeria or some other coastal country for the dry season, to economize on consuming whatever millet remains at home and maybe put aside a little money for taxes. No point moaning; better get moving. In the face of bad droughts, Sahelians haven’t reacted, however, just by fleeing. For quite a while now they have been seriously reshaping their local ecologies. Huge swaths of northern Burkina Faso (Yatenga), much of the area around Tahoua, southern Mali in general and lots of other places have been transformed by the installation of soil and water conservation works. These were built by farmers and their wives (extensive sweat equity). Outside assistance was pretty much limited to training farmers in the use of the water level, which enables them to build conservation works on the contour, reducing construction and maintenance challenges. What were formerly heavily eroded slopes are now step-terraced surfaces, where water doesn’t run off but seeps into the soil, providing moisture and fertilizer to the millet and other field crops now produced in those places. And that water infiltration also recharges underlying ground water tables, so that there is water to bail throughout the dry season in wells that humans depend on for survival. Local streams continue to run for a while after the end of the rains, allowing domestic animals to get their own water for a longer time, without humans having to bail every drop for them.

None of the above means that parts of Niger, and other parts of the Sahel, have suddenly been converted into little Edens. But the experience of people in those places over the last few decades has simply not been one long, unmitigated disaster. There are ups and downs, as in most places. Niger’s population has nearly quadrupled, from about 4,000,000 when we served in the Peace Corps in the 1960s to about 15.3 million now. There must be a limit, but a larger population means more people available to reshape physical environments, more money to create effective domestic demand for foodstuffs and firewood. Global warming, on the other hand, is projected to create some pretty disastrous consequences.

In that vein, Médecins Sans FrontièresOxfam and a number of other organizations do contribute services that may well not be available locally and thus deserve support if you’re so inclined. But lots of Sahelians demonstrate a pretty impressive capacity to convert useful external technical inputs into tools and techniques that allow them to produce enduring changes. And in-country policy shifts can sometimes prove pretty useful as well.

Jamie Thomson in Bamako

Jamie Thomson served in Niger from 1964-66. He has just returned from a consulting trip to Mali.

MercyCorps Raising Funds For Niger Food Crisis

This year, as many as 7.8 million people – more than half of Niger’s total population – face the grim prospect of months without sufficient food.

Sporadic rains during the last growing season have had a devastating effect on harvests and food supplies, leaving households with little to save for the long “hungry season” between harvests. There are already widespread reports of families – particularly women and children – skipping meals and having to forage for semi-edible grasses, leaves and other wild food.

They need help to survive until the fall harvest, and the Government of Niger has requested urgent assistance from the international community.

Mercy Corps – which has worked in some of Niger’s poorest villages since 2005 – has plans to deliver food and other critical assistance to more than 211,000 people threatened by the hunger crisis. Through government grants, private support and partnerships with local organizations, Mercy Corps will supply nutritious food to vulnerable households, in addition to supporting community banks and early warning response mechanisms.

Read about how Mercy Corps is preparing a response to the growing crisis in Niger:

Click here to donate:

Peace Corps Week: March 1 – 7, 2010

Celebrate the 49th anniversary of the Peace Corps

This year join the Peace Corps community nationwide and celebrate the Peace Corps’ 49th anniversary with a third goal activity! Honor Volunteers of past and present and your host countries by bringing the world home. You can do this through a variety of ways such as organizing a cultural event, presenting an exhibit of photographs or crafts, or visiting a classroom.

Don’t forget to register your third goal participation at! This is the only means we have to demonstrate the impact of third goal events to Congress.

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Niger RPCV Plans Cross-Country Fundraiser for World Food Program

Andrew Marinelli, a recent RPCV from Niger, is planning an ambitious “Third Goal” service project. Beginning in March of 2009, he will begin a 6,000 mile bicycle ride from Key West, Florida, to San Francisco, California, stopping at primary and secondary schools along the way to give talks about his experiences in Niger, and help spread awareness about global hunger, rising food costs, and areas affected by conflict, while raising money for the World Food Program

With a goal of raising $100,000 for the WFP, Andrew will cross fifteen states, and visit ten state capitals and dozens of college and university campuses. He will also be contacting local media across the country with the hopes of reaching a target audience of millions of people.

To learn more about how to help via sponsorship or other activities, you can contact Andrew by phone or email:

Andrew Marinelli
World Food Program – Fundraiser Event Coordinator
Phone: 803-443-9343

Peace Corps RPCV Career Event To Be Held February 10-13 In Washington DC

Reconnect with the Peace Corps community and give your job search a jump start with four days of career-development workshops and discussions for recently returned Peace Corps Volunteers.

This is a FREE event for RPCVs. Pre-registration is required for all sessions, and attendees are responsible for their own travel, food, and lodging costs.

For more information, visit:

EstroGenius Festival Presents Voices Of Africa

Partnership With Peace Corps Niger And Friends Of Niger Supports Young Girls Scholarship Program

The Estrogenius Festival’s Voices Of Africa (VOA) is a collaboration with Peace Corps Niger. This unique collaboration, featuring stories, poems and songs written by young Nigerien women, will be held on Saturday, November 1, 2008.

Ginger O’Neill, a former Estrogenius Festival volunteer, created the Pangea Festival in Niger along with co-creators Michelle Stoner and Sheena Washington while serving a two-year Peace Corps appointment in the country. Pangea brings together people from diverse villages and features events for girls and teens that help them to express their voices through music, poetry, prose, yoga, dance and other creative disciplines.

During the Pangea festival, young Nigerien women wrote poems, stories and songs that were translated into English and sent to New York City to be performed as part of Voices of Africa. 100% of the funds raised from the performances will be donated to the Young Girls Scholarship Program, which sends girls in Niger to school and the Pangea Festival in Niger.

The event will be held on Saturday, November 1st, at the Manhattan Theatre Source. Please visit their web site for tickets, or to make a tax-deductible donation:

Tickets are $15, and you can also make a tax-deductible donation here:

All proceeds benefit the Young Girls Scholarship Program which provides academic scholarships to Nigerien girls.

Taking Action on Climate Change

NPCA Profiling Volunteers

Help Take Part By Contributing Your Own Submissions

The National Peace Corps Association is looking for Peace Corps volunteers, returned or current, who are taking action on climate change. The goal is to show how climate change affects their country of service, and to spotlight the activities that they are involved in to help reduce humanity’s effect on the environment.

The advocacy team at the NPCA is calling for submissions in the form of videos or testimonials that you would be willing to share with others showing how climate change affects communities in Niger. This is a great opportunity to showcase how this important issue affects the fragile environment that so many Nigeriens depend on.

You can contact the NPCA advocacy office by email:, or through the NPCA web site.

If you don’t have videos, you can also contribute by submitting a Climate Change Profile, to highlight the work you do on a professional or personal level to fight climate change.

Please visit the NPCA’s web site to submit your own profile:

You can see the profiles that have already been submitted here.

Thank you for helping to raise awareness of this critical issue!

NPCA Launching MorePeaceCorps Campaign To Increase Support for Peace Corps

100 House Parties Across United States
Targeted For September 6, 2008

MorePeaceCorps is a campaign launched in 2008 by the National Peace Corps Association with the goal of increasing support for the Peace Corps, eventually doubling its budget and worldwide volunteer base by 2011, the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps.

MorePeaceCorps will begin by throwing 100 House Parties across the United States to rally support for this crucial goal.

You can help out by hosting a party, arranging for donations, coordinating publicity, writing letters and/or op-ed pieces, or simply attending your local house party!

If you are interested in becoming an official MorePeaceCorps local organizer or simply learning more about 100 House Parties, please contact May Wilkerson at MorePeaceCorps, or visit the official MorePeaceCorps web site.

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