I few posts back I mentioned that I'd heard from Evan Howe '05 as he was finishing up his Peace Corps service in Niger. I asked him for a couple of paragraphs on his time, which was quite unfair as it's hard to sum up a Peace Corps experience in a few sentences. Here are his thoughts, along with one of the few pictures he has of his time there. Thanks to Evan and everyone else who regularly adds to our blog.
I recently completed 26 months as a Community, Youth and Education volunteer in Niger in West Africa. Before I arrived in Niger, I really had no idea what to expect. I had spent a semester in South Africa while at Puget Sound, but I figured that there would be a drastic difference between a large city like Cape Town and rural Niger. When we arrived in country we spent nine weeks in training living with a local host family. While I think we were relatively sheltered from what our real experience would be like, it still gave me glimpses into what everyday life would be like for the next two years.
My village consisted of about 3,500 people, located along a non-paved road that was not too enjoyable to travel upon, but was always interesting. I chose to focus my work on a number of smaller-scale projects with different counterparts as opposed to one "main project." My work focused on a wide variety of subjects dealing with themes ranging from those taken from practical health and hygiene skills to the importance of girls' education. The work I did took direction from what my villagers wanted and what I felt were the most pressing issues that needed to be addressed.
From the very beginning of my first year I jumped right into work, maybe a bit hastily. I spent the first year working with a counterpart who was incredibly overbearing, I felt like I needed to be present for every meeting, training, and anything that resembled work during my first year. Looking back I realize how ridiculous a notion that was. It took me a little while to realize that not every project was going to go according to schedule and that I needed to be a lot more flexible in my approach to work. By the second year I felt I was accomplishing just as much working on my own time and I did not feel stressed at all.
One of the greatest things about my Peace Corps service was my village. I formed incredible friendships and they treated me as one of their own. Like many volunteers, I feel that I'm taking away a lot more from my experience than I gave. I hope to maintain contact with my village and hopefully visit them sometime in the near future.