Ken Patterson 2017

Ken Patterson ( PhotoCourtesy Elaine Chao)

Global education starts with support here in Western North Carolina

By Ken Patterson,

When I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger, there was no running water or electricity in the village I lived in. That has not changed over the years, but you can get a mobile phone signal out there these days.

So, I talked to Suley Sidou this past Sunday. Suley was just a boy when I lived there, but now he’s married and has 5 children. Amazingly, his father, Sidou, is alive and well at 89.

I asked Suley how the rainy season was. He said there was actually too much rain, and that torrents had washed away a lot of the millet. I asked him if they would have enough millet to eat until the next rainy season. He said he thought it would get them through at least the next four months, which is six months short of the next harvest.

I asked him if all of the children of the village were now in the local school these days. Back when I was there, some of the parents kept their kids home to do chores and farming, instead of going to school. Suley said that not all of the kids were in school—that some were still being kept at home. But he was excited to tell me that they would be making a request of CARE to put a canteen in the local school so that kids could eat while attending.

He said that if there were a canteen, there would be many more kids at the school. He said that parents would send their kids if they knew they would get a meal.

We then talked about the recent wave of extremism in Niger. Suley said that there weren’t any threats in his area, and that it was limited to two departments in the country. The place where the U.S. soldiers were killed, Tongo Tongo, is north of Ouallam, where there used to be Peace Corps volunteers. Ouallam rainy seasons produced a crop about every 3-4 years, so Tongo Tongo is even more marginal for agriculture, so it is a very poor community.

Suley said that the only way the extremists are able to engage the people of a village is if someone invites them in. I asked him why people would allow extremists to come into their villages, and he said that the extremists would offer them millions of CFA, or the equivalent of several thousand dollars, in local currency.

For many Niger citizens, that represents the earnings of a lifetime. He said that most people, though, accept living in poverty over letting strangers into their villages, and if approached, will report the extremists to the authorities.

My conversation with Suley reminded me how close to the edge of existence many people in Niger, and other places live. A meal at school will transform attendance, and a relatively small, but life-changing, amount of money, will persuade some people to make very bad choices.

It is important that the U.S. engage with countries like Niger, and work with their governments and communities to eliminate desperate situations that lead to desperate choices. We should also work to ensure that all children, everywhere, are in school.

We know that education transforms lives — increasing lifetime income, improving health, reducing the chances that males will engage in armed conflict, and developing critical decision-making abilities.

Representatives McHenry and Meadows, and Senators Burr and Tillis, can ensure we engage with the world’s poorest nations by protecting funding levels for global health and education programs in the final 2018 spending bill, and by cosponsoring the Global Partnership for Education Resolutions in the House (HRes. 466) and the Senate (SRes. 286).

Ken Patterson is the director of global grassroots advocacy for RESULTS, a national nonprofit organization working to influence policy to bring an end to global poverty. He lives in Asheville, NC.


(Photo: Courtesy Elaine Chao)

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