FAO Peace Corps
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Courtney Yuskis
Krista Lestina
Nathaniel and Sarah
Nick Errico
Nicholas Welch
Sarah Grant

Alexander Barnes and Brianne Boylan: working in Niger

Alexander Barnes and Brianne Boylan are a married couple who joined the Peace Corps in 2007. Alexander has a BS in aerospace engineering and a M.S. in mechanical engineering, while Brianne has a BA in theatre and art. They currently work on an agricultural project in Niger.

Prior to my current Peace Corps service I was a Peace Corps volunteer teacher in Tanzania from 1996 to 1999. I then lived on a communal farm, Twin Oaks Community in Central Virginia, US, for three years, where I met my wife. We decided to join the Peace Corps together and in January 2007 were assigned to a Niger FAO project, the Winditan demonstration and training centre. My role here is to teach better farming and gardening techniques to the eight men who have years of experience growing millet and cowpeas during the rainy season, but little to no experience in growing vegetables. Because better farming and gardening brings more food, income, and health, I believe there is a great potential to help this community.

Brianne: I joined the Peace Corps because I wanted to experience and befriend a different culture, to learn what privilege means to me as an American and try and share some of that privilege with the community. In Winditan, I work mostly with the eight FAO “centre” women. My primary role is to serve as a facilitator for this group's needs and desires. So far I have held a fuel-conserving cook stove training (the women built 16 stoves), translated and performed a family planning radio play for local radio station, and helped the women try out improved seeds in their rainy season gardens. We are also working on an ¼ hectare agroforestry demonstration field which is said to bring in seven times the amount of money of a traditional millet field.

Our Daily Routine

My typical day during the rainy season involves doing housework and working in the garden that adjoins our house or in the fields which are only a short walk away. Two or three times per week, I connect my hose to neighbour's water system in order to fill my buckets (about 200), water the garden and do other garden work, such as weeding and transplanting or work in my field. Dinner is sometimes with neighbours and then early night.

Brianne: I awake with the sun peaking up behind the thorny Garbey trees around 6 am. After breakfast I go to work in my field, greeting all our neighbours along the way. I come home to make lunch when the sun gets “angry” (a Zaarma expression), relax and study Zaarma or work on related texts. I often start on supper at this time too, so I can use the “hot box” or solar oven. At about 2 pm I either go to town to buy food, chat with the women's garden president or the community health agent, visit sick people or stay with the Centre women mending or weaving palm fronds. Around 4 pm the sun is less “angry”, so I go back to my field for more weeding or work in our garden near our home. We recently transplanted rainy season lettuce and tomatoes, and planted some carrots and traditional greens. Supper is a potluck event with six of the families eating together every night. The Nigerien supper usually consists of a grain (millet or corn served liked polenta) with a leaf-based sauce. I make either Nigerien or eclectic fare, and usually work in some beans or ground nuts for protein. Alex and I eat supper separately. Men sit on one mat and women on another mat. The two groups each have their own pot of food to share. The women eat with their hands, while the men use spoons. We chat with our neighbours until we are tired (usually about 9 pm). Then we go home and slip into our mosquito net and look at the stars until we fall asleep.

A life experience

This job gives me the opportunity to demonstrate ways in which to simultaneously care for and use the environment. Essentially, I'm looking at how to build-up the soil quality and improve the environment, so that people will obtain more from it and live comfortably over the long term with minimal dependence on external resources.

Brianne: I'm learning about organizing people to work together. The unofficial motto of Niger is “Kala suru”, have patience. I am learning more about being flexible, accepting circumstances beyond my control and having patience with myself and others. I am learning to redefine friendship, as I seek to make friends with people of a very different culture. The family planning radio play was a lot of fun, as is working in the garden and the field, weaving with the women, making them laugh, laughing… In Niger I find a quiet beauty in the brown, sandy, Sahelian landscape that I never imagined, as well as in the vibrancy of the rainy season.

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