Passing the Torch in Niger

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Recently I had the privilege of turning over my work in Niger to my Nigerien counterpart, Harouna Issaka. It was a great occasion because we had been working together for five years to prepare for this day.

Harouna contacted us five years ago to ask if we could provide him with some work experience. He was a new graduate from a local agricultural college, and finding a job in a poor country like Niger is extremely difficult, even if you have a good education. Being a young Christian with no work experience made Harouna’s job search even more challenging.

We agreed to take him on for a few months to show him the work the Christian Reformed Church is involved in through the Christian Reformed Relief Committee (CRWRC).

Harouna was intrigued by how CRWRC sees development as an integral part of the gospel. It is rare for churches in Niger to be involved in development work. Most focus on evangelism or use development work only as a way to persuade people to listen to the gospel.

Together, we developed a plan for Harouna’s future. We started with a year of learning how to work directly in the villages. Aside from getting his motorcycle license and practicing the techniques that village development workers use, Harouna learned to value the knowledge of people who have no formal education.

At one point he asked local farmers to show him how they control pests in their fields. With that information and some of his own, he developed a small booklet that was translated into the local language.

Harouna also worked at gaining the trust of the villagers. He had several strikes against him: he comes from a different group than the rural farm families we serve, he is by Nigerien standards highly educated, he comes from the big city, and he didn’t speak the local language. After a year, though, Harouna was well known and clearly liked by everyone he worked with.

CRWRC staff in Niger do not work directly in the villages. We help a local organization (ACEN) to develop the skills and capabilities to do this kind of work. Harouna practiced by helping ACEN staff with an agricultural improvement project.

He also began to focus on the skills he needed to help strengthen the ACEN organization at the board and management levels. For that, he learned some of the basic organizational tasks that we help our partner-organizations to acquire: developing good work-plans, analyzing field data, developing reports, budgeting, writing funding proposal, basic bookkeeping, and so forth.

In addition, Harouna also familiarized himself with current thinking on organizational development, diaconal development, management, and development theory. Gradually he began to shift from working directly in the field to taking on more of a consultant role.

Harouna took night courses in English and familiarized himself with CRWRC’s organizational policies. He also translated some of CRWRC’s key documents into French. He submitted a funding proposal to an international organization and managed the project when the funds came through.

We worked together on writing some technical papers, providing policy feedback to the CRWRC head office and sharing our learning with colleagues. Harouna also joined us at some of the regional meetings, where we introduced him to the rest of CRWRC’s West Africa Ministry team. He began taking on more and more tasks while I played more of a supporting role.

It was very exciting when Harouna was invited to carry on the work of CRWRC in Niger after my family and I return to Canada. My work with him might be over, but there remains a lifetime of work to do here in Niger.

I leave knowing that I am replaced by a local person who will provide leadership in the development of his country. I trust that CRC members, who so faithfully supported us in our work in Niger, will continue to support Harouna with prayer as he takes over this daunting task.

About the Author

Ary Vreeken served with CRWRC in Niger for seven years. He recently accepted a position with the Canadian Food Grains Bank in Winnipeg, Manitoba.


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