Description of Service

At the completion of their service, all Peace Corps Volunteers complete a document called their “Description of Service”, or “DOS”. Because all Niger Volunteers closed their service when the program was suspended, we each wrote one of these. It’s difficult (impossible, I think) to put into words what my service meant to me, but here’s my attempt.

Description of Service
Jessica Schwendeman – – Republic of Niger
July 8, 2010 – January 21, 2011

After a competitive application process stressing skills, adaptability, and cultural sensitivity, Jessica Schwendeman began a training program based in Hamdallaye, Niger in order to become a Municipal Community Development Agent Volunteer in the Republic of Niger, West Africa. Ms. Schwendeman began an intensive eleven-week pre-service training on July 8, 2010 in Hamdallaye, Niger.

The program consisted of actions aimed at improving local governance by strengthening the capacity of municipalities to identify needs and put into place quality services and programs, as well as to increase citizen participation by directly involving local people in the process of developing their own community. Specific activities included reinforcing communication & interaction between community members and municipal authorities, as well as among communities; encouraging the emergence and creation of local organizations that have a collective voice in community development matters; helping community associations in general and women’s groups in particular identify and prioritize community enhancement projects; asisting community groups in the development and implementation of project plans (involving as many citizens as possible), and evaluating planned activities for future enhancement; working with community members to create town-wide events/ celebrations that rely primarily on volunteerism (i.e., HIV/ AIDS Day, Earth Day, Women’s Day, etc.); helping youth groups identify community needs and develop appropriate activites to address those needs; and collaborating with other Volunteers within the commune on both village-level and commune-wide projects.

During training (which included 219 hours of language, 15 hours of cross-cultural instruction, and 26 hours of technical skills development) Ms. Schwendeman lived with a host family in a small rural community with five other trainees. She successfully completed training and was sworn in as a United States Peace Corps Volunteer on September 23, 2010. At the close of this training she was tested by ACTFL/ETS standards and received a score of Intermediate Mid in spoken Zarma.

As a Municipal Community Development Volunteer in Peace Corps Niger, Ms. Schwendeman was assigned to Fabidiji, a rural town of approximately 5,000 inhabitants. During her three months at post, her primary duties were:
1. Designing and executing informational interviews in Zarma among ten village leaders, including the village chief, the Secretary General, the tax collector, the municipal secretary, the civil status registrar, the primary school director, the middle school director, the president of the women’s association, and the village doctor. These interviews were geared toward better understanding relevant social and economic issues affecting the community.
2. Conducting 57 door-to-door interviews to collect demographic data on Fabidiji’s residents in order to assess citizens’ needs and opinions about their community, as well as to develop a demographic snapshot of the typical resident.
3. Analyzing the community’s responses to needs assessment tools in order to design feasible potential projects based on resources available (construction of latrines at the middle school, training on income-generating activities, including production of shea butter and soap-making, for the women’s association, and the creation of a hands-on training experience in developing and running a small business for middle school students).
4. Engaging in participatory community analysis through meetings with community members, asking them to identify needs and resources available in the village and developing a community map.
5. Developing a community study analysis based on the original research described above, and presenting the results to community leaders in report form, with the objective to motivate them into taking an active role in development.
6. Planning and implementing a community integration strategy that included attending naming ceremonies, marriages, and funerals and fully participating in village-wide events, as well as eating daily meals and spending time with a chosen host family.
7. Observing classes at the primary and middle schools to gain a sense of how the education system works in Niger, as well as clarifying American English grammar, spelling and other related questions from both students and teachers.
8. Sharing and answering questions about American culture during informal conversations with residents, most typically while circulating around the village.
9. Facilitating daily English Club extracurricular activities at the local middle school for students aged 8 – 17. The interactive curriculum included popular American songs and games, along with discussions of American culture and customs.
10. Corresponding with an American school regarding Nigerien culture and language, and assisting middle school students with writing letters in English to pen-pals at a Florida middle school

The Peace Corps program in Niger was suspended on January 17, 2011 due to security concerns and all Peace Corps Volunteers were evacuated.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Holly Howard
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 03:49:53

    Hi Jessica,
    You don’t know me but I was also a PCV in Niger, serving from 1996-1998. I recently learned about the evacuation and closing of PC in Niger and the news made my heart ache. I have been reading about Stephanie Chance on the internet news tonight and came across your blog during a Google search of her name. It is amazing to me to read about such familiar people, Tondi and Ousmane, and places, such as the hostel in Niamey (is the giant turtle still there?), as seen from new volunteers more 10 years after my own service ended. It is amazing to me that so little has changed, and yet so much has changed — I never could have imagined that after so many decades, the PC would be forced to pull out of Niger due to serious security risks right in the heart of Niamey. We always had threats of bandits in the north, and I almost was sent home along with 20 of my fellow PCVs within months after our swearing-in because we all snuck up to the annual Fulani Fete north of Agadez, but kidnappings of foreigners from the bar around the corner from the PC hostel in Niamey is out of my range of belief when I think back to the Niger that was my home for 2+ years.
    I just wanted to say that my heart goes out to you and your fellow stagemates. Losing a fellow volunteer is devasting. We lost one of ours, a dear fun-loving young man named Jeremiah Mack, in a car accident during the years that I served, and we were all crushed. One of my stagemates even named her first-born son after Jeremiah — his life and death touched us deeply. Losing one of your stagemates — I can’t even imagine. I am still very close to many of mine and they are like sisters to me, having shared such a deep, rich, beautiful and yet difficult growing experience that is starting a Peace Corps service.
    After leaving Niger, I hope that you were able to find a new path where you could have a new, positive adventure and thrive — either starting over again in a new PC host country or some other adventure (back to school, perhaps — that is where most of us headed after our COS).
    Best to you, peace and condolences to the family of Ms. Chance, and blessings on Niger.
    – Halima
    Holly Howard, RPCV Niger ’96-98 (Maradi)

    Reply

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