After earning a bachelor’s degree in French and Global Multinational Studies from Rider in 2008, Alice Jacques ’08 was set to spend a year in France, where she had secured a prestigious position through the French Ministry of Education to teach English for a full year – all expenses paid.
But after being heavily involved in global issues while at Rider, Jacques and her then-fiancé, Jesse Forsythe ’08, were unable to resist the call from a larger world in need. So, rather than France, the couple headed to Niger in Western Africa as Peace Corps volunteers.
Today, the two are posted in Tibiri, a town of about 30,000 in the region of Maradi, where they employ their energy, education and talents to help to improve people’s lives in various ways. Jacques, who was assigned to the Community and Youth Education (CYE) sector upon her arrival in July 2009, worked with a local administrator to develop the curriculum at the primary school level. This collaboration allows the project to continue once CYE officials like Jacques leave, thus achieving sustainable development.
“In my first year, I helped to plan and implement several enhancement activities, including a pen-pal system to improve writing skills, wall-map paintings to help geographical understanding, an English language club, and a community-wide soccer tournament for boys and girls,” she explained. “Last year the primary school exit exam pass-rate rose by 17 percent.”
Forsythe and Jacques, who were married in July 2008, say their Rider education helped ease their transition. Already fluent in French, Jacques has received extensive training in the native language of Hausa. At the same time, Forsythe, whose bachelor’s degree was in Political Science with a Law and Justice minor, relies on his governmental acumen to navigate the rather unstable political system that often hampers his efforts.
Working in the Corps’ Municipal and Community and Development sector, Forsythe aims to expand the capacity of local government in recently decentralized Niger. During his time there, the local government held rigged elections, and a coup d’état left the military in charge. With no real government in place, Forsythe has turned his focus to working within the community. He has a large AIDS-information campaign planned for 10 bush villages, and has initiated an adult professional English group at the Maison de la Jeunesse et la Culture, the local YMCA-type outlet.
Besides the material discomforts of life in a developing nation, Jacques and Forsythe also have encountered certain dangers, including encountering AQIM, the branch of al-Qaeda located in the Islamic Maghreb region of North and West Africa. In November 2009, all Peace Corps volunteers in the region were evacuated to safe hostels after learning that Americans had been threatened with kidnapping. Though the Peace Corps lost about half of its volunteers in the region in the wake of the threat, Jacques and Forsythe chose to remain.
“We love it here. Our village is amazing, our home is wonderful, and Maradi is a peaceful and pleasant place,” Forsythe explained. “We have met some truly fantastic people who have faced these hardships all their lives and yet seem to find the joys in life so effortlessly. They welcome us with open arms and are eager to work with us. Leaving just seems so absurd.”
Similarly, Jacques has also fully embraced the experience.
“It’s common to hear Sai Hankuri which, in Hausa, means ‘have patience,’ a must for surviving here. Things happen slowly, with lots of roadblocks along the way. But when they eventually do, it’s incredible,” she said.
This is an edited version of a story originally written by Dr. Mary L. Poteau-Tralie, professor of French and chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at Rider, who helped Alice Jacques procure her intended teaching position through the French Ministry of Education.