African villagers get help from spring break delivery

African villagers get help from spring break delivery

By Aniko Nagy

On a hot day in Africa during spring break, a bull drawing a cart bearing the words “Universite Northeastern” was given to villagers, thanks to the efforts of students from last fall’s Politics of Developing Nations class.

The bull was one of a number of animals and items that Professor William F.S. Miles delivered in person to Yardaje, Nigeria, and Yekuwa, Niger, during spring break this year.

His seven days there were packed with the purchases of bulls, carts, goats and school supplies, as well as the experience of trying to persuade border control to let him into Niger when his paperwork proved insufficient.

“On each visit the border bureaucracy becomes tougher and tougher,” he said. “And this time, it was tougher than the last time and I almost couldn’t cross the boundary because they wanted additional papers and visas and authorizations.”

He was forced to use ingenuity to get past customs.

“I did it by invoking my mother,” Miles said, “because my mother and my aunt had financed the building of a shelter for blind women in the village, in Yardaje … and when that was told to the immigration agent, he said, ‘Oh, so you are a philanthropist? Well, for this reason I will make it possible for you to go and come back.'”

First on Miles’ itinerary was Yardaje, where he spent his first night sleeping outside the shelter because of the intense heat. Miles relied on local expertise when buying the bull and 14 goats at the market. The goats were distributed to widows and the blind at the shelter.

Miles stayed with the village chief in Yewuka. He went through a similar process of buying another bull and 14 more goats, which were then distributed among villagers.

The goats, Miles said, can be used for milking as well as for breeding to allow even more people to have the animals in the future.

A goat in the area costs between $15 and $30 to buy, Miles said, adding that people tend to live on $1 per day there.

Last fall, the class decided to raise money to buy an ox and plow for a village in Nigeria. Students donated their own money to the cause.

With the help of a graduate course in developing nations and matching funds from the political science department, were able to assist two villages.

The funds totaled $1,800.

The class’ original plan was to buy an ox that would be raised, fattened and then sold, with the proceeds divided between the ox’s care-taker and the class. The class would then decide how to use the funds in a way that could further help the village. The class would also buy a plow.

The plans to buy an ox were altered to better help the villages.

“Students wanted, and I agreed … to do it in a way that would maximize the number of people benefiting,” Miles said.

The plow was changed to a cart for practical reasons.

“A plow can only be used during the short farming season of three months whereas a cart can be used all year round,” he said. “So that was why it was decided that instead of getting something for three month’s use, we should get it for all year.”

Miles, who has traveled to the villages of Yardaje and Yekuwa for research for more than 20 years, speaks the region’s native language, Hausa.

He cashed in his own frequent flyer miles to fund the 48-hour roundtrip flight.

Kristin Moul, a senior international affairs and human services major, said she was surprised that such a “small” contribution was so important to the villagers.

At first, she said she was “a little skeptical,” given the distance between the students and the recipients, she said.

But upon seeing photographs of the bull and cart, she was won over.

“I was really happy,” she said. “I think it’s a great project.”

Moul said she was also struck by the final line of a letter sent by a village contact when the exchange was being coordinated.

It said, “May Allah grant you and your students everything you wish for.”

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