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Andy Philpot, Editor
Vol. 6, No. 4
When Will the Peace Corps Return to Nigeria
Sharia, Telecommunications And Other Nigeria Updates
No One Is Safe
FON Celebrates in Washington
When Will The Peace Corps Return To Nigeria
Safety issues, complicated by the current policy to house volunteers
with host country families, have delayed the Peace Corps’ return to Nigeria,
explained Peace Corps Deputy Director Jody Olsen.
Safety and infrastructure deterioration in Nigeria were often subtle but recurring themes during several hours of presentations June 22 by Olsen and others to about 130 RPCVS at the Charles Sumner Museum & Archives. The “Nigeria Update” program, sponsored by Friends of Nigeria as part of the National Peace Corps Association’s 40+1 reunion, covered topics ranging from political science to art, technology and human rights.
Olsen, an RPCV who has held a number of administrative posts in the Peace Corps since her volunteer experience (Tunisia ’66-’68), said a government assessment trip in early 2001 returned from Nigeria with “a lot of enthusiasm” for sending volunteers back to Nigeria, where the group found a locally perceived critical need for teachers and for community development workers.
But plans to begin a program were scuttled after riots broke out in the area around Jos, where the revived program was to have been centered.
“There is enormous support, enormous interest in wanting the Peace Corps back in Nigeria. It is a program we stay very attentive to,” Olsen said. But she said volunteers wouldn’t be sent until “minimum safety and security standards that we lay out for any country” are achieved.
The current congressional initiative to double the size of the Peace Corps in five years [see related article on page 1] “is a nudge to keep this opportunity to bring the Peace Corps back to Nigeria very active, but we are saying this has to be done with good training and good programming and good safety and security. We haven’t actually talked about this [officially] but the Crisis Corps is always an opportunity we can look at as a first step.” The Crisis Corps, she said, has previously served as an advance guard for two-year volunteers in countries recently, including Bosnia, and often serves as an opportunity for RPCVs to return to service.
In the early and mid 1960s, Nigeria hosted one of the world’s largest contingents of Peace Corps workers. But all volunteers went home or were reassigned in the wake of the 1967 Biafran Civil War. A small contingent of volunteers returned to Nigeria in the early 1990s but were removed during civil unrest surrounding the 1993 coup which placed dictator Sani Abacha in power in the country.
Olsen used her forum to bring volunteers — whose most recent Peace Corps experience was now three to four decades old — up-to-date on changes in the world and the Peace Corps that she said mitigated against sending volunteers to Nigeria immediately. She said an increasing emphasis on placing volunteers to live with host families creates logistic challenges, particularly in predominantly Moslem countries, where 23 percent of current volunteers now serve. Women volunteers must accede to local standards of dress and behavior, while men in some traditional Moslem countries must live in dormitories because of the impropriety of placing males in a household where younger females also live.
The Peace Corps is educating volunteers to understand such issues as “you are not less of a woman if you cover up and if you don’t go out of the house without your host father after 6 o’clock at night,” Olsen said. The deputy director was quick to add that countries with large Moslem populations “offer highly different experiences” from each other, ranging from the former Soviet republics where exiting the Soviet system is a major phenomenon, to Middle Eastern Moslem countries, such as Morocco or Jordan.
Corps Deputy Director Jody Olsen shares a joke with Andy Orlin (13)
64-67 (l) & Frank Monahan (13) 64-67, (r) at the reception following
the formal presentations at the
The Peace Corps tailors programs to each host country, but Olsen said it was difficult politically and logistically for the Peace Corps to program for only a portion of a country — for example, sending volunteers to work in areas with a particular ethnic group or even to pick and choose locations within a country based on security.
She also noted that families of volunteers back in the United States need increasingly
to be reassured of volunteer safety, a challenge ironically made more difficult
by such technology as instant news communications and cell phones. Olsen described
a West African volunteer who once survived a coup but didn’t cause her
family anguish because they didn’t hear of the coup for a week; by that
time, the volunteer was safe. Now families would hear of the danger in real
time, she observed. The current Peace Corps standard is to be able to contact
every volunteer rapidly, and in Jordan, for example, every volunteer is issued
a cell phone for instant communication.•
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Telecommunications And Other
By Mike Goodkind (16) 65–67
extremism has had a “very direct impact” on the rise of Sharia or
Islamic criminal law in Nigeria, said Sunday Dari, director of Hausa Broadcasting
for Voice of America.
Dari was among more than a half dozen speakers at a “Nigeria Update” presentation, sponsored by Friends of Nigeria, June 22 in Washington. The program, part of the National Peace Corps Association’s 40+1 reunion, covered topics ranging from political science to art, technology and human rights, and included a talk by Jody Olsen, recently appointed deputy director of the Peace Corps, about a delay in returning volunteers to Nigeria [see related article on page 7]. About 130 RPCVs, friends, guests and families attended the event at the Charles Sumner Museum & Archives.
Dari had some sobering words about the safety of Americans and the immediate future of Peace Corps volunteers in Nigeria. “Nigerian Muslims identify very closely with the Arab World,” which may have important implications for how Americans are regarded or treated by Nigerian Muslims, particularly in the aftermath of September 11 terrorism. Dari and Virginia DeLancey (04) 62–64, assistant director of International & Area Studies, Northwestern University, noted that Sharia civil law isn’t new in Nigeria and during colonial times coexisted with British criminal law in Northern Nigeria. Both DeLancey and Dari, in a joint talk entitled “Sharia and Democratization,” agreed that recent implementation of Sharia criminal law represented a controversial and volatile change in the civil fabric of Nigeria.
Sharia has become a political tool that enables northerners to retain power in their own communities in an era when civil authority has shifted to the southwest where civilian rule is based, he said. As for the future, Dari quoted current Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who has called Sharia a process that will eventually wear itself out. Dari noted that Sharia law — which is intended to apply only to Moslems — is ultimately a subordinate legal system, because there is a process to appeal its edicts to civil courts. In recent years, civil courts have overturned at least one execution of a woman sentenced to death in a Sharia court for adultery.
Other speakers included Ed Malloy, (05) 62–65, who now specializes in policy reform issues for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Malloy noted that “in Nigeria, as elsewhere, the cliché holds — the Internet has changed everything.” He observed that the Internet can be a tool for gender equity. “Why— because very often women know how to type and are faster and more eager to learn technology.”
Telecommunications in Nigeria reflects the overall chaos of the country, Malloy said. Fixed line phone service has deteriorated since the ‘60s. “Now there are 400,000 fixed lines, one of the lowest ratios in Africa. The service is going backward; about half the lines aren’t operating.” The good news is that about 600,000 wireless phones were sold in a recent one–year period. USAID is currently working on promoting rural access to telecommunications services.
Nevertheless, Alan I. Frishman, (22) 66–69, an economics professor at Hobart and William Smith College in New York, commented from the audience that the “poor infrastructure in Nigeria mitigates against development of secondary infrastructure services — it’s hard to run an IT network when you only have intermittent electricity. Nigeria is very poorly connected in all kinds of ways. The whole infrastructure is falling apart.”
Don Samuelson, (04) 62–64, a Chicago attorney and international housing specialist, said the increasing use of the Internet by underserved users in the United States might offer lessons for countries such as Nigeria in terms of content. Lower income Americans want information on practical services. In Nigeria and other emerging countries, he said, information should be at a basic literacy level but instead is often written at a level too advanced for most users.
Despite Olsen’s concern about sending volunteers back to Nigeria, Frieda Fairburn, (09) 63–65 noted there are plenty of Peace Corps opportunities, even for volunteers who have served before in Nigeria. Fairburn, former president of FON, described her own experience the “Second time Around” mentoring teachers in the Philippines from 1993 to 1995. Fairburn suggested that one–year Peace Corps assignments might be more practical for many older volunteers, who often have accumulated family and personal obligations that could interfere with a two–year overseas commitment. But age and experience has its benefits, Fairburn said. “In Nigeria, I had a pretty good work experience and a lot of fun; in the Philippines I had some fun and a lot of good work and a lot more job satisfaction,” Fairburn said.
In other discussions, Jane Toby, (08) 63–65, and a member of the FON board of directors, presented a film, Women in Black, documenting her efforts along with colleagues to bring together women living in conflict — such as Palestinian and Israeli women — to promote peace. And Mimi Wolford of the Mbari Institute for Contemporary African Art, Washington, told the gathering that while “Nigeria in the ‘60s was a place where everything was possible, Nigeria today is home of the largest and most prolific group of artists in Africa.” Currently art in Nigeria is alive and well with such signs as 10 art institutes across the country.
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Peter J. Hansen (27) 67–68
Peter Hansen, FON’s Membership Chair will go to lengths to track down ‘the lost’. Here is one such story of the many people Hansen has found over the years. He is always looking for people to help him in his quest. Ed.
NPCA’s 1997 “Directory of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and Staff
listed James Moody at the University of Technology located in Port Moresby,
Papua New Guinea. However, correspondence to him at this address produced no
reply, suggesting that he probably did not receive it.
A little over two years ago, some Internet searching landed me at a University of Technology Web site from which I found the email addresses of a number of faculty members. I more or less randomly selected one (John Evans) and emailed him a query as to James Moody’s whereabouts. He promptly responded, “Indeed Jim was a Professor at Unitech until some years ago. I knew him quite well at the time but he left over three years ago.” Unfortunately he did not know where Jim had relocated.
For over a year, I put Jim on ice, and moved on to other searches.
In October of 2001, I emailed another University of Technology faculty member (Ms. A. Kila) and she responded with an address and phone number of a member of Jim’s family in Gulfport, MS. I called this number several times, and finally reached someone who promptly hung-up thinking perhaps that I was a telemarketer. I decided that perhaps a member of Jim’s group (Nigeria 6) who knew him might obtain a better reception than I did. I sent out an e-mail request to a number of Nigeria 6 members, and Steve Clapp responded and volunteered to call the Gulfport, MS number. He eventually got through and was given the phone number of Jim’s sister Lucille. Steve called Lucille and she gave Steve a postal address for Jim Moody in Doha, Qatar. Rather straightforward, wouldn’t you say?
result of the search produced this reply from Jim
by Jim Moody (06) 63–65
I’ve recently got back in touch with the Peace Corps through the Friends of Nigeria newsletter and the diligence of the Membership Chair Peter Hansen. The effort to trace me can’t have been easy: I’ve had a somewhat peripatetic life since leaving Nigeria— can it really be 37 years?
I went from Sapele (which in those days was in the Mid-west Region) at the end of 1965, to the newly created University of Zambia in Lusaka. I began as Assistant Lecturer (at the bottom) and ended up as Full Professor, finally leaving in 1989 after 23 years. Zambia in the mid 1960s was quite a change after Nigeria: it was clean, orderly, fairly prosperous, sparsely populated. But once I’d overcome my initial culture shock, it became home. Zambia is a beautiful country, and the people are, though perhaps more reticent than Nigerians (who isn’t?), equally warm and friendly.
But nothing is forever. I spent the early 1990s commuting between Manchester, England and Southern Africa (Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa), doing some writing and consultancy work on English teaching. Then, I was offered a job as Head of the Department of Language and Communication Studies at the University of Technology in Lae, Papua New Guinea. (The town’s claim to fame is that it was the last place Amelia Earhart was seen alive.) PNG is billed as the “land of the unexpected,” and I can certainly vouch for that!
Now I’m at the University of Qatar, in the Middle East, where I’ve been since 1998, just completing my fourth academic year here. A place less like Nigeria is hard to imagine. If I were 37 years younger, I’d probably find it boring, but it suits me now in my old(er?) age. This is, in spite of what you may hear in the media, a very peaceful country. I’m trying to learn Arabic, but somehow it doesn’t come as easily as Hausa did all those years ago. And I’m developing my interest in Islam, which must have begun in Nigeria.
Of course Nigeria has affected my life in many ways. First, I’m still teaching English, which I’d thought at the time I would be doing only until the end of my Peace Corps service. Also, I’ve continued to work outside the USA, mainly in Africa. I don’t think I’ve ever lost that special sense of curiosity, anticipation and excitement that I first experienced in Nigeria: the feeling that when you leave home in the morning, absolutely anything can happen. Most of all, what Nigeria gave me, and what I think I’ve held on to all the years, is an interest in the uniqueness of people everywhere and at the same time an appreciation of the fact that their similarities are much more important than their differences.
What next for me? I have no idea. But I’m looking forward to it.•
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FON Celebrates in Washington
|Chinua Akukwe addressing the dinner. Photo: Anne Philpot|
account of the 40+1 celebrations in Washington DC would be complete without
thanking the DC area FON members who set up and organized the FON events for
the weekend of June 21–23.
The dinner at the Westmoreland Church on Friday evening was a truly grand affair.The church not only provided us a dining room but also a room for a bar. A real luxury seeing how popular the event turned out to be.
Greg Zell, (06) 62–64 FON president greeted us and Peter Hansen (27) 67–68, co-founder of FON and membership chair, proposed the toast to FON, the Peace Corps and Nigeria. Our various efforts in Nigeria were ‘appreciated’ in a brief address by Nigerian FON member Chinua Akukwe, now an MD in the Washington area. The fact that more than 30 more people turned up than the 150 expected did not phase the organizers and once extra knives and forks had been found we all sat down to a spectacular Nigerian meal. We were given plenty of time to catch up with old friends before Tim Caroll (09) 63–65 and Walter Lewis (04) 62–64 started to work the floor persuading people to share both funny and thoughtful stories with us all. It was past 11 PM when the tables were finally cleared away to allow the Highlife to begin.
The bar at the FON dinner being put to good use. Photo: Anne Philpot
On Saturday afternoon, 100 people were expected at the Sumner Mueum and once again it was a sell out crowd with between 130 and 150 turning out to hear the speakers who made up the Update program.
Once again the committee did us proud with an agenda that covered Sharia, Nigerian
Art, and what to do after 60. However, the organizers exceeded themselves by
getting Peace Corps Deputy Director Jody Olsen, to talk to us about the problems
of the Peace Corps returning to Nigeria anytime in the near future.
The organizing committee was comprised of Harriet Lesser (09) 63–65, Walter Lewis (04) 62–64, Enitan Mason (DC FON member), Ron Raphael (13) 64–66, Shirley Robinson (08) 63–65, Ken Sale (15) 65–67, and Marge Shannon Snoeren (09) 63–65.
Mike Codel (06) 62–63, James(04) & Regina Crawley (06) 62–64, Mac Destler (02) 61–63, Jay Hessey (24) 66–68, Sally Levin (11) 64–68, Marsha Morrow (30) 67–69, , Chris Sale, Ken’s wife, Howard Soroos (11) 64–66 and Mary Terchek (04) 62–64 joined them to hand-address the 1400 invitations that were sent to Nigerian RPCVs in April.
The members of FON dine at the Westmorland. Photo: Katy Hansen
Judie Shannon, Marge’s sister , Katy Hansen (27) 67–68 and Anne
Philpot (CUSO staff 68-98) took photos throughout the event, that will either
appear in the newsletter or on the FON Web site. Thanks must also go to Corina
Snoeren, Marge’s daughter and Liza Hopkins who manned the front desk and
Winston Sale, Ken’s son and Liz Griegg who ran the bar.
However, this list of helpers would be incomplete without mention of Cliff Schoff, (11) 64–67. Cliff drove from Pittsburgh on Friday morning, and came straight to the Westmoreland Church. He helped fold napkins, set up tables, arrange chairs, put on table cloths, and in general, get the room ready for the dinner. “We could NOT have gotten everything ready without him”, says Marge, “ a real volunteer!”•
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