As I read the email, the depth of my incredulity increased with every line. The reason for my disbelief was a request that I pray about the possibility of leaving Carachipampa Christian School (CCS) in Bolivia for a year to help out at Sahel Academy, SIM’s school in Niger, West Africa. It was only eight months since I had returned to Bolivia from home assignment in the UK and the prospect of having to pack up my belongings yet again was not an inviting one. I first arrived at CCS as a Science teacher in 1991, became headteacher in 1997 and Bolivia has become my home. I produced a long list of sensible and perfectly valid reasons why I could not possibly leave Cochabamba to go to an unknown school in a totally alien culture. Despite this, I felt it only right to pray about the request, only to discover that, as I prayed, the Lord began to work in my heart! I slowly became more and more convinced that God did want me in Niger, although this was not what I wanted at all. It was with grudging obedience that I replied to the email and said that, if no other person could be found, I would be willing to spend a year as principal of Sahel Academy. So July 2002 saw me on an Air France flight heading for Niamey, Niger with many apprehensions but a certainty that I was obeying God’s will, even if I wasn’t exactly joyful in my obedience!
Carachipampa Christian School and Sahel Academy are both schools that exist primarily for the education of the children of missionaries (MKs) but there are many differences. CCS began in 1926, is a day school with a small satellite in the city of Sucre, has 230 students, half of whom are Bolivians. Sahel Academy started in 1986, has only 50 students (15 of these boarding on the campus) and has no local students. CCS has an international curriculum, offering its school leavers a North American style diploma as well as the Bolivian Matriculation. Sahel Academy has a similar programme but also offers the IGCSE through the University of Cambridge.
A week before I arrived in Niamey, I discovered that, due to lack of an alternative, I was also going to have to teach all the high school Science! I was horrified as it meant a double workload and I had left my teaching files, from fifteen years of teaching science, in Cochabamba. Of course, God knew best as teaching all the high school students meant that I got to know them better and more quickly than had I sat in the principal’s office all day. I grew to love the young people that came daily to the laboratory for lessons and I count it a privilege to have been able to help with their education. I learned so much from the opportunity to work in a new school and learn how different, yet similar, MK schools can be. Unlike CCS, Sahel Academy has a boarding hostel or “dorm” so I was able to see how positive an experience boarding can be when the dorm is well run and an integral part of the school. It was also valuable to experience the IGCSE programme in action and have the opportunity to examine the possibility of this for CCS, in order to meet the needs of our British and Commonwealth families.
Many adventures were mine during my months in Niger – seeing giraffes, elephants and hippos in the wild, being unable to communicate (other than in very broken French), learning of life in a Muslim country, visiting Hausa churches with men and women sitting separately and enjoying the enthusiastic singing, accompanied by the rhythm of African drums. One of my most unusual experiences, one that I am not sure I would wish to repeat, was camel-riding! Camels are an everyday sight in Niamey as they plod through the streets with heavy loads on their backs and one day, I joined five other teachers on a camel trek out into the bush. I was nervous when I saw just how tall the camels were! Despite this, I made the ride – the scenery was stark but beautiful – green and orange, the colors of the Nigerien flag, being the predominant shades.
I arrived in Niger in the rainy season when it is much more humid than most of the year. I am used to the heat, but not to the energy-sapping humidity of the lowland tropics as Cochabamba is very dry.
What worried me the most was that the folk kept saying things like, “when it gets hot….”& “when the hot season arrives…” and it was hard for me to imagine that it was going to be hotter than it was! Niger is a harsh place to live on many counts as the climate is excessively hot and the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables available is very small, compared to the abundance of Cochabamba, the ‘garden city’. When the hot season did arrive, with afternoon temperatures of up to 50oC (120oF), I found it very hard to maintain my routines – especially when nighttime temperatures rarely dropped below 35oC, thus making for restless sleeping.
How can I sum up all the experiences of my year in Niger in a few words? Despite my prior misgivings, it proved to be a wonderful year and, once again, I have to be humble and admit that the Lord’s plans are the best! Before I left Bolivia, God gave me a verse to which I referred to time and again throughout my months at Sahel Academy –
“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9 v. 8)
I went to Africa grudgingly; God gave abundance. I went out of duty; God gave joy and a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. He is indeed “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine”!