For Niger

First day in my village, Dan Tchiao

My longest run is done. I have raised 94 percent of my fundraising goal. Everything seems on track and it feels almost certain that I will cross the finish line in two weeks with a smile, knowing that I have accomplished both of my missions.

While I am fairly confident that I can get the last bit of my increased goal, I am still worried, like I am still worried about my ability to run the entire marathon without much incident. I sometimes panic about if I have done enough or not. Should I be email blasting my office? Should I find a way to inject a pitch into every conversation? Should I be sending individual Facebook messages to everyone I know?

Raising $2,000 doesn’t seem like it shouldn’t be too hard, but it’s pretty scary to ask people for money. They might turn you down. They might judge you. They might distance themselves from you.

Last night I decided to send out a pitch email. I’ve only sent a few emails out and really only to people I feel comfortable asking. The ones I have sent were rushed and told only the basic story of my own experiences with unclear water and my attraction to World Vision because of its work in the countries I have lived. As I sat down to write this latest email, I thought about Niger more.

Niger is one of the countries that World Vision does water projects in, a direct benefactor of our raised funds. I will never forget the moment I opened up my blue Peace Corps invitation and saw the name Niger after Country: on the assignment sheet. I ran to the map to see where it was and then started learning what I could. It did not seem like a great country to go to. It was poor, hot and seemingly dangerous. As I searched through fact books and news articles, I couldn’t help but wonder if I had just made a huge mistake.

Niger is so hot that entire villages come to a halt at certain hours of the day. Niger is so poor that most children walk around with exposed rib cages and protruding bellies from malnutrition. Niger is so dangerous that after just seven months in the West African nation, I was forced to leave.

What I didn’t discover in my research, and that I could only experience firsthand, is how truly beautiful Niger is. It’s full of people who would go hungry to feed you, their guest. It’s full of people who smile because no matter how hard life is it’s better when you smile. It’s full of people who suffer more injustice and tragedy than most Americans ever will and still have faith in the healing powers of God and time.

Girls and women of my village

My heart broke when I had to leave Niger due to security reasons and so many times I wondered how different my life would be had I stayed there for my full two years. I wonder what good I could have done. I wonder what happened to the people in my village. I wonder if there is anything I can do for them.

Shortly after I returned home from Niger, and before I left for Lesotho, I ran a half marathon. The entire time faces of the people from my Nigerien village raced through my head and I told myself that some day I would run a marathon for them, a physical dedication to show my emotional dedication. It seemed right in the moment, although lackluster later on.

My host mother, her oldest son and her granddaughter.

I forgot about that moment until yesterday, when writing that email.

For months, I’ve been telling myself and others the reason I thought I was doing this, raising money and running a marathon. But maybe I didn’t truly understand the why, I just had the calling. There is a good chance I still don’t know, but the more I thought about Niger last night the more I wanted to do this for the people of Dan Tchiao and the rest of the people of that nation that deserve way more than what they get from the developing world. I know that there are other ways and opportunities to help the people of Niger, but this is the journey I currently am on and I want to finish it out in the name of Niger.

Yes, asking for money is awkward and sometimes I am scared how others perceive my asking for donations, but all of that falls next to what I feel for Niger. Even though it wasn’t my choice to leave the country, I am still plagued by what I could have done. Although this isn’t much, it’s something. As I get closer to the marathon with some money left to raise, I do so aligned in commitment to Niger. I choose to believe that the donations my friends and family have made will benefit those that mean so much to me in Niger, because cynicism doesn’t produce much good and it doesn’t carry you through 26 miles.

And, as I run, I will think of those faces again and again wonder what else I can do.

You can contribute to my commitment to Niger here. 

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