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The volunteers found that most villagers, especially women but men as well, were ill informed about AIDS and what causes it. Some thought it came from food or contaminated water; others thought it was a "white man’s disease." However, they were also interested in learning more, attentive to the message, and willing to participate with questions and responses.

The two groups of bikers presented programs in sixty-four villages, to approximately 20,000 people.

At the end of the bike-a-thon, in Dosso, the volunteers organized a dinner (financed by the U.S. ambassador). Several senior Nigerien officials came and spoke, along with the ambassador, praising the volunteers’ initiative and hard work.

The volunteers reported having a great experience. They were tired but elated at the end of the trip. There were no injuries beyond a few blisters, and of the thirty-six who began the rigorous ride, thirty-four were able to complete it.

With a total budget of $5,000, this was another example of the volunteers’ ability to accomplish a lot with few resources.

Verandah of Bullington's house in Niamey

The Volunteer Who Never Returned

One of the many interesting people we’ve met in Niger is Pat Aliou, who came here as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1964, two years after Peace Corps first began to operate in Niger, and three years after it was created by President Kennedy. At that time, all of the volunteers in Niger were teachers, mostly of English. Among their students, Pat recalls, was the president of the country. Consequently, the volunteers had free access to the presidential palace and were local celebrities.

Pat was a physical education teacher. During her service, she met and subsequently married a Nigerien doctor, and she has lived here happily ever since. She worked as a teacher in the Nigerien public schools, from which she recently retired with over thirty years of service. Last year, she took a new job as director of the English language program at the (formerly USIS) American Cultural Center.

During the five months that I’ve been in Niger, three of our volunteers have married Nigerien men on completion of their Peace Corps service and are staying on in Niger. I wonder if they will stay as long as Pat.

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J. R. Bullington is a retired Foreign Service officer and U.S. ambassador with service in Vietnam, Thailand, Burma, Chad, Benin and Burundi, as well as the Department of State. He became Peace Corps country director in Niger in August 2000.

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