Everyone has a trade. Some make grass mats, others sharpen knives or perform other basic trades. Her host family were blacksmiths and made knives and even primitive guns, similar to those used by 19th century pioneers.
Crops are raised to support a family for an entire year. If they get below normal rainfall, which is often, their crops are smaller, she said. The average life expectancy is mid-40s.
Niger is two-thirds desert and very poor, with no natural resources. The official language is French. Schools are taught in French, but the primary language is Hausa, and students do not understand when teachers instruct in French, Valtr said. Textbooks also are printed in French, which students, especially beginning students, cannot understand.
Plus, Valtr said, because the government seldom pays teachers, classes are seldom held. Teachers strike when they are not being paid, so there will be no school from weeks or months at a time. Only about 15 percent of the population goes to primary schools, which are usually in larger cities. Those students must find a place to live and pay for their housing, she said. Even fewer students go to high school, and almost no one goes to college.
Valtr was a volunteer 24 months, then extended her stay 10 more months. She now works for GOAL, an Irish non-governmental humanitarian organization. She currently works as a nutrition coordinator for mobile nutrition clinics in the region. She has moved from the one-bedroom hut with a dirt floor to the city, where she has an apartment.
Valtr recently applied to a master’s degree program from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Health. She will be gone for a year once classes start, but it will help her prepare to serve the people better.
But she will return to Niger Friday to continue her work and hopefully to obtain a master’s degree to better do her job. After all the hardship, frustration and hopelessness she has seen, Valtr still is determined to help.
“There isn’t anything I’d rather do,” she said.