Salim…in Chad

After watching the film, I felt inspired…remembering the years I lived in Africa and of the children I’d met in the villages.

In the third world, things aren’t taken for granted.  What seems like a small thing to us, can be very important to a child who has nothing but the clothes on his back.  Salim, was 10 years old. He wanted to go to the village school but needed some money to buy a notebook and pencil in order to attend classes.  His family didn’t have the money.

When you drive through a village in Chad, children run out into the streets shouting: “lalay lalay.” and if you happen to stop in one of those villages you very often find yourself surrounded by young people, hands out, asking for baksheesh … most of the visitors never ask why those children are begging for a few coins.  The westerners just feel impatient and put upon, you might even hear someone comment on the lack of dignity that is part and parcel of the African people.

There is no electricity in the villages, no running water, no supermarkets or libraries.  The schools are a place under a tree where an itinerant teachers holds impromptu classes when he or she arrives in the village.  Often a government worker, the teacher is hosted by the most prominent person of the village.  If a child wants to attend class that child must have a notebook and a pencil or pen.  Only those children who are able to come up with the money for their school supplies will be educated.  The government can’t be expected to furnish those supplies, there are too many other priorities…and you don’t want to know what those priorities are.  Yet, at least, there has been some planning made for the future generations.

“Lalay lalay!” shouted Salim with his friends as the car came into his village.  The car stopped and a white woman with her African driver got out of the car.  The children ignored the driver, but surrounded the woman.  She dipped into her purse and pulled out a handful of coins which she flung into the air.  The children scrambled for the money as she walked, laughing, to the house of the village’s government representative.

The next day, under the tree, stood the white woman.  She was a Peace Corps volunteer and was going to set up school.  She had a box beside her, and inside the box were books, notebooks and pencils.  Nearby, some men were building a small mud-bricked hut for her, where she would live and work.

Salim looked at the notebook and pencil he’d bought with his baksheesh, and thought he could have bought something else with the money.  But he was happy.

Through the clarity of retrospect, the obvious conclusion surfaced: things don’t always turn out as planned.


This story is a combination of reality and fiction.  There are many Salims in the third world, far less volunteers who come to teach in the villages now days, in fact I’m not even sure if the Peace Corps still exists.  Back in the 70s they were one of the few whites who were roaming Africa without a church or big company behind them.

True, they had the United States behind them, but they never taught propaganda and there were no strings attached to the work they did in the villages…no one required them to become Americans in order to take part in classes or profit from the hand dug wells they dug or any of the other little projects they put together.  Most of these people were under 30.  They lived a little better than the local people, but not like they would have at home.

Are there any ex-Peace Corps workers reading?  If so, let me say, thanks guys and gals for your time out in the bush!


Written for Speakeasy 154

34 thoughts on “Salim…in Chad

  1. I volunteer for an incredible organization called Send A Cow. Their whole focus is on providing African families with the very basic ways to take care of themselves (instead of depending on charity). Whenever I hear the stories of people who have made it—who have used that tiny initial push to take care of their family, educate their children, and own their own success—I can’t help marvelling at how very,very little that first step needs to be. Thanks so much for sharing this and for your beautiful post.


    • I remember reading about this organization last year, and it sounds like a great experience, for all involved. The good thing about the Peace Corps, at least in Chad, is that it was the sort of project that didn’t have strings attached. It was the “give a man a fishing pole not a fish” sort of project. Another good group were the SAWS projects, Seven Day Adventists…they taught different ways to plant things and again…dug wells. I’m glad you liked the story and happier you shared your experience.


  2. Wonderful story of Salim, I liked your story, I know there are children in those countries, who are in need of a lot of things,when they see foreigners they are hopeful they’d get some money from them, to buy things they’re unable to get.In Salim’s case it was the notebook and pencil.


    • We in the west tend to forget the millions of children who need the basics, you know, out of sight out of mind. There’s also this slightly arrogant attitude that I find obnoxious. Glad you enjoyed the post.


  3. This story touched my heart. It’s so easy to not think of the poverty in other parts of the world when we are comfortable in our own lives. This reminds me of when we went to Mexico many years ago. We carried our bottled water because we’d heard not to drink the water there. Groups of kids followed us chanting, “agua, agua.” It was awful. They wanted something as simple as clean water..


  4. What a thoughtful entry. As a third world child turned U.S. citizen, I’m often taken aback by how removed traditional Americans are from the rest of the planet. (That’s not to say this attitude is exclusive to Americans; I simply see this perpetuated no matter where I reside in the States).

    I’m glad the Peace Corps exist. My midwife joined in 2003, as her “retirement”! The Chad program closed in 2006, but there are still volunteers working in Africa.


    • I know what you mean, as an American child now expat, I find the same thing takes me aback…and you’re right it’s not only an American thing but it’s very strong there. Glad to hear the Peace Corps still exists after all these years. Thanks for giving me this information Mollie! Ciao – Georgia.


  5. Salim is a special one. I hope someday he gets to be happy about more than a pad of paper. It’s so sad that not all children can easily get and education. This seemed very real, probably because it partly is!


    • This was based on a child I met more than 30 years ago…when asked what he’d like to be when he grew up, he began his answer with “If I live, I want to…” This has always stuck in my mind. The reality of so many of the children in the third world are in those words. I do so hope he grew up to be a happy man. Glad you enjoyed the post. Georgia


  6. Such an important story to tell. I used to work in refugee policy and certainly this was something we talked about a lot – the need for long-term, self-sustainable interventions. In his book, Dark Star Safari, Paul Theroux talks a lot about the nature of aid, the type that is helpful and the sort of “tourism charity,” which is not. Sadly, much of the aid these days seems to be the latter. I’ve always wondered whether the Peace Corps was as beneficial as I wanted to think it was – it was nice to read about it.


    • You’ve brought up a ggood point. Long-term self-sustainable intervention is not what the majority of projects are about. The Peace Corps and similar projects were an attempt to do something for the people without taking away their dignity. I can’t say if the kids out there were always helpful, depended a lot on the individuals. Some kids were really great some so so. “Tourism charity” is a big thing, then and now, and that sort of aid doesn’t do much for anyone. Then there is the kind of aid that is just window dressing. Chairty is not a good thing. Giving people the opportunity to fend for themselves is, but it’s not the easiest way to help. Digging wells for clean water, teaching, and that sort of thing helped in the villiages. Glad you enjoyed reading this.


  7. Loved how you wove reality and fiction so tightly Georgia-wonderful use of the prompt!In third world countries and developing countries this is a harsh reality and though most of us would like to close our eyes to this fact,we better learn to open up or else worse times are ahead-as you said,the rich are getting richer and the poor,poorer-we,in India are seeing this kind of thing every day-it breaks our heart but with a corrupt government,complacent bureaucracy and jaded populace and of course the ever burgeoning number dependent on limited resources,the prognosis is not very good 😦


  8. What a great response to the prompts. As I was reading, I felt as though it wasn’t just a story you were sharing with us, but your heart as well. Thanks so much for not only sharing a well-written story, but most of all, for sharing your heart with your readers.

    All too often, people are only willing to give to others if they feel they will get something out of it. Too many times, the church is like this — only willing to give to those who will come to their church, and that is such a far cry from what Jesus did. He gave to others, just because He loved them. We could learn so much from Him. God bless you again, for sharing your heart. I’m sure it will bless everyone who reads it.



    • Thanks so much Chery for your comment. I loved living in Africa and I loved its people. I saw a lot of what you were talking about and it seemed so darned egoistical, it seemed somehow to reflect that part of our culture which I feel will probably be at the roost of our downfall. Spontaneously doing something without a reward expected is not really what we’re about. I agree, if we really practiced generosity like Jesus did, things would just might be different. Bless you, Georgia.


  9. Beautiful story, Georgia! I loved that last reflection: “…he could have bought something else with the money. But he was happy.” It left me feeling very hopeful. The Peace Corps still exists, though I am guessing it has been scaled back, like everything else. *sigh* But I know a number of former Peace Corps volunteers who served around the world, and they are definitely tireless advocates for making the world a better place for everyone. To this day I wish I’d gone into the Peace Corps. Thanks so much for sharing this!


    • Thanks Christine for your comment. The kids that I knew were really motivated and it was a pleasure to see how they made a difference in the life of the people they worked with especially in Chad. Glad you liked the read.


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