It was a great thrill and honor to receive a grant through the Museum and Community Collaborations Abroad program to work with the National Museum of Niger, Boubou Hama. We had seen the National Museum’s request for a partner back in spring and had been excited to see how, despite being more than 5,000 miles apart, we had similar interests in helping our communities better understand the wildlife around them. We were confident it would be a great partnership…and it has been!
The last few months have been a whirlwind of activity. We’ve transported supplies to Niger to help students conduct animal observations and worked with the museum to set up a computer lab to support communication between students in both countries. We’ve been working with the students at Francis W. Parker School who have been collecting data and exploring both the wildlife of their schoolyard and the African animals that live at the zoo. Despite a seven-hour time difference—and two different native languages—we managed to schedule a fabulously successful Skype session between students (seen above).
My job as director of student and teacher programs has been to work behind the scenes, ensuring that the zoo and museum educators have the resources they need to work successfully with students and teachers in both countries. It’s a lot of paperwork! Over the last month, I’ve been especially busy getting all the details in place for our team here in Chicago to travel to Niger. A lot goes into planning a big trip like this, from plane and hotel reservations to getting the right health inoculations and visas. But it’s all worth it as the team leaves for Niamey, Niger on January 5.
After nearly 20 hours of travel, they’ll arrive in Niamey and step into a full agenda that includes working directly with students and teachers from two different high schools, an opportunity to learn about the culture of Niger with their colleagues from the National Museum and even a trip to see wildlife at a nearby game reserve. I’m not sure who’s more excited…our team of travelers or our partners in Niger who are eager to share their institution and the hard work of their students.
Look here for future updates on zoo educators sharing their experiences in Niger and additional program activities here in Chicago.
Leah Melber is Lincoln Park Zoo's director of student and teacher programs. In addition to overseeing the Community of Conservation effort between Chicago and Niger, she manages the Zoo Explorers and Young Researchers Collaborative initiatives.