By Britney Botez | Staff Writer
Whitworth University alumnus Joel Zoolkoski had plans to spend the 2023–24 academic year teaching science at the Sehal Academy in Niamey, capital of Niger. He had to abruptly change his plan when a military coup put Niger’s political state into uncertainty.
President Mohamed Bazoum of Niger had lost governing power of the state, with General Abdourahamane Tchiani and his military junta currently ruling over Niger. Due to this development, the airspace over Niger is currently closed and several nations have issued travel advisories urging travelers not to visit the region.
“I was supposed to leave in August and the coup happened on July 26. We started going online, but the airport reopened recently and I will get to go in October,” said Zoolkoski, explaining how this has affected his teaching plans. “I grew up there. And this is actually my high school … I was looking at what to do before [graduate] school and the school needed teachers,” said Zoolkoski.
Zoolkoski has not yet been able to teach in person. “It’s definitely different online and I really do think that in person education is really valuable and you lose a lot of that when you’re online,” said Zoolkoski.
Despite this setback in beginning his teaching career, Zoolkoski is optimistic about the possibility of being able to be with his students in person. “I’m excited to go and even though not all my students will be there in person, a lot of them are there, so I’ll be able to get to know them personally instead of online,” said Zoolkoski.
Although the current political future of Niger is unsure, Joel is still grateful for the opportunity to begin serving there. “Niger is a great place to be doing this work. The people are so kind and welcoming, and to be able to invest in these kids and equip their parents to be able to [do] this work is amazing,” said Zoolkoski.
You can read more about the current state of Niger here.