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Woodbury resident Cindy Hickman will be traveling to Niger for a 20-day mission trip starting July 12 with the non-profit organization Remember Niger. Remember Niger raises funds to help support plans to build new schools.

Woodbury missionary is Africa-bound

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Starting Thursday, July 12, Woodbury resident Cindy Hickman will be leaving the comfort of the suburbs for the challenges of Africa.

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Hickman will travel to Niger for a 20-day mission trip with the Remember Niger organization.

"I've been told that when you're over in Africa, it kind of gets into your heart," she said.

Niger is a country north of Nigeria in West Africa.

Remember Niger

Remember Niger is a national non-profit organization started in 2008 by Kara VanderKamp.

The group is "dedicated to uniting people and mobilizing resources to expand quality educational opportunities to children in Niger," according to its website.

VanderKamp formed Remember Niger after she began work with the Evangelical Church of Niger and learned of its plan to develop private schools in the country.

Currently the country has three primary schools for its 750-plus students.

"There is a public school system in Niger, but it's not a very good one for lots of reasons that I won't get into," Hickman said. "She realized that the biggest obstacle they had for implementing their plan was resources - in other words, funding."

According to the Remember Niger website, the objectives of the organization are: to provide student scholarships and teacher training scholarships as well as fund the construction of school buildings; equipment purchases and building maintenance for the three school sites; to provide technical assistance and cultural exchanges by facilitating annual trips to Niger; and to increase the effectiveness and multiply its efforts through education and recruitment initiatives in the United States.

Over the years Remember Niger has donated money to the Evangelical Church of Niger through various fundraising opportunities including auctions, a bike-a-thon, grants and alternative markets.

"We're really, really small, but we've done a lot," Hickman said.

Additionally, Footprints Academy in Woodbury has partnered with Remember Niger for an annual school supplies drive for the schools in Niger.

"You know exactly where the money goes - there's no middle man," Hickman said. "The money goes directly to the students."

After the formation of Remember Niger, VanderKamp went around the United States giving sermons and talking about the organization and seeking out help for Niger.

Remember Niger has considerable Twin Cities involvement thanks to a stop VanderKamp made at the North Presbyterian Church in North St. Paul.

"That particular church is a lot of the founding members," Hickman said.

In fact, Hickman's parents were two of the founding board members of Remember Niger.

It was her parents' involvement that inspired Hickman to become a part of Remember Niger.

"I gradually developed more interest in it," Hickman said. "What I like about Remember Niger is that we are not trying to implement our view, we're trying to help them with their vision--what works in Minnesota or the United States is not going to work in Niger."

Whereas VanderKamp is the only paid employee for Remember Niger, Hickman began work for the organization on a purely volunteer basis the last couple years.

Hickman, who has background in accounting and Web design, offered to design the Remember Niger website, take care of the book keeping, do some of the marketing and handle communications for the organization.

"I do a lot of behind the scenes stuff," she said, "which is what I really like to do. This was the right fit for me."

In addition to fundraising, VanderKamp also takes a group to Niger twice each year for mission trips.

Coming soon: computers

Hickman said she decided to travel to Niger this summer since she has heard what a personal impact the trip can make.

"I've been drawn by the people here since they really have a passion for helping the kids," she said.

For the mission trip, Hickman and her group will be transporting 16 computers, one projector and various other computer equipment to construct the third computer lab at Niger's schools thanks to a grant from Rotary International.

"It's important for students to have a 21st-century education and that includes computer labs," Hickman said.

While in Niger, Hickman will assist with training of the Evangelical Church of Niger administrative staff.

"It's not like this glamorous mission trip, it's going to be a lot of behind the scenes stuff that I'll be doing," she said. "But it's also about building relationships."

Hickman said she has had to do some preparation for her trip, including vaccinations such as malaria, tetanus, typhoid and yellow fever.

"I've had more vaccinations that I knew I could ever get," she said.

Additionally, Hickman said she has had to mentally prepare for the sites and stories she will encounter in Niger, especially since the country is currently dealing with famine.

Hickman said she is looking forward to making a difference in Niger.

"It's going to be tough because of the climate," she said, "but it's joyful being there.

"I know I'll come back with an even stronger desire to try and figure out how we can help."

Visit www.rememberniger.org for more information on the organization.

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Amber Kispert-Smith
Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.
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