Posts Tagged ‘Niger’

KsikoraThis week’s blog post about volunteering in Africa is written by Withum’s International Services Group member, Kathy Sikora.

Dear Africa,

It’s been a little over a year since I’ve seen you, and I’ve missed you so much that I’ve decided to come back and stay… for an ENTIRE YEAR! Get ready!

So what’s happening?

Nerdy accountant exciting things! I will be joining a team of missionaries at a hospital in Niger. I’m sure there will be several hats that I will wear once I arrive; however, my official duties (for now) will be to work with all of the finances and the accounting/finance team at the hospital. I’m grinning from ear to ear at the fact that I will get to combine volunteering, traveling the world and accounting all in one opportunity – this one!

When am I going?

Exact dates still to be determined, but the plan for now is to be in Africa at the end of June 2016!

But, how?!

So there was that time I found myself at the missions table at our church ministry fair one Sunday afternoon, picked up the missions pamphlet, saw Niger on the list and said to myself, “Totally going there!” Two and a half months later, I was on a plane. I was extremely fortunate to be part of the group from our church that went to Niger in December 2014, which is when I discovered this hospital for the first time. There seems to be this rumor going around that most short-term visitors have a tendency to return…and well, the rest is history.

And more importantly, why?

IMG_1878For starters, I’m really looking forward to how awesome of a professional experience this is going to be. I’m excited to be a part of a multi-lingual team and to learn French! I’m excited to teach others, especially those who have not had the same education opportunities as I’ve had. I’m excited to use my accounting skills to help the hospital. Gosh, I’m even excited to have to reconcile payroll, and I tremble at the thought of reconciling payroll (not joking, I seriously dislike anything payroll related). This will no doubt be a HUGE challenge for me and one that I am really looking forward to!

The hospital I will be at is such an important staple of the surrounding community and region for that matter. It serves many. The latest study showed just one doctor for every 50,000 people in Niger (compared to the U.S. that has 123 doctors for every 50,000 people). The survival of this hospital depends on missionaries to come and serve the needs of the hospital and the people. I am told that there is a huge need for accountants and to be able to fill a role that is so vital in the ongoing of operations of this hospital is giving me all the more motivation and excitement to go. I’m really looking forward to joining the team of missionaries there, and words cannot describe how honored I feel to be chosen to fulfill this need for them.

Above everything, expanding the kingdom of God so that others may know the joy of knowing Jesus and the hope of eternal life is what this is really all about. This hospital is a Christian hospital, and when people go there, they can hear the gospel – a story of which still remains unknown to a mass amount of people to this very day. To have the chance to love people and serve others – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. I consider it such a privilege to get the opportunity to do life with the Nigeriens for a year. I have no doubt I will learn many things from them. Life is not about being comfortable, making money, having a successful career, buying a new car, or even traveling the world (too bad I can’t remember this all the time), nor does my ultimate satisfaction lie in any of those things. And as I continue to do life here, I’m left with a hunger that can only be satisfied by one thing and that’s Jesus. SO… This is me following where He wants me to be. This is a big leap into the unknown. I have no idea what my future in this journey will hold, but I know who holds it!

I am incredibly humbled at this opportunity, a little nervous, and a little “is this really happening and am I really doing this?” – but most of all I am excited. That said, I would love nothing more than to continue to share this journey with all of you! More details coming soon! I will be sharing much more about Niger, this hospital, and this experience in the weeks/months to follow!

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This past January I was fortunate to take part in another amazing volunteer opportunity – this time back to Africa! I was part of a 15-member team from my church that ventured across the pond to serve those in need in Niger. The weeks leading up to this trip were filled with tons of excitement as I prepared for yet another African adventure, nervousness due to timing of visas and yellow fever shots (which apparently are a rare commodity in this country), and laughter (a lot of laughter actually) at the amount of times I was asked if I would return home with Ebola. While it comes as no surprise to me, some of you might be shocked to learn that I did indeed go to and come home from West Africa without Ebola!

nigerOur team spent two weeks in Niger: one week in Niamey which is the capital of the country and another week in Galmi which is a town about six hours (ten hours in a van) outside of the capital. Our first week was spent serving the needs of a local hospital in Galmi, but before that we took a mini road trip from Niamey to Galmi, and quite frankly I loved every second of it! There is no better way to see a country than a good old-fashioned road trip! This six hour ride quickly escalated into a near ten hour ride, but it was not without excitement. We passed through more than 50 villages, got gas on the side of the road from a man carrying a jerrycan, saw hundreds of wild camels roaming free, witnessed the ever-so-popular means of transportation – a donkey pulling a wagon, almost hit a cow in the middle of the road, and had a real interesting encounter with two elderly African women and a man with a machete when we stopped to use the restroom (not to imply that there was an actual restroom). Not to mention, we were the main attraction in every village that we passed through. I mostly try not to put on my americano costume when I travel abroad, but sometimes the blonde hair and blue eyes make blending in a somewhat difficult task! Did I also mention that we drove on one road for the entire trip?

One of the members of our church, Deb, is a full-time missionary/occupational therapist at the hospital in Galmi (galmi.org) and has single-handedly developed an entire therapy unit and has made strides in advancing the care within the emergency burn unit in the hospital – all in a couple of years’ time might I add! As the hospital is mostly led by a team of international volunteer doctors, our team was there for the week to simply lend a hand with whatever tasks needed completing.

As we arrived on the hospital compound, I was overtaken by the serenity and peacefulness of the sights, the sounds, the gentleness and humility of the local workers, and just the overall ambiance. Simply put, I was overwhelmed at how at home I felt in this tiny little community in the middle of nowhere in Africa. As we were now on Deb’s soil, she made sure we jumped right into the African lifestyle and prepared for us some delicious homemade African cuisine during our stay. Our first night at the hospital compound we discussed the various ways that our team could serve the hospital and also those that keep the hospital running. Our main objectives were a few organizational projects and simple encouragement. Life can be very difficult financially and also emotionally draining at times for missionaries, and organization of records often comes secondary to patient care, especially in a region where sanitation is not always a primary concern. So those were our primary tasks, and with that we concluded our first night at the hospital.

As we headed to our rooms that night I heard, “Hey Kath, hang on a second. We have something for you to do.” Deb called me over and explained that they had a special project for me to help out with. In my head I’m thinking, “I’m probably not anymore organized or organizing ‘capable’ than anyone else on this trip. I wonder what this is about?” To my surprise, the hospital was asking for help with their accounting! I never in a MILLION years imagined this would be an opportunity on this trip, and boy am I ever so grateful that it was! I spent the entire next day helping the finance manager of the hospital reconcile cash, post entries, close out a few months in preparation for year-end close, and also discussing internal controls. I learned about Nigerien payroll, how the Nigerien social security system functions, got hands-on experience with their accounting software, and most importantly was able to fill a vital need for the hospital. My heart was overjoyed by and through this experience, and it was just unexpectedly perfect at the way it all fell in place together. And as a result, this nerdy accountant had the biggest cheesy smile glued to her face for the days following.

There were a lot of mixed emotions at the sight of the hospital. There was happiness as we learned about all of the improvements that they have been making on a continual basis. However, I was heartbroken as we walked through the ICU and learned that there were only so many oxygen masks to go around and if someone needed it more than you, simply put, you could be out of luck. This hospital is one of the best hospitals in the entire country of Niger with incredibly skilled doctors, and the realization that they are limited to the resources around them is a tough pill to swallow, especially knowing that there is a television in probably 95% of the hospital rooms in America. I’ve had a few hospital visits in my day, but this was by far the toughest.

Carl CamelAnother highlight of this trip is the day I got to ride a camel, in the desert, in Africa. I had the pleasure of riding the best camel ever. His name is Carl and he is awesome. This was without fail, one of the coolest things I’ve ever done! Carl is also the most photogenic camel I’ve ever met — #selfiegamestrong.

Stay tuned for part 2!!

By Kathy Sikora, CPA | 609.520.1188 | ksikora@withum.com

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