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Training nurses in the Republic of Niger

According to PC(USA) mission co-workers, ‘God will work wonders that we could never foresee’

by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service

For students in Niger, bed disinfection is one of many practical skills nursing students practice before continuing their training in hospitals and clinics. (Photo by Jodi McGill)

LOUISVILLE — In the Republic of Niger, there is roughly one nurse or nurse midwife for every 10,000 people, and the country is not alone in its need. By 2030, the World Health Organization estimates there will be a projected shortfall of 18 million health workers worldwide, mostly in low- and lower-middle income countries.

Niger has the highest fertility and population growth rates in the world. It is one of Africa’s most economically impoverished countries and ranks at the bottom (189th) of the United Nations Human Development Index, which measures a nation’s health, education and standards of living, as well as two other elements: a country’s carbon dioxide emissions and its material footprint.

According to the latest information on the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, Niger has had 4,643 cases of COVID-19 with 167 deaths. (Map courtesy of Johns Hopkins University)

Years of preparation to begin to address this shortfall came together on Nov. 11, 2019, when Presbyterian World Mission’s partner, The Evangelical Church of the Republic of Niger (EERN), opened Espérance College of Nursing in Niger’s capital of Niamey.

“Espérance” is French for “hope.”

Opening day was hope-filled for Jodi and Jim McGill, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission co-workers serving in Niger (Jodi and Jim) and South Sudan (Jim), and previously serving for more than two decades in Malawi. Jodi assists in developing, implementing and teaching in the nursing school, and teaching at the National Health Sciences university. Jim works in clean water and sanitation programs in both countries, led by the EERN and the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan.

Nursing students look at donations to the school library from the nursing college of the University of Montreal. (Photo by Jodi McGill)


“We were finally able to begin educating nurses and putting a dream into action,” Jodi said. “It was also terrifying because the students, teachers and patients were placing their trust in the ability of the school not only to educate the students but also to instill in them a desire to serve others and an ability to be critical thinkers.”

Espérance College of Nursing uses the curriculum of the West African Health Organization, modified to reflect the Nigerien education system and to comply with national nursing education requirements. The nursing students will take the national nursing exam. The school draws from the expertise of health professionals from the national nursing college, government experts and mission workers within the community.

Because Espérance is bilingual — French and English — it has wide connections among faith-based and non-faith-based professionals it calls upon to provide unique educational opportunities for students. A visiting professor of physical therapy and her students held a two-day theoretical and practical seminar on body mechanics, patient transfers and use of assistive equipment. A visiting national director of pediatrics in El Salvador taught a morning session on the prevention of neonatal death, including practical resuscitation techniques of neonates. A visiting professor of anesthesiology, specializing in pain management, taught a course in acute and chronic pain control. His presentation included a practical session on the use of ultrasound to visualize the placement of nerve blocks.

A clinical instructor for Espérance College of Nursing (left) and a second-year nursing student head out for her first clinical rotation. (Photo by Jodi McGill)

COVID-19 halted operations at Espérance for several months last year, but the school has now fully reopened and is progressing toward its vision.

“This year the EERN University has added 10 students to its first-year class. Five are studying nursing, three are studying medical biology and two are studying community development,” Jodi said. “The first-year nursing students are entering their second year and have taken the first-year students under their wings.”

Sometimes, in the moment, it is difficult to know if a difference is really being made, the McGills said. Yet because of God’s faithfulness, long-range view and eternal promises, “We can never foretell the impact that we will have.”

Jodi and Jim, who are working virtually from the U.S. during the pandemic, recently received messages from two Malawians. A young woman wrote, “I would like to extend a token of appreciation for helping me out with my school fees the time I was stranded and picked to go to Kamuzu College of Nursing . . . I am now a graduate, and I work for Ekwendeni Mission Hospital …”

Jodi and Jim McGill are the parents of six children, twins Jason and Michael, Salome, Selina, and twins Joseph and John. They are members of Columbia Presbyterian Church in Decatur, Georgia, in the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta. (Contributed photo)

A young man the McGills knew 20 years ago wrote, “I got to know you when I was nine years old … through that, I developed an interest in school … I am the hospital administrator for David Gordon Memorial Hospital in Livingstonia, Malawi, and it is because of the exposure during the time we used to come and play at your house …”

“God’s work is not ours,” the McGills said. “Their words remind us all to remain steadfast and faithful to God’s call, and God will work wonders that we could never foresee.”

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