Kicking off the year with a trip to Ghana

We’ve just returned from a very productive trip to Ghana where we spent a week with our Niger team. Our partner, John Craig, from Eliminate Poverty Now wrote a beautiful piece summarizing the trip:


Hi All –

Just back from my latest trip to Africa.  The focus was on plans to launch agricultural training at the Dov Institute this October.  We made exciting progress and I want to share the highlights with you.

First, a quick refresher.  The mission of the Dov Institute is to build agricultural prosperity in Niger by teaching a business approach to farming.  In the process, we will help transform agricultural practice and increase farmer income.

Everything about the Dov Institute will be outstanding — from the quality of our facilities to the quality of our curriculum, teaching staff, and students.   Our campus already gets “wows” from visitors.  The focus this past week was to ensure our curriculum and teaching staff lives up to the same high standard.


Planning Team Members (left to right):  Hamani Djibo, Robin Mednick, John Craig, Zakari Hassane, Almoustapha Mody, Harouna Souley, Patsy and Tom Lightbown, Issaka Housseini


We want our students to have a first-class learning experience – providing them with knowledge and skills for success in their careers and in life.  The Dov Institute will be unique in what and how we teach.  

First, the “what.” Our program will be the first in the country to focus on horticulture and the strategies to maximize farmer income.  We will also be unique for our focus on practical skills:  how to think creatively, analyze, and problem solve;  how to work effectively in teams;  and how to teach others what they’ve learned.

With regard to “how,” we will feature experiential, learn-by-doing teaching methods.  In the first year, students will start each day in the training gardens, getting their hands dirty using irrigation to grow high value crops 12 months of the year.  They will make frequent “agricultural rounds” (think medical rounds for med students) to sharpen their observation, diagnostic, and communication skills.  Classroom time will feature student discussion and involve them in a wide range of learning exercises.  We’ll use case studies – borrowing from successful techniques to train students in business and law. Field trips will take students out to the real world and “expert panels” will bring the real world in to them. 

This is radically different from the teaching methods currently employed in Niger.  Almost all higher education focuses on theory and technical knowledge.  Instruction is conducted primarily by lecture.  Student performance is measured by how well they understand what they’ve heard, memorize it, and play it back on exams.  

If our campus facilities elicit “wows,” students should have the same reaction to their learning experience.  To pull that off, our teachers need to master these new teaching methods.  We devoted half the time last week to training sessions for the faculty at the Dov Institute.  Each teacher prepared lessons in advance, conducted two simulated classes, and received in depth feedback.  The progress made from the first class to the second was impressive, and with 7 months of practice time available before the October launch, confidence was running high that we will have an outstanding teaching staff delivering an outstanding learning experience.

One more exciting piece of news.  We have added two valuable members to our Planning Team.  Tom and Patsy Lightbown were newlyweds and Peace Corps volunteers to Niger back in the 1960’s.  Tom went on to a successful career in business, Patsy as a professor of language at the university level.  They are as comfortable speaking in French as they are in English, have extensive experience teaching learn-by-doing methods to teachers in Africa, and have been working with our teachers for months.  Tom and Patsy led the teacher training sessions last week and will work with our teachers remotely right up to the October launch.

So … a week of excellent progress.  We are more excited than ever about the Dov Institute and its ability to make major contributions to agricultural development in Niger and to higher learning in the country.



Robin receives the Governor General’s Meritorious Service Medal


Robin, her daughter Sam, and husband Ed at Rideau Hall on December 7th, 2023 as Robin receives the Governor General’s Meritorious Service Medal for her work in Niger.

2023 – Pencils for Kids’ 18th year in Niger

Pencils for Kids’ 18th year has been a year of both progress and upheaval in Niger. 


The Coup

On July 26, 2023, the military took over the government of Niger. Niger had been widely viewed as the last bastion of democracy in the West African Sahel, so the military takeover caught many by surprise, including us. It is still early to know what the long-term impacts of the coup will be, but it does create a more uncertain future.

This is hardly our first experience with political upheaval and uncertainty. On one of our earlier trips to Niger, there was a military coup only days after we left, in 2010. Democratic elections were restored a year later. We do not know what will happen with governance for the foreseeable future, but we do know that our team in Niger continues to work and we hope to fulfill our promise to open the Dov Institute, the first ever Horticultural Training School for technicians in the country. We stayed the course in 2010, and we will stay the course now. 


The Dov Institute will open in October 2024!

Screenshot 2023-11-24 at 4.50.26 PM

Members of LIBO, the NGO managing P4K projects in Niger, gather on the Dov Institute campus. They are committed to launch technician training in 2024.

We’re excited by the Dov Institute. It’s innovative – the first in Niger to feature horticulture and the income-generating power of agriculture. Everything about it will be first class –from its facilities to its faculty, students, and programs. And we’re well on our way.

The campus is a showcase, our emphasis on experiential learning and practical skills is attracting great attention, and our knowledge and results are starting to turn heads.

In the past year we’ve been sought out by Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Blair Institute, USAID and the US Embassy. We were disappointed to push back the launch of technician training another year. 

We fully intend to launch technician training next October despite the challenges the coup may pose. As Professor Dov always said, “Never Give Up”!



Please visit our Flickr page to see more photos of the Dov Centre!


Scholarships for Girls

We continue our Scholarship for Girls program, the first ever program we started almost 18 years ago. Hundreds of girls have received scholarships for one or more years during this time and 50 have graduated and gone on to post-graduate studies and are now working in their respective professions.

Three years ago, we decided to tutor the same ten girls from junior high through the end of secondary school and follow their progress. The 10 girls we have now sponsored for these past three years, all started their Troisieme level in the 2023-2024 school year, having passed their exams in July and graduated from the Quatrieme level. We will keep everyone posted on their progress!

Te girls of te scolarship Program 2


Cooper Sewing Centre celebrates its 15th anniversary — a very special milestone!

The Cooper Centre, founded by P4K with generous support from the Cooper family, is a sewing program in which girls pay their own tuition, and participate in examinations that are accredited by the National Sewing Association. The goal is to give girls and women, who are no longer in school, a second chance to get a profession. P4K started this program with only four girls in 2008 helping them acquire an income-generating skill. They are learning embroidery, sewing, knitting, and dyeing and also take courses in numeracy and literacy. Students pay a yearly fee to help cover the costs of the teachers.


405 girls have enrolled since the Cooper Centre opened.

116 girls have graduated from the Centre since its inception. 


Eight of these girls graduated in 2023 and they are now accomplished tailors! 


2023 Sewing Program Graduates!


This year 43 girls enrolled in our first-year program and 12 have entered their second year.  


Year 1 sewing girls 2023-2024

First Year sewing girls


Second year Sewing girls 2023-2024

Second Year sewing girls


We have seen an exponential rise in enrolment this year for a variety of reasons. Prices have dramatically risen after the coup, and parents who can no longer send their daughters to private schools for secondary education, have chosen to give them a specialized skill. In addition, our program offers a Certificate when they graduate, which is recognized in the country, and our Cooper Centre has a reputation for excellence in Niger.  


Thank you for supporting the work of Pencils for Kids and letting the families in Niger know that they are not forgotten. 

Pencils for Kids continues to be a volunteer-run organization and we are proud of the programs and services that we are able to deliver to the children of Liboré. None of these accomplishments would have been possible without the unwavering support of our Pencils for Kids community. Your ongoing contribution to P4K has an impact every day on the life and the future of the children and women of Liboré. For these children and women, and for the whole community, your support is driving sustainable change that will deliver benefits right now and for future generations.

In particular after the military coup this year, the population of Niger faces a more uncertain future, with rising prices and even more poverty. For all these reasons we hope you will be able to maintain or even increase your financial support for P4K

“Over 95% of your donation goes directly to sustaining highly effective education and training programs for the young people of Niger.”

Official Opening of the Dov Institute December 13th, 2022

On my 9th trip to Niger, on Tuesday, December 13th, 2022, we officially opened the Dov Institute, our new Training Centre for Horticultural Technicians along with our partner, John Craig, from Eliminate Poverty Now.  The Minister of Higher Education, Minister Djibo, officially opened the Institute, cut the ribbon, and gave his approval to open our doors for students, which we will do hopefully in the Fall of 2023.  Accompanying the Minster were the Minister of Agriculture and the former Prime Minister Danda.   Many of our long-time supporters from Niger were present as well.  It was a momentous occasion, the realization of Professor Dov’s dream to help producers achieve agricultural prosperity.  It will be a two-year BTS degree, the first of its kind in horticulture in the country.  Once trained and graduated, these students will have the ability to teach rural producers how to earn income from horticulture, and also potentially start their own entrepreneurial enterprises in agriculture.


Robin and Minister Djibo cut the ribbon John Speaks Minister of Education speaks


John spoke on our behalf with the following words:

“On behalf of Robin Mednick, president of ONG Pencils for Kids and myself at Eliminate Poverty NOW, thank you for being here.

Everything that Hamani just described comes from the vision of one extraordinary man – Professor Dov Pasternak.  Dov was unique.  He was a world-class agricultural scientist with a great mind for business, a flair for marketing, and a huge humanitarian heart.  In the last 20 years of his life, Dov fell in love with the country of Niger – and most especially with its people.

Dov had a dream.  He believed with all his heart that agriculture could be a source of major economic growth in Niger, even with all its environmental challenges.  And as a leader in Israel’s miracle of making the desert bloom, Dov knew what he was talking about.  He knew that agriculture could become the path out of poverty for millions of Nigeriennes.

Dov was inspirational, and his passion inspired all of us who had the privilege to work with him and are now creating the Dov Institute.  One of his favorite sayings was to “Never, ever give up!”  Our promise to Dov, to all of you here, and to the people of Niger is that we will never, ever give up until we make his dream a reality.

Thank you.”