That’s French for “wonderful” and it’s the best word to describe our latest visit to Niger. Of course, every trip to Africa has been hugely productive. But “formidable!!” was our rallying cry this time around. Here’s why…

Read the full post about our recent trip on our partner Eliminate Poverty Now’s website!


The conference room at the Training Center dedicated to Dov Pasternak’s memory. Photo courtesy of Eliminate Poverty Now.

The conference room at the Training Center dedicated to Dov Pasternak’s memory. Photo courtesy of Eliminate Poverty Now.

Holiday Update 2018: 13 years and counting!

It has been an extraordinarily busy year for Pencils for Kids, one that brought us recognition on the world stage in Paris and also tremendous sadness at the passing of our Farmers of the Future leader and visionary Professor Dov Pasternak.  

Farmers of the Future has pivotal year:

This has been a pivotal year for the Farmer of the Future program. In 2018 Professor Dov Pasternak, father of the Farmers of the Future, died at the age of 78. Dov was an extraordinary visionary, humanitarian, mentor and friend. Farmers of the Future was the culmination of his 50+ years in agricultural development and he was thrilled with our progress.  Our partner, Eliminate Poverty Now, and Pencils for Kids are committed to continuing his legacy.

Read more about Dov here.

Photo of Dov with Robin in Libore.

Farmers of the Future is a partnership between Pencils for Kids and Eliminate Poverty Now (EPN, an NGO in the USA), and from inception has been guided by Professor Dov Pasternak.  The Farmers of the Future (FOF) program encourages farmers to think of farming as a business.  It promotes the cultivation of high value irrigated crops, primarily vegetables, and provides training and opportunity, so that farmers can begin to prosper and not just survive.

Together with EPN, we are sharing here this year’s highlights:

Awareness Breakthrough:

We presented Farmers of the Future at Niger’s 5 Year Planning Conference in Paris. The conference was hosted by Niger’s President and attended by all senior government officials and major players in international development.  

John, Robin, and Hamani in Paris.

Photo of John Craig, Robin Mednick, Hamani Djibo in Paris

photo of Robin meeting the President of Niger

Photo of Robin meeting the President of Niger


Successful Completion of the USAID-funded expansion:

With funding from USAID, Farmers of the Future successfully expanded to 5 new villages and 12 new associations. The gardens are so impressive that local officials and members of the World Bank have asked us to submit a proposal for a new project which could double again the FOF footprint in Niger.


woman holding fruit basket

The Dov Pasternak Horticultural Training Centre:

We are creating the pre-eminent horticultural training Centre in West Africa, named in honour of Dov.  The conference room opened officially in January 2017 and land has been acquired for the training gardens. Many tributes poured in for Dov at the Opening and those who had worked with him and knew him spoke glowingly of his many accomplishments. He was humbled and touched by the outpouring of appreciation.  Additional classrooms are under construction and a detailed curriculum is in development. When completed, the Centre will expand the number of horticultural technicians essential for sustainable development.

Photos above: Sign above the new Professor Dov Horticultural Training Centre and photo of crowds at the launch, photo of the new lecture hall of the Training centre, and photo of Robin speaking at the launch


The Farmers of the Future Education Centre:

We are turning the FOF showcase site at the Leadership Academy into a complete Education Centre where visitors will learn first-hand the transformative power of the FOF model. The site will include a video screening room and self guided tour of the Leadership Academy Garden.


Photo of the First Lady of the Niger visiting one of our FOF sites.


Update on our new Horticultural Apprentices

For the past few years, we have been training horticultural technicians in our Farmers of the Future program. Hiring apprentices has been an important part of our strategy to build capacity in this sector.

Apprentices must have a diploma in agriculture, environment or some other socio-economic field of study.  There is both a written and oral test to ensure communication skills are excellent, as the apprentices will become future teachers to the many women in the FOF gardens.

The strategy is learning by doing!!!!

  • Nursery preparation
  • Bed preparation
  • Soil preparation
  • Transplantation / Planting
  • Treatment (bio preparation)
  • Harvesting
  • Rotation of crops.

Each apprentice is given his/her own plot of land for practice. They also live in the villages where they will be working to learn more about the lives of the people and their culture specific to their area.

This year we have hired five new apprentices and are grateful to The Travel Agent Next Door, a Canadian company, that not only has chosen us as their official charity but who has, along with many of its individual agents and suppliers been incredibly generous and supportive of our efforts to help train horticultural technicians in Niger.

image13 image15

Photos above of our new apprentices



Scholarships for Girls

Our Scholarships for Girls program reached another exciting milestone this year with three more girls completing their Secondary education and passing the most challenging nationwide exams.  This brings our total to 29 girls who have now graduated from Secondary School since the initiation of our Scholarship Program. They have become role models in the community for so many young women.

THREE GRADUATES 2018: Zeinabou Bague Oumarou, Halima Amadou Soumana, Fourera Hamadou Issaka

Zeinabou Bague Oumarou, Halima Amadou Soumana, Fourera,  Hamadou Issaka



Cooper Sewing Centre celebrates its 10th year anniversary!

This year the Centre has expanded by including a record 65 girls in first year, 37 in second year and 20 in the third year of the program.

The Cooper Centre, founded by P4K with generous support from the Cooper family, is a sewing program where girls take a three-year course, 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 get courses in numeracy and literacy. Students pay a yearly fee to help cover the costs of the teachers.

Thanks to the generosity of one donor we have now purchased five knitting machines and added a new course to our curriculum.


Photo of sewing students 2018-2019



Art, Theatre, and Computer Literacy

In June 2016 we officially opened our “La Vie Peut Etre Belle” » Art Program. The sewing Centre girls are being taught how to draw designs for their fashions, and also learning how to create embroidery designs. People are also commissioning the Art Centre to design signboards for marketing their businesses.

In 2014 we introduced La Liberté d’Etre a theatre program that is continuing to use drama as a way to discuss educational themes and social issues that are important to the community. The theatre program is now looking to promote the local Zarma culture and customs through drama.

YEP is a unique program that trains youth to become one-on-one tutors to their parents or to other adults. It has been in operation now for four years. This year we have trained 16 adults, four of whom are local policemen. They are paying to take classes from our 5 Secondary students who are their tutors. Once they complete their studies they receive a certificate that enhances their job opportunities and salaries in the workforce.   



Other News

Pencils for Kids has started building its first Basketball court. This is an opportunity to partner with Hoops 4 Kids, ( a not for profit organization that helps young people not only learn the skills of the game, but uses sport as a way to teach teamwork, health, conflict resolution and life skills. Stay tuned!



Photos of the construction and the site where the court will be.


Special Guests in Toronto!

A special visit to Toronto by Hamani Djibo, Gaston Kaba and John Craig caps off a terrific year!

In June, Hamani Djibo made his first trip to Canada for a Rotary convention with fellow Nigerien and Rotarian Gaston Kaba. John Craig visited from the US, on behalf of Eliminate Poverty Now. It was the first opportunity for so many supporters in Toronto to meet our three colleagues and hear them speak about our work and the partnership we have forged over the last decade.  We had a series of successful meetings with partners and donors and everyone was inspired by their stories and commitment to improve the lives of the people of Niger.


Our team meets with Gaston, Hamani and John



Thank you for supporting the work of Pencils for Kids and letting the children and women know how much you care!

Passing of Farmers of the Future’s Dov Pasternak


Dov Pasternak, the father of Farmers of the Future, passed away on Friday, April 27th, 2018 in Israel.  His passing is a huge loss for Eliminate Poverty NOW, for Pencils for Kids, for Africa and the world. Dov was a visionary, teacher, mentor, inspirational leader and friend. 

So much of our philosophy and approach to agricultural development comes directly from him.  He devoted his life to growing crops in the most challenging places and teaching farmers to make a good living from their sweat and toil.  Dov taught us that every obstacle is an opportunity to learn, that every problem has at least 3 solutions, that with patience and perseverance almost anything is possible, and most importantly, “to never, ever give up!”

Dov was passionate, intense and held strong opinions about things he believed in. He wanted things done right and done quickly so that progress could be made. He was also warm-hearted, funny, humble, an excellent listener, quick to forgive, and quick to change his mind when something else made more sense.  He was wise beyond words and a delight to work with.

In the last year Dov was given a lifetime achievement award for his impact on the lives of people in Africa. His work has benefited hundreds of thousands.  He has been, and will always be, a role model for how to make a real difference in this world.  To say he will be sorely missed does not begin to capture the loss we feel.

Dov viewed Farmers of the Future as the culmination of his 50+ years of work in agricultural development.  We are committed to ensure his dream of transforming agricultural practice in Africa is realized.  We will never, ever give up!

Image of Dov Pasternak in Africa

Dov had a love affair with Africa

Announcement from the people in Niger:

Ce jour vingt sept Avril deux mille dix huit,

Nous avons appris avec tristesse la disparition tragique d’un baobab mondial, le Prof DOV PASTERNAK.

Le monde a perdu une bibliothèque. L’Afrique a perdu un père, le Niger a perdu une boussole.

 A mon nom propre, à celui de mes collaborateurs et au nom  de toute ma famille, je présente nos condoléances les plus attristées à vous tous, à sa famille, ses amis, ses collaborateurs et à toute l’équipe qu’il a réunie autour d’un idéal qu’est FARMER OF THE FUTURE.

Notre guide scientifique, nous le savons est très attaché au monde rural en général et aux pauvres en particulier.

En héro, le temps a eu le dessus sur lui mais, il est tombé l’arme à la main.

Certes, Dov nous a quittés physiquement, mais il restera à jamais spirituellement et moralement parmi nous.

Que son âme repose en paix !


(English translation of above)


This day twenty seven April two thousand and eighteen,

We have get a news with sadness the tragic disappearance of a   baobab of the earth, Prof. DOV PASTERNAK.

The world has lost a library. Africa lost a father, Niger lost a compass.

 on my own name, to that of my collaborators and to the name of all my family, I offer our deepest condolences to his family, his friends, his collaborators and to the whole team he has gathered around an ideal that is FARMER OF THE FUTURE.

Our scientific guide we know is very attached to the rural world in general and to the poor in particular.

In hero, the weather had the upper hand on him but, he fell the weapon in his hand.

Prof Dov has physically left us, but he will remain forever spiritually and morally among us.

That his soul rests in peace !


An incredible trip to Niger, January 2018!

After a successful trip to Paris for the five year planning conference on the Renaissance of Niger, John Craig, from Eliminate Poverty Now and I headed to Niger for many followup meetings.  It was an incredibly busy and productive trip.

We officially launched our Training Centre for Horticultural Technicians in Libore, on the same site as our Education and Apprenticeship Centre.  We named it in honour of Professor Dov Pasternak, whose vision and leadership are responsible for the Farmers of the Future program.



Dov has devoted 50 years of his life to agriculture in dry regions, 10 of those working for ICRISAT in Niger, and the next ten leading our project.

Robin, John and Little Djibril

Robin, John and Little Djibril


The new training room is large, beautifully furnished, and can seat 70.  It’s the finest conference room in the area by far.  We invited lots of people:  people who worked with Dov during his years in Niger, everyone who has played a role in our Farmers of the Future (FOF) development, representatives from all the FOF woman’s associations, and officials of all sorts.



The sewing girls from the Cooper Centre

The sewing girls from the Cooper Centre


Amadou Madougou, Robin, Chef de Canton, John

Amadou Madougou, Robin, Chef de Canton, John

the women

the women


There were several speeches delivered in the courtyard, including my own, on behalf of our Team, this time in French.  We arranged for tv coverage.  The entire event was recorded and a clip appeared on that night’s news.

Ibrahim, representing the Mayor of Libore

Ibrahim, representing the Mayor of Libore

Hamani Djibo, President of LIBO

Hamani Djibo, President of LIBO

Robin addresses the crowd at the launch of the Professor Dov Training Centre

Robin addresses the crowd at the launch of the Professor Dov Training Centre


After the speeches, everyone entered the room where we screened one of our new FOF training videos which drives home key messages of the FOF philosophy in a very entertaining way.  People were laughing, so they definitely appreciated the humour in it. And friends of Dov’s started sharing their memories of him and the important changes he brought to agriculture in Niger.

The Training room

The Training room


Showing training video, Farming with Precision

Showing training video, Farming with Precision

After the ceremony we’re heading back to the car when the officers from the Sadoré Women’s Association call us over.  These were the original pioneers of FOF and have become highly successful.  They said they used to refer to Dov as the “Father of the Poor” but they can’t call him that anymore.  For them he’s now the “Father of the Rich!” They have made a lot of money using Dov’s training, and are now so much better off than they used to be.  Their speciality is tree nurseries.

Balleyara woman speaking on behalf of her group

Balleyara woman speaking on behalf of her group

Here is an excerpt from the English version of the speech:

“Professor Dov is sorry he cannot be with us today.

 Dov loves the people of Niger. He has often said you are the most gracious, kind and hospitable people he has ever met in his life. He has dedicated over 20 years of his life to improving the lives of the people of Niger through agriculture. He is one of the finest people that John, Hamani and I have ever met – a man with humility, integrity and determination. It is fitting that we name this Training Centre in his honour. It will be forever called the Professor Dov Training Centre. And we hope it will inspire a new generation of technicians, men and women, to follow in his footsteps.

Dov passed along these words for me to read to you:

“Dear Friends:

Thank you for calling this Centre in my name.

Niger has plenty of water, plenty of sun and plenty of hard working people.

I am fully convinced that Niger can get itself out of poverty.

What it most needs is the provision of skills that will lead it out of poverty.

And this is what this Centre will do.”


Our sites look terrific. There are now 18 FOF gardens, in 11 villages.  Gueriguinde specializes in Tree Nurseries, like the Sadore women, and when we started this garden back in 2010, it was largely empty and we were concerned it wouldn’t ever take off. In fact we brought the Sadore women to inspire them years ago. Today, it was packed with plants and the women replace the plants as soon as they are sold. In Ecole Centre they specialize in Moringa, and in Gonzare there were onions everywhere, in neat rows, waiting to be harvested. The Leadership Academy will become our Education Site, where we hope visitors will come to get explanations, see our videos, etc…..and be a place where school buses with students, women’s groups and other associations can come to see what we are doing.  John went to our other sites 90 minutes away in Balleyara that we started nine months ago, and they were amazing. They have much more land to use, and the women are strong and enthusiastic. We brought them in for the Opening of the Training Centre and they insisted on speaking and sharing their story of hope. Women from each site were represented at this Ceremony.

women working in the tree nursery

women working in the tree nursery


We had meetings from morning until night with potential donors as well as Government officials.  We met with the Minister of Education, the Minister of Agriculture, the Minister of Technical and Vocational Training, the Minister for the Empowerment of Women and the Minister of Planning.  All are now fully aware of our Farmers of the Future program, are supportive of the concept,  and are finding ways to help us start our Training program.

I can’t believe it has been 12 years since we began, wanting to help a few children acquire the pencils they needed.  Today we have a fully independent Cooper Sewing Centre, Scholarships for Girls, and income generating gardens for hundreds of women.

We are looking forward to what the future will bring next and are forever grateful to our team, partners and friends who have helped us get this far!

Robin, John and the technicians

Robin, John and the technicians

P1020833 !!!