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“Je me sens chez moi ici en Louisiane”

Nigerien Moussa Sadou makes a home for himself in Louisiana

“Je me sens chez moi ici en Louisiane”

Matt Mick/CODOFIL

Moussa Sadou moved from Niger to Louisiana nearly 20 years ago.

Moussa Sadou let out a laugh and replied quickly when asked about the similarities between his native Niger and his adopted homeland, Louisiana: “The heat, of course! I like to say that in Niger it’s like here in Louisiana: it’s hot, and the food is spicy.” Beyond climate and cuisine, these two parts of the world share at least one other important connection: the French language. This linguistic tie brought Sadou to Louisiana in 2002 to teach in one of the state’s French immersion schools in Lafayette Parish.

More than thirty-five thousand young Louisianans are currently studying French in the public school system, including more than five thousand students in French immersion, and teachers recruited from around the world play an important role in their education. Most work for a period of two to five years before returning to their home countries, but some, like Sadou, find that they fit right in and choose to stay. Sadou remembers fondly the warm welcome he received in Louisiana. Colleagues and acquaintances helped him find an apartment and furniture, and his students’ families invited him to Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. “These are things I’ll never forget,” he said.

During the spring of that first school year, he heard about Festival International de Louisiane, Lafayette’s annual music and arts festival. As its name implies, the festival’s international appeal is infused with a francophone flavor, and here Sadou saw an opportunity to give back to the community that had welcomed him so warmly. “I found out about Festival International de Louisiane and asked what I could do. They told me that there were people who introduced artists in French, and that’s how I started.” Seventeen years after his first volunteer stint, his enthusiasm for the festival hasn’t waned. “The diversity! When you see more than thirty flags, thirty countries represented there, it’s incredible!”

Sadou also sees French immersion itself as a medium for introducing children to a larger world. “It’s like they’ve traveled to a little bit of everywhere without leaving home,” he said, noting the fifteen different nationalities that make up the staff of his current school, Myrtle Place Elementary. Having recently returned from a professional development workshop on how students build their identity as French speakers, he is also a strong proponent of helping children reinforce ties to their unique Louisiana heritage. Louisiana French and Louisiana Creole are part of a broad spectrum of the language that exists throughout the world, and Sadou asserts that each of these varieties should be valued. “We all speak our own French. We all have our own signature that marks us as individuals. And we can be proud of that.”

After eighteen years and more than five hundred pupils, Moussa Sadou continues to leave his mark in his adopted community. “Je me sens chez moi ici en Louisiane,” he said in French. “I feel at home here in Louisiana.”

—Dr. Marguerite Perkins, Community Development Specialist, and Matt Mick, Communications Officer, CODOFIL