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Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Africa Colors a Destiny

Africa, Chad
Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12
Cross-Cultural Understanding, Social Studies & Geography
1-2 class periods

In this lesson, students learn about culture in Chad through the eyes of two Peace Corps Volunteers: Michael Varga, who served in Chad from 1977-1979, and Fan Yang, who served there almost thirty years later, in 2005-2006. Both Volunteers were evacuated due to civil war. Students will watch a slide show and examine primary sources–letters sent home from Michael Varga during his service–to learn about the geography and culture of Chad, as well as how his Peace Corps experience shaped his future. Then students will study photographs and stories from Fan Yang's time in Chad to compare the two Volunteers' experiences.

  • Students will compare and contrast the stories of two Peace Corps Volunteers who served in Chad at different times, and examine how they adapted to another culture.

  • Students will identify the impact of geography and climate on economic opportunities and daily life.

  • Students will explore how cultural beliefs shape daily life, gender roles, and beliefs about ourselves and others.

  • Commodity: Something of use or value
  • Convoy: A group of vehicles protected by an escort for safety
  • Diplomat: A person who works for the national government conducting official negotiations and maintaining relationships with other countries
  • Dispensary: Public medical center
  • Itinerant: Traveling from place to place
  • Linguistic: Pertaining to language
  • Malaria: A blood disease carried by mosquitoes that can cause chills, fever, and sometimes leads to death
  • Perseverance: Persisting in one’s actions; not giving up
  • Resiliency: The ability to recover quickly or adjust easily  


Part 1

1. Ask if students have heard of Chad or know anything about it. Provide some information about the culture and geography of the country (see Background Information). Identify Michael Varga as a Peace Corps Volunteer who served in Chad from 1977-1979.

2. Have students watch the slide show, "Africa Colors a Destiny" (linked to above) and complete a graphic organizer ("Africa Colors a Destiny" Viewing Guide, (linked to above) as they watch. Then have students share their observations and questions. Answer their questions if possible, and help students think about where they could look to find more information.

3. Discuss some of the issues raised by the slide show. Here are some possible discussion questions:

  • Michael Varga states that his Peace Corps experience "allowed me to redefine myself as a citizen of the world, not just a boy from Philadelphia." What does he mean by this? What skills did Michael develop during his time in Chad?
  • What resources were scarce in Chad? Why? How did people in his village adapt to the scarcity of resources?
  • What were some of the health concerns in the village? How were they addressed?
  • Describe the gender roles in the village. How were work, education, and daily life shaped by gender?

Part 2

4. Now have students read excerpts from "Notes to the Varga Family" (linked to above) by Michael Varga and listen to or read the "Spotlight on Chad" (linked to above) commentaries by Fan Yang, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Chad from 2005-2006.

5. Have students use a Venn diagram to compare the experiences of Michael Varga and Fan Yang.

6. Discuss what the students learned from comparing the two stories. Here are some possible discussion questions:

  • Fan Yang served in Chad 27 years after Michael Varga. What was similar about their experiences? What was different? What changes took place over time? How did their experiences vary due to their genders?
  • What aspects of the Chadian culture were the most difficult for Michael and Fan to get used to? Why do you think it was difficult? How did their perceptions of the culture change over time?

Note: If time is limited and you would like students to focus on only certain topics of the stories, here are some suggestions:

  • Geography: Chapters 13 and 14. Have students locate Chad on a map and identify the major geographic features. Using maps and the information from Michael and Fan, discuss the impact of geography on the economy and culture of Chad.
  • Economics: Chapters 2, 8, 15. Discuss the economic activities that take place in the villages. What types of work do people do? What is valuable? How do geography and culture have an impact on the economy?
  • Education and Culture: Chapters 5 and 10. Compare education in Chad with education in your community. What educational opportunities were available in Chad? What factors limited educational opportunities? What effect does this have on the economy? 

Frameworks & Standards

  • Everyone has a culture. It shapes how we see the world, ourselves, and others.
  • Many cultural beliefs and practices endure over time.
Essential Questions
  • How does culture shape the way we see the world, ourselves, and others?
  • How does geography shape economy and culture?
    Social Studies
  • Thematic Strand I: Culture
  • Thematic Strand II: Time, Continuity, and Change
  • Thematic Strand III: People, Places, and Environments
  • Thematic Strand IV: Individual Development and Identity
  • Thematic Strand IX: Global Connections 


  1. Cross-Cultural Understandings: Read "A Straw Fence as Tall as a Man" (linked to above) by Michael Varga. What cultural values shaped Michael's decision to build a fence? What happens to the fence? What impact does this have on Michael and how does it influence the rest of his time in Chad? Why does Michael share this story with his students back in the U.S.? Look at the stories and lesson plans in Uncommon Journeys for further reading on cross-cultural experiences of other Peace Corps Volunteers.
  2. Social Studies: Michael Varga was evacuated from Chad in 1979 due to a civil war. Almost three decades later, in 2006, Fan Yang was also evacuated due to the ongoing civil war. Research the civil war in Chad. What are the sources of conflict in Chad? What role have geography, economics, and culture played in the conflict? Compare and contrast this war with other civil wars you have studied.  
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