In January of 2015 there were church buildings burnt all across Niger in riots in response to the Charlie Hebdo affair.

Some of those local churches have been in the process of rebuilding their physical buildings, and others will begin soon. Paul has been contacted to construct some of these buildings with his guys at the training program. It’s a great learning opportunity and a way to give back.

The first structure rebuild is just about finished, well at least the part of the task that we are responsible for.

Here is the church building on the ground after the fires. It was a small metal and straw mat structure in the courtyard of the Pastor’s house. Most of the metal was bent and wrecked and the design for the church was changed so it was not useable this time around.



In the shop the past few months the apprentice guys have been fabricating the entire structure and making new metal benches in place of wood pews.

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In June they started to prep the land at the site of the church- to level it out and put in concrete filled tires to support the beams of the new structure before it arrived. Because the entire structure had been pre-fabricated, it did not take long once the pieces arrived on site! It was all built to be bolted together on arrival and only took a few days out in the sun to erect the structure. The neighbors were amazed!

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Unfortunately Paul got called back unexpectedly early to Canada and the tin roof was not able to be put on until this last week of August. Now the roof is up and final little touches are being put on the church. The local church body will now likely add some straw mat walls in some places and finish getting it set up. So exciting. Will you pray that this place will be greatly used in the community?

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In the back of the courtyard there is also a well functioning water pump. This is such a great source of clean water for the community, just another way this church and it’s pastoral family are trying to love their neighbors!

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This past week we wrapped up this year’s program with a big year end party. Every year we end in late June and start back up again in October. Many of our girls travel back to villages, other cities and even other countries, and stay during harvest time, so they enjoy a nice long break before coming back the first week of October.

This year we ended a week early because Ramadan (month of fasting) started the 17th of June. Since many people fast and are tired, we decided to have the big party and all the food the day before it started!

Each year we give out custom fabric that has our school logo and name on it. It’s a very traditional way in this culture to celebrate big events and everyone gets outfits made and shows up in different outfits and styles but all the same fabric!

First many of the girls came early to help with food prep. There were a lot of onions to peel and other veggies, meat etc! The girls had voted for a meat stew with fresh baguettes and juice for their meal.

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While some cooking was going on, there was dancing and fun going on as well. The girls laughed and did dances and games and had a wonderful time. It is so good to see them relax and have fun with their friends and celebrate all the hard work they did this year. And of course they posed with their friends!

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One young lady who had a baby a few months ago had the courage to still come to the year end party. We were so thrilled to see her and proud of how the other girls welcomed her back warmly. Here she is with her sister (who is also a student) and new daughter.

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We also set up a little photo area and took portraits of all the girls and more groups shots. It is so fun to see how at ease they are and smile as opposed to the first day of school! Here is the apprentice group with Kerri-Jo. These ladies worked so hard this year and made bags, table runners, outfits, etc. Can’t wait to see all they learn next year!

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Our expat (Anasara in the local language) team for the 2014-2015 year. SO blessed to work with these ladies!

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Some of the beautiful children who are at the school many days with their Moms!

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Future students? Daughters of our apprentices.

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Siblings. Aminata (left) helps with translation and as a nurse on clinic days, Hama (middle) works as an apprentice with Paul at the mens shop and Miriama (right) works as a cook and translator and all around friend of the school. We have known this family for many years.

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This is a group shot of almost our whole group (a few were missing), including students, apprentices and staff!  What a great, diverse, and hard working group. We are thankful for this opportunity for them to take a break over the summer and look forward to seeing them all again in October!

Happy year end!!

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Here is Niger, one of the most crippling factors in the life of many women is the lack of access and capacity. Sometimes this is due to ignorance, shame, uncertainty and fear, rather than a lack of actual physical facilities or programs.

This week we tried to break down one of those barriers in our community of young women by taking them all on a field trip to the local “CSI”. CSI stands for Centre de Santé Intégré (Integrated Health Unit). There are little health units like this is most communities in town and many larger villages as well. What is shocking is the lack of awareness that many women have to this facility right in their own community.

We walked the 1 km together down the dirt roads. While it was still scorching hot (42 degrees) we were thankful for the breeze and hazy clouds, even though it carried dirt and thus we had gritty teeth and eyes in short order!





When we arrived we were waiting for a few minutes for the head nurse to be free to start our program. A young man was sitting on his moto in the shade of the tree and came over and asked if he could have permission to present to our Girls. He was from Doctors Without Borders and was doing community awareness training on the recent meningitis outbreak. We gave permission and he spent the next ten minutes telling the girls all about what meningitis was, how it was treated, how it was transmitted from person to person and how to avoid it. He was thrilled to hear we had just vaccinated all our girls last month and said “You are protecting the next generation- and they are all so pretty!” Haha! At any rate, it was great for the girls to hear first hand and to witness some of the government health programs being rolled out.


We broke the girls into 4 groups. Each group was responsible for one specific section to present to the rest of the class later, even if all the groups saw every section. They had to find out what the primary services were, who was the target population, how much it cost, and anything else they thought was note worthy.

The sections:

1) We started in the Prenatal clinic where they chart and track mother’s progress as well as testing for HIV, gestational diabetes and other things. Then we also toured the birthing area! We went into the labour room where there were three women in active labour. I tried to hurry us out of that room quickly as it felt awkward to me, but apparently it did not phase the nurses and they said the women were just “working” but not ready to deliver. Tell that to the poor woman laying on the floor holding onto the metal feet of the bed while she had a contraction! (there was a bed by the way- i think she just prefered the cool tile of the floor) We quickly went into the delivery room because there was no one actively giving birth. The nurse explained the room and equipment to the girls and how neat for them to have a chance to see this room before they show up for the real deal one day! Then we went into the recovery room. We saw a baby who was only 30 minutes old! We also saw a brand new set of twins! I wanted to take photos of their sweet faces but wanted to respect the privacy of the mothers so just imagine in your heads 🙂

And the cost for delivery? Just $2.50 Cdn to get you a bed! It’s true you need to bring your own supplies like gloves, bed plastic, razor, baby bathtub etc, but still…..$2.50!!!



2) Malnutrition program. This area was also staffed with a couple young men who were happy to explain everything to our class of pretty young ladies. They learned how each child who is experiencing signs of malnutrition is measured, weighed and charted and tracked once a month for growth. They have some interventions of corn/soy blend flour and a product called “plumpy nut” (basically a peanut butter bar type thing) to help give extra calories to malnourished mothers and children.


A medieval torture device or the weigh station? The baby is put in a sling and clipped to this hanging scale.



Learning how the curved growth charts work for children. A captive audience!


3) Vaccination program. Here they saw how children from 0-24 months come in for regular vaccinations that are almost free! Such a great program that so few people are aware of. The government of Niger makes the attempt to have free medications for all children under the age of 5. Sometimes the pharmacies or clinics are out of stock, but our team is partnering with this specific health centre to try to augment their stock so that they do not run out.

4) General clinic! Even though this centre focuses mostly on women and children, anyone who is sick can come and see a doctor. There was a long line up of patients so no pictures of this either.

I hope our tour of the local health unit was an encouragement to the girls. So many of the staff were women and it is great for them to see that women can be in professional situations and be active in their community. I also want them to know there are places to go in their communities other than pricey private clinics and that they can have their babies somewhere other than their hut, and they can make sure their children are growing and healthy. What a blessing!


A “fada” is the name of a hangout place. So this spot was “Fada Bad boyz” which was decked out in pink and bright blue with benches and often in the evenings has groups of young men hanging out. But in the middle of the day it was quiet and the girls were happy to invade for a photo-op!

Women’s empowerment- sometimes it is just a field trip away!



Life is full of hard choices. No matter where you find yourself living around the World, our lives are full of choices, and all of those choices lead us down different paths, for good or for bad, and impact our lives in different ways. Life is Niger is no different for the young women that we teach.

This week we talked about choices, values and consequences in our life skills lessons with the girls. We tried to help the girls identify what their values were, and how these values help us to navigate decisions and choices in our lives. Our values lay down our roadmap for how we move forward in life.

But what if you never think about what your values are? You never think through decisions and life just sort of “happens” to you. What if you had very little power in your life to make those decisions and other people just imposed their will on you? What if the core fabric of your culture imposed this on you and you felt very un-empowered to even imagine that you do still have some choices that remain truly yours?

Willienke took the lead on this class and did a great job.

First we broke them out into groups and gave them each a set of 12 pictures. We explained each picture, and then had them put them in order of importance in their lives if they could choose. From one being the highest value in their lives, all the way down to the last which had less value than all the others.



Here were their options:


good health

able to have children

a marriage partner of their choosing

love in their lives

family around them

good friends

enough food to eat

clean water

joy – to be happy 

to be overweight (often a sign of wealth and enough food but less attractive)

to be skinny (more attractive in their eyes but could mean poverty and not enough to eat)

So you can see with this list the types of decisions they would make. What are their heart values? Would they rather be rich or happy? To have their own children or be surrounded by good friends? I know in real life choosing one does not mean you won’t have the other, but in class we made that the case so that they would have to really examine their opinions. After they put their list in order we looked at the top three from every group. The ones that showed up were:

clean water


good health

enough food to eat

to be skinny or to be fat (the group was split pretty evenly on that one!)

one group chose joy as well

Those of us who understand a hierarchy of needs can see why they would choose clean water, food, etc as their top picks. And money can buy all their food and water right? (that was their thinking at least). We went a little deeper and played a game of “this vs. that”. I would pick up two picture choices and they had to pick which one was more important to them, knowing that choosing one would mean they could not have the other one. For example- would they rather marry a poor man who loved them but they lived in squalor or a rich man who was mean to them but they could buy all they want. (Most chose love!)

Would they rather be able to have their own children, but find themselves friendless and lonely? (most chose children!)

Would they rather be skinny and beautiful and often sick or fatter and unattractive but healthy? (most choose skinny and unwell!) We talked about body types and what their culture valued in body types and even gave examples of how this is different around the World. Because our school crosses several different people groups, even amongst the girls we saw different opinions and values on body type. We always try to teach value that our bodies are created beautiful and we should honor them and protect them. How we view ourselves and our self confidence often comes from body image here just like in other cultures.

So while we did not make any life altering choices, or major breakthroughs about anything, our goal was to help them see their own value systems and to think through choices in life. Many ofthem can’t choose these things, they just happen to them, but by knowing what is most important to them they can put their effort into pursuing those things and stop being passive participants in their own lives!


We also brought the groups outside and played out some skits, with each group showing different values and choices in life, usually centering around young girls and early marriage or choosing to stay in school. It is always so good to see them process in their own words how choices are made and what the consequences are. We hope this class will give them more reason to consider all their choices and look for those places where they are empowered to make them!



On January 16th and 17th 2015, Niger suffered from two days of unprecedented attacks against Christians in the country. In the end there were over 70 churches burned, over 60 Pastor’s houses burned and looted, 5 schools burned, several small project sites and an orphanage. But this blog is not about those attacks, it is just to set the scene. You can google and find lots of information about the attacks in Niger if you are interested. Now peace has returned.

In the aftermath of these attacks, our staff had the opportunity to reach out to those who had been affected to lend a hand in rebuilding. Our Girls at Risk Vocational Training School is partnering with another sewing centre that was burned out and looted to get them rebuilt and back on their feet. New machines are being delivered there later this week. Our men’s apprentice training program is involved in a very hands on way to help a school that was burned and looted to be able to open it’s doors to the students again so they don’t miss out on a whole year of education.

8 classrooms were looted of anything valuable and everything else was set on fire.



A tangled mess of burned desks. The wood is gone and the metal is in rough shape.



Paul and the guys went to the school to survey the damage and to pick up all the desk frames that could be salvaged. These past two weeks they have been hard at work refurbishing 60 desks. They had to wash and sand them down, straighten the bent metal, repaint them, and put on new wood tops and seats.



They are in the final stages and will attach the new wood this week and are set to deliver the desks as soon as the school yard is secure enough (new gates required etc) to be ready for them. Paul has been encouraged to report how well all the apprentices are working, including a few new day labourers he is “trying out” who are sanding all the new wood tops.  This is the perfect kind of training project where they do the same kind of job over and over again to perfect skills. Plus it’s a tangible way for them to see and experience the value of helping others when they are in need.  There have been many great conversations with them as well as a result of these attacks as they discuss religion and attacks done in the name of religion.



In the midst of this project and several others they have recently got for some paying clients (making metal bookshelves, rebuilding a broken cement mixer among others) they are also trying to get the roof up! The temperatures are climbing and working in the sun is going to wear everyone out quicker. We have two of the trusses up already with three more to go, and then putting on the tough fabric roof material. It will make such a difference when this roof is up, I know they will all rejoice!





A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of teaching a lesson on the value of women to the girls at the center. Without looking far, in any society, there are many women found who are looking in the wrong places for their identities. The same basic questions of worth plagues the hearts and minds of women around the world. “Am I beautiful?”, “Do men approve of me?”, “Do I possess the ability to work?” and “Do I own enough possessions?” These questions become the criteria used to mark a price tag on each woman. This skewed view cripples societies. As a woman seeks her value from the wrong things, she breaks her marriage, family and body. How then can she battle the poverty she might be stuck in. From the depressed Canadian mother who can’t keep a Pinterest worthy home to the young girl in the third world taking any man she can in order to at least be of some function in this world, women miss out on one truth. This truth is that we are all knit together by God (on purpose) in our mothers’ wombs and thus are of irreplaceable value.

The girls started by looking at several pictures – a woman working, a woman with children, a beautiful woman, wealthy woman, and a woman with husband/boyfriend. They had to pick which one had the most value. The top three were the working woman, the wealthy woman and the woman with a husband. Surprise: each woman is of equal value, but do they let their value shine through their actions?

We looked at two basic principles of where the value of a woman lies. First, every woman is created with an infinite price tag. Second, ladies put a finite price tag on themselves by allowing their beauty, relationships and even ability to work define their value.

“Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” Proverbs 31:30. Value comes from an intricate understanding of your relationship with your creator. This understanding leads a woman to a life of actions based on knowing that her price is priceless.

My teammates and I deeply desire for these girls to grasp their value and to live it out. Here, more than anywhere before, I have realized how important it is to understand one’s innate value. Poverty or any other societal problem cannot be overcome unless there is a proper value of individuals. When a woman knows her God-given value, she can raise her family and support her family in an effective way. If she is searching for her value in men, makeup, light skin (or dark if she’s white), or family situation, she cannot focus on doing well.

I am privileged to journey with these girls in discovering their worth. Also, I am challenged in my perception of worth as I teach on the subject. Teaching something is the best way to learn it.

This weekend we had the privilege of hosting a late Christmas party with ladies that have connection with our center. It was a privilege to care for some young women who don’t get the chance to leave home much.

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A quick update from Niger! We took a two week break at the school over the holidays and now we are embarking on new sessions and topics in all of our classes. What a delight to see all the girls back in school and ready to learn.


The highlight of my week are the moments I get to spend with these young ladies and our staff, both at the school and visiting their homes.


Just before the Christmas break we had some special visitors to our country and school who always bless us and lead us so well!


We taught a class where the girls were self identifying all the problems they felt they faced in their lives, from lack of clothing to lack of education, to health concerns, work concerns, safety etc. Then we had them vote (using rocks in a cup) for their most urgent problems they wanted to address. This will give us insight into their concerns and direction on where to go with some of our classes in the future to address those needs.


The girls have also made significant progress in their vocational skills. They are all working on knitting a complete baby outfit (booties, pants, jackets and hat) and once they know this they can easily make and sell these locally. They are also almost done their hand sewing projects and in the next few months we will be purchasing all the new machines we need for them! So excited to see them make this next step and thankful for you who bought those machines via the gift catalog!





Just before the Christmas break we told them the story of Christmas and acted it out using a nativity set. Interesting to see how they loved checking out the clay set and were asking questions. In a country that is not Christian but still celebrates it as a holiday day where everyone gets together, has parties, eats good food etc, it was neat to tell them what the day signified and the events as they unfolded that day, so long ago.



Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!

This past week at NVOC we talked about honesty. From the North American perspective, honesty is a strong value for us, right up there with moral levels of “right and wrong”. But in many other cultures, there are many things more important than honesty, such as saving face, protecting your reputation, gaining advantage for your family, or even the “honor” of pulling a fast one on someone. In Niger I would say we are somewhere in the middle. Honesty is not a high value for them, but it is also not unimportant either and it sure bugs them if they are on the receiving end of the dishonesty.

Cecilia took the lead this week and she opened up asking what honesty meant to them and giving examples of why it might be important in their lives. Then she told them three stories. The first one was the old classic “The boy who cried wolf”. The she told the biblical story of Ananias and Saphira. Then she told a part of the story of Joseph where he was a great man in Egypt during the famine and his brothers came to him to buy grain, not knowing who he was. We talked out each story and where the truth and lies were. Then we divided the girls into groups and they each re-enacted a story for the whole big group.

We laughed lots but we also appreciated the comments and feedback from the Girls that God sees the heart, and we cannot lie to him. Lying is showing the black in our hearts.

Enjoy the photos of some of the learning, skits, and even our “sheep” from one of the stories!

Pray with us as always that God’s word and his desire strong moral character would not be lost on these precious girls.







Mariama shows off her plate of delicious rice and sauce

Frail hardly described the tiny 13 year old Mariama when she entered her first year at NVOC. Her country, Niger, is stricken by poverty. Its effects are evident wherever one might look. Yet Miriama’s case screamed out as severe above most. For Miriama the hot lunch program helped nourish her tiny body; and along with other training and encouragement you would never pick her out from a crowd as weak. She is no giant but she holds herself in a stately manner and possesses a zest for life. The once tiny and shy girl is now the social butterfly among the NVOC apprentices. Even though not all girls come to NVOC in such a desperate state the hot lunch program offers some much needed nutrition and protein to the girls’ diet. As illustrated by Miriama’s story, hot lunch served every day is an integral part of NVOC’s work to help girls out of the grasps of poverty.

A healthy lunch full of vegetables, meat and grains is fed to the girls every weekday lunch. This is a change from the last cycle of NVOC when the program ran only four days a week. It was decided that a bit of nutrition helps the girls focus and learn optimally during class time. So, it’s now five meals a week!

According to the staff, the sauce called Chipata(made with a leaf specific to the region, peanut butter, squash, tomatoes and other vegetables and meat) is a big favourite! And the students seem to like it too! For the girls this is a rich meal. Usually a good meal is considered a belly stuffed full of carbohydrates (rice, couscous, bread etc.). But NVOC intends tohelp these girls understand that the nutrition they and their families need is contained in a balanced array of foods including vegetables for vitamins and meat for protein.

Who gets it done?

Voici Hassi! Here is the reason the girls eat. She works hard to bring all of the ingredients to NVOC and is the head of the operations. Hassi always greets with a warm smile and genuinely cares to contribute to the lives of these girls!

Voici Mariama! Mariama works part time at NVOC. She always loves to have someone for a tasty meal! This is evidenced in the food that we eat every day that she is cooking.

Voici Traichad! She is a lovely addition to the team, providing good help and big smiles!

Voici ‘YOU’! ‘YOU’ as in the supporters of the Hot Lunch Program. Unfortunately the markets don’t supply free food. If they did, who would need Hot Lunch program?

Not Just Physical Nutrition

Relationships are built around the table.It is a good opportunity for the young ladies to interact with each other and with the NVOC staff. Good food often precedes good conversations.


This program is not fully funded for the year. If you would like to know how to contribute, please check out the following link- scroll down to find the link “Niger Vocational Training School – Hot Lunch for One Month.”


The girls line up to be served by Hassi


This may not please any aesthetic cravings but it sure does taste good!


Some of the girls are enjoying lunch together


Lunch is always a time for fun!

These last two weeks at the NVOC school we haveseen different ways in which the students work together really well, and other ways that they really work in opposition to each other. Let’s keep in mind that only two months ago a lot of these girls didn’t know each other. And that they are teenage girls, just like teenage girls all around the world in many ways. We have seen examples of where they have sat next to each other and taught a crocheting stitch to someone that wasn’t understanding it. We have seen them sit and braid each other’s hair. We have seen them work together in math class to come to the right answer as a group. But we have also seen them call each other names. We have heard of them excluding someone because of their religious beliefs. We have seen insults and even hitting occur when they didn’t get along and they wanted to try to be superior to another girl by putting her down. We have had tears and hurt feelings. Even as a adult I am reminded of how rejection hurts and how it feels to be excluded. No matter where you are from, those things hurt.

It was perfect timing to have a day where we were focusing on teamwork and encouragement. We started the afternoon by talking about the African Proverb –

” If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. “

We talked about cultural examples of how people working together could succeed and ways that they saw that happen in their own communities. We also talked about how in their culture (like many others) people who succeed and get ahead are often insulted and sabotaged and brought down by people who do not want anyone to get ahead or to succeed if it isn’t them. They gave several examples of how this is true in their own lives and community experiences as well.

I read them Ecclesiastes 4:9-10.

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.

We talked about what happens when you see one person insulting another person. I gave them the example of if Cecilia and I were fighting and I started calling her names and insulting her. What did that make them think about Cecilia? Quite often it did not actually make people think worse of Cecilia. People know that insults often hold no truth. I asked them what it would show about the person who was giving the insults- this they quickly answered was obvious that they were a mean person. We talked about how our actions and how we treat others actually shows clearly the condition of our own hearts. So the one doing the accusing is actually just showing the black condition of their own heart. One of the girls told a little story example that tied perfectly in with my next scripture. I paraphrased and explained to them Numbers 11:14-17- telling them a little bit about the life of Moses and these verses-

I alone am not able to carry all this people, because it is too burdensome for me. “So if You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once, if I have found favor in Your sight, and do not let me see my wretchedness.” The LORD therefore said to Moses, “Gather for Me seventy men from the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and their officers and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you….”Then I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit who is upon you, and will put Him upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you will not bear it all alone.

We are made to live in community. We all are better off when we work to the good of the community and when we lift each other up and become encouragers, and not negative people who only think selfish thoughts. I told them we hoped to see more community grow in our school and less of the arguments and insults or putting down other people. Will you join us in praying this spoke to their hearts and that God would continue to grow a spirit of unity among them? I reminded them of one of my motto’s for the school.

The world outside these walls is cruel and will be against you. But in here, we are family. And we stand together.

Then we switched to some interactive ways to experience teamwork. Kerri-Jo showed them a great, physical example. If you are sitting on the ground with your feet in front of you (even with knees bent up) it is almost impossible to get up yourself without using your hands. But if you sit back to back with another person and you apply pressure and support each other, you can stand up together. Hilarity ensued as we saw the girls pair up and try to make this happen. It was more like WWF wrestling than teamwork at some points!

Kerri-Jo and Katie showing them how it is done!



Then we introduced our creative project for the day. Operation “save Mr Egg!”. The girls were all given a raw egg to name and some craft materials. Their job was to work together as a team to come up with a design that would protect their precious Mr. Egg from a fall from various heights. Each girl had one item to add to the materials and they had to work together to make the best design. The winning team would be the one who survived the greatest fall! The Girls loved this activity and really I was pleased to see such a positive atmosphere as they worked together. In the end, we dropped the eggs from different heights and the biggest survivor finally cracked about 6 feet off the ground. I remember last cycle when we had two designs that still didn’t break when we dropped them off the roof! But that cone design was not present this year and thus the shorter distances.

 This poor Mr Egg never made it off the research and development floor…


One of the groups showing off their design. I love the feather hat look 🙂


We kept dropping the eggs from various heights as we knocked out the competition.


The winning team!