The residential children’s centre in Affame, named in memory of Geoff Burnett, is now ready for occupation.
This year's visit in September will mark an interesting change in my involvement with Benin. For the first time since I started going there in 2009, there are no on-going building projects. This time the emphasis for me will be on helping HANDS AROUND THE WORLD (HATW) local representatives themselves to raise running costs for the centre.
The obvious route for this is to build on the work started on lifting agriculture from the current subsistence level. The tractor and implements provided through HATW are already leading to improvements in soil fertility by enabling farmers to incorporate crop residues rather than the traditional burning. I am now removing my engineer’s hat and, calling on a lifetime of living on a farm, will be using a soil test kit donated by Andrew W to check on actual levels of fertility as a first step towards improving outputs. Andrew, an agriculturalist, hopes to visit Benin in the future to further this work.
Forestry plays an important role in this area and the Iroko tree is considered of great value. Unfortunately there is no local knowledge of how to propagate this tree. However some work at a Nigerian university has developed a system of stratification for the Iroko seeds to enable germination. I will be taking the very simple equipment (i.e. a thermometer and schedule) to start a programme of raising plants for sale.
Work on the orphan support programme will now continue under the able guidance of Nigel England who will be accompanying me to Benin on 22 September. I'll leave him to introduce himself.
Nigel writes: "In 2009 I was involved in a trip to Kenya to build a school with volunteers and local tradesmen and women. This was an amazing experience. I now have the spare time due to retirement as a children's services manager from a large charity. HATW has given me the opportunity to use my skills in child protection and engineering (20 plus years in each) to support the project in Benin. I will be looking to help enable sustainable systems to ensure safe and appropriate child development."
In these days following the death of our long-term project co-ordinator Geoff Burnett, it is very important to reinforce the links and ensure the continuity of this project. He's a hard act to follow! Geoff was such an enthusiast, and devoted to the people of Benin. Indeed, when our next volunteers go out in September, they have agreed to take out some of his ashes to scatter on the banks of the River Oueme which meant so much to him. Our African partners too are much moved by this gesture.
Geoff's extremely valuable work in support of vulnerable and under-priviledged children continues, with 164 currently being helped, of whom 104 are in school, 28 in 'seconde cycle' (sixth form), 20 in apprenticeships and 12 in university. Nigel England our new co-ordinator will be visiting and getting to know them in the autumn.
Dick Wheelock will be spending time there too again, using his agricultural engineering skills and experience as well as some new parts to help keep the tractor working hard. A drill for assisting with the planting of maize will be in his luggage!
Meanwhile construction work on the Affame children's residential centre 'Chez Papa Geoff' is proceeding well. The shell of the building is complete as is the exterior rendering, the ceilings are up, wiring is under way and just painting remains before the building comes fully to life and children can start to move in later this year.
We look forward to the next steps and hope honestly and appropriately to be able for long into the future to make a really positive difference in the lives of many needy children. Thank you for your help, and please continue to support us in our work!
It is very sad to have to record the death of a good friend, and now we must remember the passing of Geoff Burnett, for many years our project co-ordinator for the HATW projects in Benin, West Africa, and a tireless fighter for the disadvantaged.
He will be sadly missed, but happily the orphanage he established will be named 'Chez Papa Geoff' in his memory. May he rest in peace.
His funeral and a celebration of his life will be on Tuesday 24 February.
We very much hope to be able to continue his work, and are delighted to report that Nigel England, ably supported by Dick Wheelock, will help ensure a future for this link by acting as our new Project Co-ordinator. Although Nigel has not visited Benin before, he has building skills and experience, has been a HATW volunteer at an orphans' project in Kenya and has many years' experience of working with children in care in the UK.
Of course we look forward too to your ongoing support and help. Thank you.
In recent times I have been talking often with Geoff Burnett and Dick Wheelock about progress with the Adjidole orphanage building in Benin. Dick visited twice in 2014 with other volunteers and helped move the building along, also embarking on the drilling of boreholes. Unfortunately, Geoff has been unwell and for the first time in 12 years was unable to visit this year. We have however received regular encouraging reports on progress, along with some photos from Dieu Donne Kakpo our link partner in the country, showing the roofing and subsequently the plastering/rendering of the Adjidole building well under way.
Happily, although the initial building funds have now been used up, we are delighted to have been able to secure further money to allow the work to continue, especially as the weather is currently good. Dick feels that the team are very much on budget and producing good quality work. He writes:
'The shell of the main Adjidole building is now complete but wiring, ceilings, rendering and painting are still required. The boundary wall is also complete – but the necessity of moving the construction of this wall forward has involved some changes to the timing of the original plan.
The expenditure of the newly agreed funds should be quite sufficient to get the orphanage open and working with up to 10 or 12 children. We then need to allow time to see if there proves to be both a demand for and the ability to manage more children, before taking further steps.'
In relation to the child support programme, we are in a more unsettled position due to Geoff’s enforced inability to visit this year. I do hope that Guillaume (who volunteered in 2014) will be able to look at this when he visits later in the year, supported by Dick who is hoping to go out again in 2015.
Naturally, we are keen to supervise the support programme closely, whilst feeling confident that Dieu Donne is very honest and worthy of support.
This is a successful project, consistently doing well and supporting many needy children! Thank you for your support and interest in the past. With your help, we hope to be able to make a positive difference to many more children in the future.
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