I spent February in Affame Benin with a group of volunteers mostly working on the orphanage which is being sponsored by HATW.
David Edge (a structural engineer with well drilling experience) and I had already decided to put together a cable drilling rig that could be used to provide a reliable water supply for the orphanage and surrounding houses. We assembled the winch unit and diesel engine before shipping it and a selection of drill tooling, to Benin . The gantry was to be made in Affame using local timber. Unfortunately the ship was delayed which meant that DE and myself had to return at the end of April.
However there was plenty of work to be done at the orphanage. Albert and Dieudonne (who are the local organisers for HATW) are also farmers and enthusiastic about integrating the orphanage and its children with local agriculture. One idea is to use composting toilets which, especially by separation of urine, can provide a valuable fertilizer to increase crop yields. This should be a significant factor on the somewhat “hungry” local soils. The photo shows Guillaume digging out one of the composting toilets.
On our return at the end of April, David and I, with plenty of local help, assembled the drilling rig. Our first borehole was in a patch of ground which can now, with a water supply, be used as a market garden. This will provide vegetables for the orphans and also train them in basic horticulture.
The drill worked well and once we got used to the local soil conditions soon reached 18 metres depth where we found water. There is still some work to be done developing the well but there is a supply of some 12 cubic metres a day available.
The rig was then moved to the orphanage where Albert and Dieudonne had already reached a depth of 6 metres before we left. Latest news from Benin is that a depth of 30 metres has been reached, which is just above water table.
Ophthalmologist Dr Mary Kelly has just returned from her first visit to Benin, and wonders what the long term benefits over there will be. She is sure however that she will never be quite the same again… Here she writes about her 4-week HATW adventure:
I tried to do what I could for the eye problems of the lovely people who live in Affame. The main problems I found were cataracts, presbyopia, and pterigia. There was only one schoolchild that I saw with congenital cataracts, but there were 17 adults with senile cataracts, all of whom have been referred for surgery to Parakou.
Five people with pterigium (an overgrowth of conjunctiva which spreads across the cornea, in response to exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, combined with exposure to wind and dust) have been referred locally to Adjhoun for surgery to remove the growth. Several people have also been sent there for treatment with eye drops, which will at least make the eyes less painful, for as long as they can be prescribed.
I saw one child with an active corneal ulcer, in whom immediate treatment with antibiotics was begun, and was successful. There were several other children and adults who had lost the sight of an eye due to corneal ulcers which had not been treated. In one village there were 3 such cases. I expected to see many cases of trachoma but only saw one definite case, and 4 cases of conjunctivitis which might have been early stages of the disease.
Many people complained of their eyes burning, and I’m sure that if I had had the use of a slit-lamp I would have found significant problems with the lubrication of the front surface of the eyes secondary to exposure to the elements. Anyone who could supply the widespread need for lubricant drops, and protective eye-wear, at affordable cost could relieve much discomfort, and prevent the development of serious eye problems.
I took with me some eye drops and ointments, antibiotics and lubricants, but soon ran out of supplies; then was unable to get hold of more from the local dispensary.
I carried out many sight tests. Nearly all the people who came said that they couldn’t see properly, including many of the schoolchildren. Only a small minority had a refractive error, which I did my best to correct with the glasses I had with me.
Amongst the adults, presbyopia was the main cause of difficulty, though few complained that they found close work difficult.The low literacy rate is the reason for this. However, anyone owning a mobile phone complained of not being able to see the numbers!
In all, about 120 pairs of glasses were given which were as near as possible to the required strength, and they were received with much delight. The Methodist minister who was able to read his bible once again on the Sunday we attended his service was one!
For the children, better lighting in the class rooms, (and smaller class rooms) would make reading off the blackboard less difficult.
It was for me both a great experience and a huge learning curve!
Many thanks to all of you who helped us raise £870 in our recent Eye Appeal to support Mary Kelly's work in Benin. This was a wonderful effort!
Mary is currently evaluating the possibilities and assessing how best to spend the funds to achieve maximum benefit.
With our other 4 volunteers just returned from their work on the construction of the new residential unit for needy children in Affame, and a couple of boreholes nearby, we hope to have more information and pictures to share with you in the next week or two. These pictures are a taster for what will follow shortly! Watch this space...
Dr Mary Kelly is volunteering currently as an ophthalmologist with HANDS AROUND THE WORLD in Benin, West Africa (looking mainly for children with eye infections needing treatment, and children who need cataract surgery).
She has gone out with 4 others who are helping build and develop, in Affame village, an accommodation unit for orphaned children some of whom also have disabilities.
We have just received a report from Mary about her work so far, after her first 2 weeks.
She has already seen lots of people in the clinic! Many need glasses; 4 need cataract surgery soon; several need treatment for corneal ulcers, a growth called pterygium, etc.; many need antibiotic drops or tablets.
Last week Mary also did a session in the local secondary school where 26 children who said they could not see the blackboard were tested – only 4 would benefit from glasses, others mostly needing antibiotics and follow up. One youth aged 20 needs cataract surgery. (More visits are planned.)
We are now targeting support for her work through a Global Giving appeal which offers valuable 50% matched funding on donations made between Mondays 3 and 10 March. Cost of treatment is a major barrier to local people - cataract surgery (for example) costs £100!
Please help if you can. Thank you so much.
We have become accustomed to extreme hardship in the world resulting from drought and the antithesis, flooding. In Benin, and in particular in the region of the River Oueme, the issue of the timing of the arrival of the tropical rainstorms is greatly significant. The staple crop of the area, maize, depends on critical irrigation for satisfactory growth, but so also does the capacity for effective construction. The Dogba classrooms were completed to replace three traditionally thatched structures lost to flooding and the newly constructed rooms, in a very remote district across the river was bravely achieved by a determined African team.
Now they are experiencing big natural challenges in the building of the rescue centre for homeless and physically compromised youngsters.
It had been decided that the Centre – Adjidole – would best be situated within a central area of the village for the safety of the children and to give them access to schools and community playing fields. Land for sale was not easy to find and natural water courses needed to be diverted. Now achieved!
A voluntary community support group was formed in Benin, the former mayor, two current headteachers and a recently retired primary head, now the representative for womens welfare have joined forces with the village chief and King Allocheou of Bonou. The immediate Centre team of six represent three faith groups - Methodists, the Church of the Celeste and the village Muslim community.
Guidelines for the day-to-day running of the Centre have been agreed. Admission to Adjidole will be governed by evident need and the Centre will be a non-violent community working towards self-sufficiency.
The construction is now proceeding well (Photo 2).
The tractor - kindly donated in 2012 - is proving to be a real asset. Foundations have been laid, walls constructed and reinforcing bars in place.
The versatility of the tractor is soon to be tested when the machinery for the well construction, recently sent from the UK, arrives in Benin. The winch unit and drilling rig are due at a time to coincide with the arrival of a volunteer team from the UK and France next February.
(Photos 3 and 4)
Shadrack, from the village bakery, known well to previous UK volunteers and now eighteen, is working with the team. The Centre Leader is currently investigating linking with a project in Kenya ‘Baking our way to a sustainable future’ initiated by an Australian charity; Shadrack’s expertise could help to bring this to fruition at Adjidole. This initiative might be attractive to potential sponsors. Your donations would be well received.
Mary, one of the volunteers and an ophthalmologist, recently retired from Hereford Eye Hospital. She will associate with Health Centres of the Bonou region. Depending on financial donations, minor operations will be arranged, hopefully to coincide with the annual visit of the Mercy Ship Anastasia in Cotonou. A donation of $150 would meet the cost of a cataract operation, transport and follow-up for one young person. Can you please help?
It is pleasing to have received letters from two of the orphans supported in this project recently. Djidjoho, in his second year studying Physics and Chemistry at the University, concludes: "Please accept the sincere expression of my deep gratitude."
Alain, currently studying for his Baccalaureate at a post-sixteen college, tells of his struggle since the death in 1999 of his father (who left three wives and fifteen children). With the project's support, Alain gained a Certificate of Primary Studies in 2005 and a Diploma of the First cycle in 2011. He hopes to progress to University in the future.
Here you see representatives of the orphan group of more than one hundred generously assisted with funding, thus enabling them to attend schools, colleges and universities and complete apprenticeships. The project aims to sustain this programme; development of the Adjidole residential centre will extend help to the homeless and meet some of their most pressing needs.
The next challenge for the centre will be to secure funding for furniture, bedding, mosquito nets, chairs, tables and a computer facility.
The Spring 2014 Hands Around The World volunteers will help the African team in planning to meet the challenge.
Many thanks indeed for the help you have given and hopefully may consider giving in the future.
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