Supporting village children into school in Benin

 
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$7,281
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Geoff Burnett
Geoff Burnett

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.

Best wishes,

David

Adjidole orphanage now roofed
Adjidole orphanage now roofed

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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Rendering the Walls
Rendering the Walls
Lovely clean water!
Lovely clean water!
One of the lovely Children in Affame
One of the lovely Children in Affame
An enduring feature of our projects in Benin since 2001 - without a break - has been our determination to give volunteer support to the African teams of volunteers in the remote rural region of Affame, Benin. Our African hosts have carefully identified the most pressing needs within their community following consultation with local chiefs and representatives of elected groups.
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We started by helping them to restore the residence for nurses of the Health Centre (which had been virtually destroyed by fire) necessitating their use of beds in the Centre, taking up much needed space there. We moved on to the installation of water and electricity in the Health Centre. This facility was sustained for another eight years until, unfortunately, the flat roof yielded to the tropical rainstorms. But good news!  The Health Authority, subsequently built a new Health Centre acknowledging the joint efforts of both volunteer groups. 
 
Next we were approached by the Head Teacher of the Dogba school, situated across the river Oueme from Affame. Three traditionally built classrooms had been washed away during the rainy months and help was needed to support the building of replacements which might endure the annual flooding. These buildings on stilts are now fully operational. 
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It was during this time that we came to understand the plight of orphaned youngsters in relation to school attendance. School fees had to be paid, uniforms were required at secondary level and difficult daily journeys of up to 15km had to be made by many.  A UK Charity - Inside Out Trust - a 'prison-based' organisation donated ninety cycles one year to help with these journeys. Understandably with such physical exertions it was decided that a daily lunch would also be needed if the young people were to get the maximum benefit from their efforts.
   
Currently there are more than one hundred orphans in the programme, with ten now at University, sixteen have completed or are pursuing apprenticeships and the great majority are attending schools or colleges. 
 
MANY THANKS INDEED TO ALL OF YOU WHO HAVE MADE THIS POSSIBLE WITH YOUR MOST GENEROUS SUPPORT.
 
Earlier this year five HATW volunteers  - Dick, David, Mary, Guillaume and Adeline - were in Affame assisting with the construction of the orphan rescue and training centre Adjidole which is now nearing completion. The last full Global Giving report  was submitted by them in July and included the additional element of the work done by Mary - a recently retired Ophthalmologist. The African team have subsequently taken twenty-seven persons to the specialist hospital in Paracou where a variety of conditions have been/are being successfully treated. Plastering, painting and the fitting of doors and windows remain to be achieved, and all financial assistance towards these goals will be most gratefully received. 
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Progress at Adjidole has been remarkable given the amazing weather extremes, the well-drilling to a depth in excess of thirty metres was successful and the training facilities for Carpentry, Red-Oil production, Motor-Vehicle Maintenance, Bread-making and Tailoring are due to follow-on when the Centre is ready to receive its' first residents. Soon our focus will be to furnish and equip the Centre. Dieudonne, Albert, Jean, Felicienne, Delphine and Blandine will be the initial staffing team and Shadrack, the local baker will be the first with a training responsibility. It is estimated that an annual sum of $15,000 would sustain this level of staffing.
 
Our volunteers Guillaume and Adeline, from France, are aiming to continue their association with the projects during 2015 and they recently revisited the Hands Around The World base in Monmouth and met up with me in Lancashire too. Their skills with computers in particular will be a great asset.
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We look forward to lots of exciting new developments in the coming years! Please continue your support, and watch this space!
Dogba Village scene
Dogba Village scene
The Adjidole Centre starts to go up 2014
The Adjidole Centre starts to go up 2014
The Drilling Rig in front of the new Orphanage
The Drilling Rig in front of the new Orphanage

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.

Water at last!
Water at last!
Guillaume digs out the Toilet
Guillaume digs out the Toilet

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.

Mary eye testing 0214 cropped small

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!

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Organization

HANDS AROUND THE WORLD

MONMOUTH, MONMOUTHSHIRE, United Kingdom
http://www.hatw.org.uk

Project Leader

David Steiner

Chief Executive
Monmouth, Monmouthshire United Kingdom

Where is this project located?

Map of Supporting village children into school in Benin