It's been great for me to have the opportunity to make my first visit to this enormously worthwhile project!
The generally joyful spirit of the local children and those in the schools was in stark contrast to some of the sad and haunted faces of youngsters looking to be accommodated in the new orphanage. Hopefully the new safe and nurturing environment will make all the difference.
Our visit to Benin started with a 2 hour drive from Cotonou to Affame. I was privileged to be in the company of Dick Wheelock whose skill, experience, language and demeanour eased the path in a new venture for me, my gratitude to him for his companionable support.
Almost immediately on our arrival we were asked to join in a celebration and reflect upon the legacy of Geoff Burnett, the co-ordinator and instigator of the new orphanage, for whom a great deal of respect and gratitude was expressed. The new project is named after him ‘Chez Papa Geoff’ and is near completion. The new orphanage will accommodate 24 children initially - during my time there 22 children had been identified by the local foundation staff.
The main building is already complete with 4 bedrooms, 2 shower blocks and toilets. Each bedroom can accommodate 6 children. Additional buildings - a paillote (thatched dining hut) and kitchen - have been costed and that further development is under way. The daily cost of food per child has been calculated, as have the costs of beds and mattresses.
We were able to take out with us an electric pump to provide on-site water, however due to the consistency of the soil a ground filter also needs to be sent out and fitted to avoid the pump from becoming blocked. In the meantime there is a well near the orphanage if any problems arise with the on-site pump. There is a great mix of staff established to look after the children, reflecting gender, age and local religions, a very positive and inclusive atmosphere prevails. The staff are keen to promote a culture of integration with the local community, there will be no apparent barriers to children making friends and integrating with the local children. During our time we were also able to visit the school building in Dogba. We found it to be in reasonable repair especially given the level of flooding it has been subjected to. (That side of the river floods 4 years in 5).
Due to the fact that schools are closed from the 1st July until the 5th October for their summer break I was unable to visit the local directors and some of the children until my final week. The first week back at school is taken up with the young people clearing the grounds and sorting out their timetable. I felt it would be helpful to collect some key information regarding children's attendance and achievement levels. We discussed this issue and as a result information for the 144 children who are being supported through HATW will be sent to Dieudonne (foundation link). Once the information begins to come in I can organise it into a spreadsheet that can be used to evidence achievements and outcomes for the children as they progress through the education system. In conclusion the project is providing a vital service - improvements, mostly in reporting, will help shine a light on their achievements.The construction work is on target and the staff are open to ideas on where to focus their energy for new developments.Local support is enthusiastic and energetic. Local custom supports all adults in taking responsibility for all children and their behaviour. Children are expected to work for the benefit of the family and the level of religious tolerance I observed is admirable. Dieudonne has managed to involve the King and the Mayor in the work of the programme as well as a local businessman who supports the projects. As an aside, during our trip Dick and I were able to support a local elder to access treatment for his cataracts.
Overall, a great deal has been achieved and it has been my privilege to be involved. I look forward to visiting again next year.
We have after many years of trying achieved one of our goals!
As stated in my July report, we are delighted to have now secured the services of three English teachers willing to join the team visiting Muko School in Bugarama in early November - they will be teaching the teachers of the School and surrounding area. Working with the help of the Headmistress and the Dean of Studies, they will be there, in the next instance, for up to four weeks.
Other members of the group will continue with the building maintenance program that has made a vast difference to this underprivileged school. Local labourers will continue with the building of the perimeter wall, which it is hoped will completed on this trip. The long-drop unhygienic toilets are still a huge problem for the children who at the moment only have a very limited number to share; fresh water storage too is a matter that will be addressed, in order to stop all the rainfall going to waste.
Each of these visiting volunteers will be self-funding - travel fares, accommodation and food expenses. But of course finance is still required to bring this school up to an acceptable level - both to pay the local labourers and for building materials.
On my return home just before Christmas I'll be reporting on our progress and look forward to adding lots of photos too!
If you have donated to this very worthy project I thank you. Please continue to help us support this school!
Changes can sometimes come slowly! Challenging problems are still faced by children with disabilities in Kenya although the DCC disability centre does a fantastic job of providing practical support to families in the Maua area.
In their workshop, triple phase electricity is being installed, and constructing an extension to the workshop is also due to start shortly.
Nearby, Athi school provides accommodation and basic education for about 100 children with disabilities. Recognition of Athi as a disability school by Kenyan education authorities was a major step forward, but there are still huge challenges to address.
Work on the therapy room at the school, with funding sourced by Hands Around The World, is nearing completion and at last the children will have a place for regular treatment on site, with visits by therapists from DCC.
The biggest challenge for Athi at the moment is not having good classrooms. The one they use is completely dilapidated, especially now, because of the rains. All the children are squeezing up into the one classroom, borrowed from the regular primary school next door.
Hands Around the World partners look to provide regular professional volunteer visits and practical support. What can you do to help?
Have you building, physiotherapy or disability reaching skills you can share? A month or more for a visit? Would you like to get a volunteer team together to help in building new classrooms at Athi school? Or maybe your disability school could provide encouragement by partnering Athi and sharing experiences and resources. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information...