Project #8520

Supporting village children into school in Benin

The new Orphanage
The new Orphanage

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.

Children in Benin
Children in Benin

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."

Working in the Fields
Working in the Fields
Children in Affame, Benin
Children in Affame, Benin
Hard at work!
Hard at work!

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!

The Workhorse
The Workhorse
'Chez Papa Geoff'
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,


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.


Rendering the Walls
Rendering the Walls
Lovely clean water!
Lovely clean water!

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Organization Information


Location: MONMOUTH, MONMOUTHSHIRE - United Kingdom
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
David Steiner
Executive Officer
Monmouth, Monmouthshire United Kingdom
$5,131 raised of $12,098 goal
76 donations
$6,967 to go
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