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.