Children  Benin Project #8520

Supporting village children into school in Benin

Edwige learns to read
Edwige learns to read

When you come to the end of the chili-red, dust track through the centre of the village of Affame, you arrive at the Chez Papa Geoff Orphanage, and (unless the children are away at school), your first impression is of a happy family, with children’s laughter filling the air. As soon as a visitor is spotted, they drop what they are doing and rush to meet you, dropping a small curtsey and offering to carry your bags. They proudly escort you to their home.

These are children who, due to circumstances beyond their control, were dealt a rotten start in life.  However, in being taken into Chez Papa Geoff they have more than made up for it.  They are now the lucky ones.

The first thing that strikes you is the comradeship that exists. You almost never hear arguing, whingeing or disagreements between the 12 children, aged between 6 and 16. They help and support each other with no apparent intervention from adults. They are lucky to have a fine example of a father-figure in Dieudonne, and a warm but firm house-mother in Rosalie. One of the orphanage’s great assets is little Victoria, Rosalie’s baby.  She is universally adored by all the children and amazingly,  is perfectly happy to be pulled around by them. She’s everyone’s kid sister and a great unifying bond. Full marks to Rosalie for being so relaxed about sharing her baby!

During our time there, we were able to spend more time than usual with the children, as the schools were on strike.  To start with, they were all quite shy, but gradually – especially the girls – became totally relaxed with us. The boys took a little longer to unbend!  We took a lot of children’s books in French which they clearly loved, and were keen to read as well as having them read to them. We got the impression many of them hadn’t seen a book before, as there are no text books in school.  We also took several boxes of dominoes which they played over -  and over - and over again!  They also enjoyed Connect Four.  One day, we arranged an Art Day, with paper and coloured pens. Without exception they wanted to rule lines, and even when we removed the rulers, they used the pens.  Freehand is not a word that exists in Fon! They were fascinated by a Kindle, and the older girls had a go at crocheting.  We showed Rosalie how to make drop scones and marmalade, and that caused a great deal of interest.  We found whatever we suggested – there was unbounded enthusiasm.

As an outsider coming in, the impression you get is that Hands Around the World have got the balance of care just about right. These are African children, and though there is temptation is to make “English children” out of them (with toys etc), one must remember their life will be amongst the village folk, not us. The girls will carry water on their heads, cook over open fires, live on a diet  largely of yams and manioc and carry their babies on their backs, probably while tending the goats and crops. The boys will probably work long, hot back-breaking hours in the fields.  With this firmly in mind, they all do their share of the chores around the orphanage – sweeping the court yard, cleaning, cooking and washing up. Only the six year old is excused washing her clothes!

In the mean time, they have plenty of good food to ensure their development, they have beds to sleep in, they go to school, they have facilities for doing their homework. They have support for their ambitions and any problems or health issues that occur, and in addition,  they have the fun they obviously all share, of growing up with 11 brothers and sisters. Hopefully they will carry that with them for the rest of their lives, together with memories of  special days and treats (Christmas, trips to the beach etc.)  that Dieudonne arranges for them.

Drawing and colouring is great fun!
Drawing and colouring is great fun!

Jill Yates and I are just back from a month in Affame, staying at the orphanage ‘Chez Papa Geoff’ with the 12 happy orphans who live there with their house mother ‘Ma’ Rosalie.
We were able to help them with what they had been taught that day, so that they could understand and the more easily memorise what they had been taught.
From what we could judge from her attempts in her writing book, Brigitte [age 9] who speaks very little French and has missed a lot of schooling, it must have seemed a mystery. But, with a little help with writing and word building, and drawings on our part, there was a noticeable difference in her ability to learn her lessons by the time we left.
I wish you could see what a difference their new home and their schooling has already made to each of these fine children!

Learning the important task of dehusking maize
Learning the important task of dehusking maize
The Benin end-of-year report this year is very positive, with 88 students being supported in Secondary School.
79 students graduated to the next year with a pass. 5 students are able to retake their end of year exam, just 1 student has been excluded.
The 7 students who had to retake their end of year exams have passed.
3 Students have passed their Baccalaureat and are now eligible to go to university.
Reine, one of the students who passed the Baccalaureat, came from Silito an impoverished village, her carers were unable to pay for her secondary education and through HATW we were able to support her. She had missed 4 years of schooling but was so keen she was able to pass each year and got through her Baccalaureat at the first go.(This is a rare achievement.). She is now in her first year of a 3 year nursing course at university. Reine is a shy girl but lights up when talking about her future in nursing. Her family and village are very proud of her.
Thank you for your interest and support.
Homework time at
Homework time at 'Chez Papa Geoff'

My visits to Benin have now become a well-rehearsed routine, and my most recent, for the last two weeks of October, was no exception.

The orphanage “Chez Papa Geoff” is now running very smoothly. The local council inspector has made an official visit and declared it “excellent”. His only suggestion was to create an area where the children could do their homework. This had already been completed, except for painting the blackboard, by the time I arrived. It is already being used and as always it is a joy to see how the older children help the younger ones.

The farm side of the project is slowly progressing but hasn’t been helped by lighter than usual rains.

We also managed to fence in a fairly large garden which was being ravaged by pigs and goats. As it is only a few minutes away from the orphanage, the children will be able to raise some much-needed vegetables to augment a somewhat starchy local diet.

Two more volunteers, including a doctor are visiting in February and I am planning a visit in March,to help prepare for the “Grande Saison”. This is, agriculturally, the most critical time of year to get crops planted before the heavy seasonal rains begin.

Thank you for your encouragement and support!

Herve and mum not long after his Operation
Herve and mum not long after his Operation

H.A.T.W. has been working in the small town of Affame in Benin, for the last fifteen years.

About 11 years ago, Margaret C, a nurse/volunteer, on visiting Affame, came across a young boy called Herve who had a club foot. She subsequently arranged to have it operated on the Mercy Ship when it docked in Cotonou. Margaret then undertook to keep Herve supplied with corrective boots.

On my first visit to Affame about a year later, Margaret had asked me to check up on Herve, to make sure he was wearing his boots. Off I set on the back of a motorbike for the six or seven kilometre drive, along some rough and steep tracks, to the tiny isolated village where Herve and his family live. On arrival, the village elder sent someone to seek out Herve. Moments later a small boy stepped out of a hut without a stitch of clothing on but wearing his boots!

As I later got to know his mother, it became apparent that she was quite determined to always do her best for him. It also seemed that the whole village was adding this support. Thus Herve never had the chance of going barefoot again until he was completely healed.

The next time I visited Herve in his village several years later, it was to meet this fine upstanding youth who was the pride of his school football team and had no sign of his former handicap. He incidentally spoke about the best French I have ever heard from a junior school student in Benin.


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Organization Information


Location: MONMOUTH, MONMOUTHSHIRE - United Kingdom
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
David Steiner
Executive Officer
Monmouth, Monmouthshire United Kingdom

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