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All Girls to School

Before we start a new project, we sign an agreement with the population of the very villages to make them promise that they will send more girls to school once the new buildings are constructed. To give further importance to this idea, the Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development proposed us to start a campaign to increase the number of girls in classrooms. Picking up this proposal, we asked a young artist to design a poster that would communicate our idea visually.
 

poster
Patrick Rieve

 
In November 2012, we placed these posters in the nearby villages of our school projects of 2012. A short time later we discovered that all the posters had disappeared. When we asked what had happened, we were told that many people liked the pictures so much that they preferred to take them home!

Before the next school year will start in October 2013, we have planned for another action in September. A Beninese music group has composed a song in which the parents are being asked to send their daughters to school. In addition, we had T-shirts printed with a simplified version of the poster. Together with a theater group, the song, and the T-shirts, we are going to visit villages and explain the great importance of sending girls now to school and the role that female education plays for the development of countries like Benin.
Double-click on the video to start (12MB).
 

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For this activity, we are still very much in need of financial support!

Project Report:
All Girls to School
2014

After I returned to Benin end of 2013, together with the music group “Vie et Culture” we elaborated our song “All girls to school” and finally recorded it as a video clip on a VCD. Then we offered the song to all TV stations. Since then it is being broadcast by all those stations.

Since the new school year was to start in October, we decided to hold a 2-day workshop with the village communities of the surrounding of Sahoro in the middle of September. We wanted to discover which were the real reasons why parents in that area would not send their daughters to school. We invited the principals of all primary schools of the area, the elders of the villages, religious leaders, members of the PTAs, and students of the 6th grade. Although the workshop was held during the holiday season, more people showed up than we had expected. In addition to the 6 primary schools of the area, principals and students of 4 more schools arrived. The principals and teachers told us that this topic had been on their mind for quite some time, but that they did not have the funds to proceed with it. Thus our team was confronted with the problem of how to feed all 250 participants since we only had planned for 120. Finally the members of our team decided to spend the night in the villages of Sahoro and to use the money, originally intended for their hotel accommodations, to feed the participants.

(The problem of the area was and continues to be that the area of Sahoro is shaped by the cult of Oro. Women are not allowed to see the Oro-mask. This is the reason why all women, adult and children, stay locked inside the houses at the time of any Oro activity. Any woman who is taken by surprise by an Oro will be killed without any second thought. Men who are not yet members of the cult get the choice to join. Oro does not recognize any family bonds or friendship. The cult is mainly active in August and September. But since school starts in October after the long holidays, we had no choice but to plan our activity for “All girls to school” in September. Our members were simply afraid and insisted to spend the night in the main city of the area. This was the reason that we had prepared for extra funds to pay for the hotel bill.)
 

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During the workshop we tried to make the parents and elders pronounce the reasons why they refused to send the girls to school. Both, adults and children, participated enthusiastically in the public discussions and in the smaller working groups. The information drawn from the workshop were brought back home by our members. All this was used by our theater group and worked into several sketches.
 

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On September 25th we returned to Sahoro for a one-day festival of sensibilisation. The local TV and radio stations joined us early in the morning. Wide tents and chairs were placed, speakers and microphones were installed. We had rented a large screen to project our video clip “All Girls to School”. The festival was started with a lot of music to make people come to join us. The villagers poured out abundantly. Speeches were being held to articulate our concern. Women, men, and even children came up to the microphone to talk about their view of the topic. The discussion was held openly and in mutual agreement. The sketches helped to ease tensions and to mainain the friendly atmosphere throughout the whole day. At the end of the festival our members announced that the first hundred girls, who would be registered for the first grade, would receive a T-shirt and a school bag filled with everything needed for the first school year. This annoucment was acknoledged with a long applause.

After the first week in October our members returned to Sahoro to control the inscription of the girtls. On November 6th, the T-shirts and school bags were distributed. The girls were accompanied by their mothers and also by many fathers. Both children and parents were proud of the gifts because they were proof that they belong to the progressive parents of the area.
 

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We thank everybody who has been accompanying this project. We thank Mrs. Elke Wolf of the Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, who was the first to articulate the idea of this project. We thank the Fürsorge- und Bildungsstiftung who financed this project in a very generous way and thus made its realization possible. We thank the Nippon Koa Omoiyari Club for the financial support that allowed us to buy the schoolbags. We thank all collaborators and members of our partner NPO “Ecole de la Solidarité” for the professionality with which the project was realized and being taken care of.

Astrid Toda
 

Schultaschen 38 a2

 

All Girls to School
at Sahoro 2015

This year the population of Sahoro was waiting for our sensibilisation campaign. They called the NPO “Ecole de la Solidarité” several times in order to find out whether we would return this year with our activity. We decided on September 8 to hold the sensitization. When we arrived to Sahoro Djedje, the people of Sahoro were busy preparing everything for the activity. They were convinced of the importance of our activity and had informed everybody of the area, who had not participated in the past year. At 11 o' clock, the music and the theater group had finished their own preparations. The sensitization could begin.

First, the village headman, the directors of the various schools in the region and also the deputy chairman of the "Ecole de la Solidarité" held their welcoming speeches. Then the population was invited to follow the play, in which many questions regarding the enrollment of girls were represented. Then there was a discussion on the propositions of the play where many women participated. The women articulated their problems, that the fathers attach little importance to the school attendance of girls. The fathers in turn said that they simply do not have the money to send girls to school. The women replied that there are no school fees that have to be paid. The fathers said that clothes, notebooks and pens were expensive enough. The women thought that some glasses less of Sodabi (Palm brandy) would solve the money problem and allow girls to go to school. The debate was conducted very openly and polite. Each contribution was rewarded with a T-shirt, a VCD and a poster. The famous music group "Vie et Culture" has repeatedly played our song "All Girls to School".

At the end of the festival, we promised that we would return on October 20, with school bags for the 100 first enrolled girls of Sahoro.
 

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Distribution of school bags


On October 20, we kept our promise and went to Sahoro with a heavy load of school bags. The parents and children were all already there. Already the first glance told us that many more girls have come this year than last year.

The representative of the mayor welcomed everybody present. The director of the school asked that this action would be maintained for many years to come. We talked briefly about the fact that some parents would send their children only at the beginning of the school year to school. Once they had received the school bags, the children stayed at home. Together a solution was found to this problem. Teachers and parents expressed their willingness to talk to parents who did such and to warn them seriously.
With this decision, we started with the distribution of school bags.
 

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All Girls to School
at Kansounkpa 2015

This campaign has been directed towards the secondary school of Kansounkpa. In primary schools we have in the first place the problem that the parents do not want to send their daughters to school. At high school level, it is usually the young people themselves who do not want to continue school. The need of fast money to buy units for the mobile phone, hair extensions, trendy clothes, and makeup, makes the young people leave school and to switch into on the job trainings.

1st work shop
August 12, 2015

As we all know from our own experience, the ears of young people are at times closed towards the talking of their parents or other adults. So we chose to work with high school students who we wanted to “vaccinate” with our arguments for education. We, members of the "Ecole de la Solidarité “, members of the village council, students, teachers and parents, have discussed at the first meeting why students would prefer to abandon school. We must praise our participating students because they spoke without shyness and clearly named the reasons without fear and restraint. For the parents, the teachers but also for the students themselves, this meeting was like opening a door. Worry, shame and doubt that have been cherished in the hearts could be articulated. The parents could ask young people at the age of their own children and received frank answers. Thanks to the distance, as the students were indeed not their own children, the conversation remained without strong emotions. At the end of the 1st work shop the leader of the work shop repeated all the points accquired and asked participants to think about solutions till the next meeting one week later.
 

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2nd work shop
August 19, 2015

At our second meeting, all participants of the first work shop were present. They had well prepared ideas on how the problem could be discussed with young people who plan to abandon school. The leader of the work shop explained the system of influence by peers. The attending students were told what was expected of them. As the students know each other much better, we asked our team of students to listen attentively when other students speak of leaving school. We trained them in techniques, how they could get involved in such discussions and how to explain to those students the reasons why they should nevertheless prefer to attend school. We even thought of young people who have already abandoned school for one or two years, and discussed on how to get them back into the classrooms. The principal and the teachers of the secondary school of Kansounkpa prooved themselves ready to give returnees the opportunity to reintegrate into the classes. At the end of the work shop all participants were satisfied. The leader of the work shop had well conducted the discussions. We distributed t-shirts to the participating students and asked them to wear them at the sensibilization festival on September 2.
 

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Festival of Sensitization
September 2, 2015

On September 2, the square in front of the school building of the High School of Kansounkpa was well attended. Parents, students, youths, women and men of the village, the village council, members of the Parents Advisory Board and of the "Ecole de la Solidarité" as well as the music and theater groups "Vie et Culture" had appeared in great number. At 11 clock we started the festival with a play by the theater group on the topic of girls' education in particular. The audience was firmly captured by the play and shared their feelings about the play freely with each other after wards. It was talked about the importance of education for all children and that the parents should take a more active role in this field. Many children said that they feel left alone with school, without breakfast and books, and the fact that the parents take no interest in what happens at school. The parents admitted that they feel not to have the knowledge to accompany the schooling of their children in many respects, because they themselves never went to school. Solutions have been found to facilitate the schooling of the children. The children in turn promised to wait with the many fashionable trifles and prepare for life first. So we can say that our action was successful. It is now to be seen whether all students will remain in the classrooms until the end of the school year. At the end of the festival we announced that we will start the construction of eight new classrooms. The children, who have been cooped up in 4 classrooms, have hailed out in joy at our promise.
 

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“Placed childen to school”
at Zopah 2015

 

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Since olden times, the system of "Vidomegon", which means "placed children", has been existing in the Republic of Benin as well as in other African countries. In Europe, ties between two countries were strengthened through marriages. In Benin bonds between family clans were reinforced through the exchange of children, since children represent the greatest value of a family. Through this exchange peace and harmony in the regions have been secured. Special rights and treatments were attributed to Vidomegons. An abuse of a Vidomegon would have been understood as a declaration of war.

Years later, many families, who were living in the rural areas, did not have the opportunity to send their children to school, because schools were mainly located in the cities and larger settlements. They asked family members or friends living in towns or close by, to allow some of their children to stay with them, as to be able to attend school. To assure success, the rural families sent their most inteligent children to the city. The host families in return expected that the Vidomegons would receive or help children of the host families, once they had acquired a good job and a secure life style. The host families knew as well as the Vidomegon the rules which connected them. The idea to maltreat a Vidomegon never ever popped up in the minds of the host families. Many famous African personalities have attended school as Vidomegon.

The big change in the lives of the Vidomegons occured when the greed for money started to preoccupy the minds of people. Today many parents, who are living in the country side and have many children, sell their children to city dwellers. The people in the cities or in the vicinity of the towns have adapted to the European way of life. Father and mother go to work, the children go to school. The question of who would do the housework, without that the family has to pay a lot of money for this service, is quickly regulated by buying or receiving a rural child. Therefore, today most Vidomegons are girls. They come at a very young age to the host families. Many are not older than 5 years old. Undernourished as they are, they carry the well fed babies of the host families on their back, do the laundry, clean the house, fetch water and cook the food. Many Vidomegons also carry goods belonging to the host families on their heads through the streets and offer them for sale. As a reward for their work, the Vidomegons receive but the left over of food to eat; fish they receive hardly ever. If something breaks or if there is a loss on the sale, they are beaten for it. Often the Vidomegons sleep in kitchens or storage rooms. It is rare for the host family to think about school education. The suffering of Vidomegons is diverse.

But it must also be noted that there are even today people with a generous heart, who take up a "placed child" and treat it like their own child. But our action was directed against the exploitation of these "placed children", which is much more common.

1st work shop
November 24, 2015

We have discussed with the principal of the public primary school of Zopah how to tackle the project. Already for several years she has been fighting for the Vidomegon living in the area to be sent to school. She has acquired a great wealth of experience. She suggested that we would work with all the students of the fourth, fifth, and sixth grade.

On the day of the first work shop, the children, members of the village council, and the PTA were present. When asked to define a Vidomegon, the students described the sufferings of these children in detail. The students were also well informed about the rights of children. We were very impressed. When we were investigating the reasons for the placement of children, the main argument was money. "But we children are more important than money!" The students made themselves heard.

We closed the first work shop with the request that the children as well as the adults would reflect on how the attention could be drawn to the suffering of the Vidomegons.
 

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2nd work shop
November 25, 2015

We repeated briefly what had been held at the 1st work shop. Then we began thinking what could be done. The students suggested to draw posters. The adults wanted to submit a petition, which should be distributed to the households of Zopah. The children also proposed to visit the families, with whom a "placed child" is living. The adults were willing to accompany the children. It was discussed how the children should present their case. Finally, we discussed what we would need as information on each "placed child". Finally, the children were given notebooks and pens, so that they could write down these informations.

3rd work shop
November 30, 2015

The children had worked with seriosity. Together we transferred the collected information into a table that we presented the teacher of the work shop for evaluation. The children had drawn the posters. In the following days, the posters were copied and sealed, so that they can be displayed throughout Zopah. We distributed our T-shirts to the participants of the work shops. The students were so proud.
 

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Festival of Sensitization
December 12, 2015

Many people of the area came to the school premises. After the welcome speeches the sensitization manager explained to the guests our concern. The theater group of "Vie et Culture" presented the topic very depictively. They had worked the statements of the students from the previous work shops into their presentation. Many people from the audience said that they got goose pimples while watching the play. Then the content of the play was discussed from many angles. Our students had prepared questions that they read to the audience. Then they took position to the responses of the audience. The most important decision taken that very day was, that the guests felt called upon to denounce the mistreatment of Vidomegons from that date on, when ever they were witness of it. Some of the spectators were so impressed that they asked whether any similar action could be repeated in their regions, as they, too, have the problem of Vidomegons. Even the TV stations remained to the very end and showed their pictures already in the late afternoon news of the same day.

When closing our action, we all had a good feeling: we, because our message had arrived; the students felt as an important part of the whole action and were willing to give everything for their comrades; the adults felt held accountable by the topic itself and by the children. The desire to return the system of Vidomegon to the old meaning and positive manner was omnipresent.
 

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