Adventure and aid mission in Benin / West Africa

I sit on the pillion of a small motorcycle and have to hold on tightly while the driver skilfully maneuvers around the countless potholes on the clay piste. Somewhere in Benin. Away from the main street there are fewer and fewer houses, the “street” is getting worse. “Benin? Philipp, where are you and what are you doing there?” Justified question, so everything in order …

What do you learn in this article?

Aid mission? What is your motivation?

We are doing extremely well and our problems, which we are more or less vexed about in everyday life, are often no more than the notorious “First World Problems“, ie luxury problems. You can train yourself to be aware of this again and again and this can significantly increase your satisfaction in everyday life.
Precisely because I am doing so well, I am not lacking anything essential (no, sufficient data volume and the Netflix subscription are not essential), the need to give something back, to contribute something grows in me. In English there is the appropriate term “contribution”.

Under my personal (travel) BIG5 I had, as explained in the introductory “About me“, the item “Leave the personal comfort zone with regard to Western standards“.
For this point, I chose West Africa as a backpacking travel destination for the end of 2019 – and I am really happy to have had this experience.

I was able to collect an incredible amount of impressions on the Ivory Coast 🇨🇮, in Ghana 🇬🇭, Togo 🇹🇬 and Benin 🇧🇯.

My aid mission in Benin

But there is one destination behind the extensive journey: Benin! Haven’t heard much about it, have you?

Benin is a small country with around 10 million inhabitants on the Gulf of Ghana.
It impresses with rich culture and history and is considered the cradle of the voodoo religion, to which a large part of the population still belongs today. Here too – as in the neighboring countries – there are traces and evidence of the centuries-long slave trade.

In 1960, when France gained independence from the colonial power, the country found it very difficult and is still considered very poor. Without significant mineral resources and heavy industry, a large part of the population still depends on agriculture and processing of the available natural resources. But people work hard and with a relatively stable political situation, the living situation can be improved step by step.

I am a guest of Astrid Toda, a really remarkable woman.
For many years as the wife of a diplomat traveling around the world, today’s mother of 3 adult children in Lagos / Nigeria came into professional contact with street children, a largely defining time.

For many years now, she has been working locally in West Africa to sustainably improve the situation and future prospects of the children – a challenging undertaking without electricity and the Internet, especially in the early days over 25 years ago.
From her I was able to learn a lot about the larger connections and backgrounds with regard to the development of (West) Africa, development aid and sustainable support.

Sure, two weeks is not a long time, but I want to get as much insight as possible into the work and impact of aid organizations on site
I would like to use the blog to briefly introduce the Bildungswerk Westafrika and its activities.

What is “Bildungswerk Westafrika” doing?

In Germany the “Förderverein Bildungswerk Westafrika e.V.” founded to effectively support Astrid’s work in West Africa, to provide educational work through lectures and campaigns, and to increase financial contributions.
The aim is to promote self-help projects in the field of education, especially by building schools, training centers and health stations.

For a pledge of support and financial resources, the responsible municipality / city itself must approach the association and submit the extensive application. There is no “advertising” and the motto is “from a European perspective you should build a school here”.

The city and village community must show initiative and be really convinced of the benefits of the project. In addition, a certain amount of your own financial performance and manpower must be contributed – otherwise there is no funding. The concept works, the demand for support is great and the village communities pull together with the helpers – for the benefit of the children and the future of the country.

In this way, over 40 school building projects have already been implemented in all of Benin – some also in Nigeria and Niger.
Here you get a good overview of the projects that have already been completed.

In addition to the school building projects, basic sensitizations are also carried out. These are large-scale campaigns on important social topics such as “All girls in school” and very recently “Fighting plastic waste“.
In addition, a health center for women was opened, help for children with disabilities was specifically organized, and the placement of sponsorships was simplified.

What was my job like on site?

I was able to divide the two weeks on site into two tasks:

Accompanying the various school building projects

Many construction projects run in parallel, and monitoring and ensuring progress is always guaranteed.
In addition to administrative tasks, I was able to accompany Astrid and the other employees of the association every day on the trip to various construction sites, and I learned a lot about the management and approach to construction projects. Instead of desk work suddenly in the middle.

It is incredibly exciting to see everything there is to think about and do, from the groundbreaking ceremony to the grand opening ceremony, which television teams often come to.

The current projects were mainly in the Abomey-Calavi area, but we also took a day trip to Savé further north. The use in very rural regions, some of which are difficult to access, is particularly remarkable. Simple “dirt roads” take you off the main roads into the bush, to cut-off villages without electricity and running water.

It really touches how happy and grateful the villagers are for them and their children because of the school building.

Support for German lessons at a school

Yes, you also learn German in Benin!

In addition to their local dialect, the children quickly learn French, still the administrative language. English is added to school at a young age. In addition, there is the possibility to add another language in higher grades. This is often German or Spanish.

So I had the unique opportunity to experience school lessons in West Africa live, at the same time from the perspective of a student and a teacher. As an “expert” for pronouncing German words, reading out texts and explanations from practice (do you say “grandmother” or simply “grandma” in Germany?), I was a welcome guest.

How does an old school building looks like?

It is incredibly exciting to attend classes because so much is so different than we know it – and it makes you think. The older school buildings consist of piles with a corrugated iron roof, often with a wall made of bast or the like. The wall can only be seen as a privacy screen, but when the neighboring class with 30 children is chanting songs loudly, there is not much more to be heard from the words of their own teacher.

The ground is open, so the normal earth as outside in the meadow. The simple wooden benches and tables stand on it. “The use of modern media” does not take place, blackboard and chalk are the most modern that there is for teaching. Long writing of texts costs valuable time.

If there are windows, they have no panes. Too expensive and who pays when something breaks? So other children like to watch leaning through the window. Sometimes birds cross the classroom from left to right through the “windows”, chickens were also sometimes visiting.

Since there is no electricity, you cannot build the walls completely – too dark. Classes officially last until 7 p.m., but I have often seen the demolition at 6:30 p.m. at the latest, as it is too dark in the room to write anything off the board.

The school buildings built with the support of the Bildungswerk, on the other hand, are designed for safe, long-term use. A deep, solid concrete foundation reinforced with iron anchors provides stability, brick walls protect against noise and heat, the roof structure is designed by skilled carpenters.

The distribution of “school bags” for first and second class students was a special experience. We have equipped more than 1,500 of these bags with pens, boards, notebooks etc. – not every school child in Benin has access to this equipment. The

Funding of the campaign took place in Europe, but it is noteworthy that not just bags in z. B. France were bought, but the bags were made locally by women in Benin. This is sustainable development aid that benefits not only the children but also the local sewing companies.

As in this example, it would generally help to buy aid for Africa in Africa and not to ship there from the western world.

And now?

I was able to see and experience a lot in West Africa, and I gained unforgettable and formative impressions.
I am very impressed by the work of the educational institution and especially by Astrid’s commitment.
The key message is: Development programs can only be effective if there is basic education.

Of course, the association relies on donations.

Often one wonders whether the money really arrives and has a lasting effect. Here I can confirm it with my own experience. The money is arriving, there are currently many school building projects running all over Benin. And under the keyword “development aid” there is little that has such a big impact as the sustainable and broad-based education of people.

The association is recognized as a non-profit organization, so you can of course also receive a donation receipt.
Find out all you need to know on the official website.

Support Astrid and the educational organization West Africa!

Astrid and the whole team say THANK YOU!

Astrid and the team


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