Benin: Schoolchildren keep their feet dry
09 November 2015 Projects
Plenty of children around the world have to surmount many obstacles in order to get to school. Youngsters in Benin suffered the horrors of regular flooding, before the creation of ingenious walkways. By François Kerner, Vincentian member
The children of Sô-Tchanhoué, in Southern Benin travel to school on the big canoe that does the school run. There are 200 children from all the surrounding villages who attend the “Saint Vincent de Paul” primary school, founded by the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul in Benin. The school is built in the heart of a huge, lakeside city. The six classes are spread between two buildings about a hundred metres apart. Fortunately, in the dry season, the children can walk from the landing stage to the first school building, then from one building to another. But in the rainy season, all the land around is under water. The school children and their teachers have to use flimsy, unreliable walkways made of tree branches. The children are forced to walk through water and mud when coming and going, or when they need to use the toilets.
In November 2012, volunteers from SSVP France, members of the twinnage team for the two countries, known as the “Pôle Bénin” (Benin Hub), visited the area. It was a time of slight flooding, when they were able to test for themselves, at their own risk, the fragility of these tree branch walkways to get to the school. This was how they came up with the idea of building some permanent walkways. They contacted many people, and asked for several estimates for the work. The parents of the children got involved, and did some of the work themselves, keeping the total cost down to 10,500 euros. The “Talents et Partage” [Talents and Sharing] fund operated by the French bank, Société Générale, generously funded over 60 % of this sum! The balance was covered by the Pôle Bénin and the SSVP conference of Saint-François-des-Odons in Caen.
These walkways were designed to be durable in the face of repeated flooding. They now link the landing stage, the two buildings and the toilet block. The safety of the children is significantly improved, and the risk of disease transmitted from stagnant water reduced. Mission (almost) accomplished! The final platforms and handrails will soon be completed
40 Conferences from SSVP France are twinned with SSVP Bénin. Together they work to develop projects, raise funding and sponsor the work involved.