It is one thing to read about the theory of people living on less than a dollar per day in an Economics textbook.  It is another thing to meet that person face-to-face, sit down with her for an interview for a household survey, ask personal questions about her life, and to listen.  Meeting with Nigerian refugees — men and women who I see every day, children who I have gotten to know —  and beginning to grasp the true destitution that they live in has been disquieting and eye-opening.

When a person looks you in the eye and responds to your question by saying she does not have enough money to feed her children tonight, it is hard to move on to ask the next question as if all is still normal.  It is even more appalling when you hear the reason why the children will not be eating: she had to flee her country after her parents were murdered in their home, leave everything behind her, and make a new life for herself and her family in a land where she does not speak either language.

This account speaks volumes about the state of existence for many Nigerian refugees living in Benin, just one of the groups people living under a dollar a day that we read about last semester.  It is this same narrative that makes the work that Bras Ouverts does even more important – and brings to reality the importance of development work in general.

Thus, things are moving full speed ahead with Bras Ouverts here in Ouidah.  Many projects are coming to a head already, and I am making progress on my deliverables at rapid speed.

Needs Assessment and Focus Group:

The needs assessment project is almost finished; the interviews for the Nigerian household surveys, as I described above, have been completed.  After compiling the data, I conducted a statistical analysis of the household survey results, and I presented these figures to the leaders of the organization.  What remains to be completed is a final quantitative-qualitative report, which will be internally published and used when applying for grants based on the needs of the Nigerian community.  Conducting these household surveys, meeting these families, and discussing possible solutions has been quite the rewarding experience; my previous experience as a social worker aided me greatly with this task.

Interview with a member of the Nigerian community.

In addition to the needs assessments that we have conducted in survey format, we have also begun the process of planning a focus group with the Nigerian women in the Ogoni community.  We will have our first group meeting with this group in Ouidah next week, and we will be aided by an established association of local Beninese women (Nonvignon) who Bras Ouverts has a close relationship with.  The goal is that these two groups of women will exchange ideas, and that the Nigerian women will be inspired to begin the process of creating a self-sustaining women’s association through which they will have an outlet to address and solve problems within the refugee community.

 Educational Tracking Systems:

I have finished creating both the attendance and exam score tracking systems, and I am in the process of teaching Remedy, the head teacher of Bras Ouverts’ school, how to use both.  The teaching has taken a noteworthy amount of time, but it is certainly time well utilized.  At the beginning of next week, Bras Ouverts will begin the process of pitching the attendance and exam score tracking systems to the directors high schools in the local Ouidah commune.  The organization plans to encourage several schools to adopt these educational tracking systems.  One of my jobs will be to explain how these systems work to directors of local high schools.  This should give me abundant practice in speaking professional French – I will have to brush up on my “vous” conjugation!

Working with Remedy on Exam Tracking.

Birth Certificates:

Bras Ouverts has continued to make progress on tracking students who do not have birth certificates throughout the Ouidah commune.  As I described in the last blog post, an overwhelming number of children in Benin do not have birth certificates.  This is a problem, because if a student does not have a birth certificate, this child cannot take the national exams, cannot move onto the next class, and will likely drop out of school.  We are conducting this survey to compile statistics on students in Ouidah who have dropped out of school for this reason, and to present the information to the Ministry of Education.  One of my jobs had been to travel by bike to each of the schools, and explain (in French) to the directors of the schools an explanation of the survey we are conducting, and to drop off the form for them to complete.  Because this is such a grave issue in Benin, the initial response of most directors of schools was overwhelmingly positive.  Unfortunately, however, when we returned to schools to pick up the completed forms, the majority of directors have not completed the forms; we have made many return trips to each of these schools and only retrieved a few completed forms.  I did hope by the time that I finished with the summer internship I would have had the opportunity to help complete a statistical analysis of this information.  Regardless, these statistics will be compiled eventually, and the launching of Bras Ouverts’ birth certificate project next year will positively aid many Beninese and Nigerian students in obtaining their documentation to take exams.

One of the most striking statements that a Nigerian father said to me during an interview is: “Me, I have been here for 20 years; I won’t do anything else.  I am now looking forward to my children: the education of my children.  That is how we can move forward as a family.”  The hope that these Nigerian families place in their children, and the education of their children specifically, affirms the imperative work that Bras Ouverts does.  I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to work with these families, and on these projects with my colleagues this summer.

The Nigerian Children Bras Ouverts’ school.

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