Here's a summary of what we were able to accomplish while in the Couffo Region of Benin.
As a reminder, these are the specific goals we laid out for 2018:
To register The Couffo Collaborative as non-governmental organization in Benin.
To increase the loans for the over 400 women currently participating in the Women's Entrepreneurship and Mentoring Program in January 2018.
To expand the Women's Entrepreneurship and Mentoring Program by adding 200 women in each of two new communities in 2018.
To prepare for another School Supply Distribution Program at the beginning of the school year in the fall of 2018.
To launch the Organic Farming Training Program by the end of 2018 by purchasing and preparing land, leading to the establishment of a tomato farm and orange orchard in 2019.
Non-Profit Registration in Benin
I was able to give presentations about The Couffo Collaborative for the Governor of the Couffo, Christophe Megbedji, and his office as well as the Mayor of Klouekanme (county for the town of Hondjin). While we’ve known the Governor and Mayor for many years, it was good to meet with them and discuss our work in a more official and professional way (I lived with the Megbedji family while doing his dissertation research years ago, before he became governor). They both are very supportive and will help in any way possible.
The Governor’s office was also very helpful for us in preparing our registration to work as a non-profit (non-governmental organization) in Benin. While our registration is not yet complete, we are well on our way thanks to those who work in the Governor’s office.
Women’s Mentoring and Entrepreneurship Program
While in Benin, we were able to visit almost all of the communities in the town of Hondjin where we have about 400 women in the program. A new six-month loan program was launched (this is the sixth cycle) and the participants’ loans were doubled- from 5000 FCFA to 10,000 FCFA. As a new feature of this cycle, we provided record books to each woman to help with accounting and management. We even gave out reusable shopping bags with our logo to many of the women leaders and to those who have been most successful in the program.
Several communities in the area have learned about the Mentoring and Entrepreneurship Program and are asking us to come work with them. The women of Hondjin have been very keen to share their successes with their neighbors! So, finding new communities for 2018 shouldn’t be too difficult. We had hoped to launch the program in a second community in January as well, and Julien (our Benin Project Manager) and I visited the target community and met with community leaders about the program. Julien and others from the town of Hondjin visited there before our arrival as well. While the interest and response were very positive, we did learn of some local political issues as well as some negative perceptions about outside development projects stemming from previous experiences that might impede the program. With the advice of those who know us and our programs well, we decided to spend more time with the community so that everyone will be more prepared to launch the program later this year.
Education and School Supplies Program
We are planning to distribute school supplies for students in the primary and secondary schools in the town of Hondjin this fall. ADESCH, the community development organization for Hondjin, will be working with the parents’ association for the schools to plan this project. We hope to provide at least the basic supplies needed to all the students.
We are also contemplating future projects for schools in the Couffo Region. The primary school in Hondjin is a very nice campus, but the secondary school facility is only partially completed. The classrooms are unfinished concrete brick and mortar and metal roof, but have dirt floors, no doors and no closable windows. There has just been a lack of funding to complete the buildings, and this campus has been that way for at least 10 years. So, we are researching how we might work with the community to improve that facility. This also gave us other ideas for reaching out to new communities where we don’t yet have much of a presence. Many public schools in the Couffo Region are similar to the secondary school in Hondjin. It was suggested to us that a positive way to initially work with a community would be through helping schools with either campus improvements or school supplies. So, during 2018 we will be doing some research around the Couffo Region to see if this would be a viable plan for us.
Organic Farming Training Program
As soon as our NGO registration in Benin is complete, we will begin to look for land to purchase for the training program. Once that is done, we will begin organization and planning to start the project. We hope to launch the project by the end of 2019.