Those of you who’ve been reading this blog for a while may remember that I’ve been working with a primary school in a small village just outside my post. I’ve spent this morning e-mailing out descriptions of our current project. Here’s what we’re doing:
A small village in Benin, West Africa, called Lowé is facing a big problem. Their primary school has no permanent classrooms and no way to build them alone. The parents of Lowé are looking for international partners to help them build three classrooms for their children to attend school safely and comfortably.
THE STORY OF EPP LOWE-HOUENOUSSOU
The village of Lowé is located in the southeastern portion of Benin, West Africa, in a beautiful river valley. Almost all of the few thousand adults who live in Lowé are farmers and fishermen. The village is close enough to the nearest town for villagers to be able to attend market day and send in their older children for secondary school, but too far for the extremely poor villagers to reach when it’s time to delivery a baby or to send their four-year-olds to start primary school.
For that reason, local children attend primary school in EPP (Public Primary School) Lowé-Houenoussou. Even though primary school education has been free for years in Benin, it’s a sacrifice for these parents to send their children to school at just the age when they’ve become useful for farm and housework. School supplies and uniforms also make a painful dent in their families’ income. It’s enough to say that the parents of Lowé passionately want a better future for their children. They want their children to be able to speak not just the local language, Goun, but also the national language, French, because they know that only the latter will permit their children to work in other areas of their country. They want their children to be able to read and write, and to master basic mathematics, so that these children will have options later in life.
In Benin, the national government should pay for the construction of necessary primary schools – but it often doesn’t. Since EPP Lowé’s founding, the students’ parents have worked for years without government support to build up their school. However, the local community is very poor, and after six years, the school still has no permanent classrooms. The students have class every day under temporary shelters made of woven palm leaves and corrugated metal sheets.
This almost wasn’t the case. Despite Lowé’s poverty, the local Women’s and Men’s Associations managed to raise enough money by 2007 to start construction on a modest building of three classrooms. Construction was less than halfway finished when disaster struck.
The rains of summer 2007 came harder and longer than anyone could remember seeing them. The swollen river flooded and destroyed the unfinished classroom building at Lowé. The parents of Lowé were sent back to square one, with a partially collapsed brick foundation on unsuitable ground to remind them of what they might have achieved.
Still, Lowé’s community didn’t give up. They located a new site for the school, further away from the river. They’ve started slowly and painfully retracing their steps to raise money for a building. Every year, however, that their children spend trying to study under improvised shelters in the ruins of their old, unfinished building is a waste. The children suffer when the sun is very strong. They’re flooded out when it rains. The school’s facilities are so obviously inadequate that some local parents don’t even bother sending their children to school. This is an enormous problem because without basic, effective primary school education, the children of Lowé will face serious limitations in their adult lives. They’re faced with a paradox: they can’t rise out of poverty without education, but their poverty is preventing them from becoming educated.
WHAT THEY NEED
The community of Lowé needs partners to help them finish their school. We’ve approached both the local government and the national Ministry for Preschool and Primary Education to no result. (Their village is small and politically unimportant, hence the lack of official interest.)
The total construction cost (materials, labor, and transport) is projected at about 19,000,000fcfa, or just over $37,000. (This figure is based on the current exchange rate of 510.551fcfa to $1. Building material and fuel prices in Benin are also subject to change.)
Lowé’s parents have pledged to meet 25% of the construction costs of a school – or around $9,000 – by giving their time, their labor, and locally available construction materials. We’re now looking for international partners to help meet the other 75% (about $28,000) of costs, which includes non-locally available construction materials, transport for these materials, and skilled labor.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
If you are interested in helping Lowé’s parents finish their school, please e-mail me, Mae Lindsey, Peace Corps Volunteer, at firstname.lastname@example.org. If enough people express interest in this project, we’ll be able to open it up for donations through the Peace Corps Partnership Program.
This is truly a great project to work with because every penny of your donation would go to the building costs – there’s no overheard whatsoever. You’d be directly partnering with a Beninese community to fill a desperate need and make a huge impact in the lives of these Beninese schoolchildren.
If you have any friends, family members, or colleagues who might be interested in working with the community of Lowé, please pass this opportunity on!
You can see pictures of EPP Lowé-Houenoussou and its students in their current facilities online at
If you’d like to learn more about Benin, please see its BBC country profile at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/country_profiles/1064527.stm
If you want to get involved, please e-mail me – and thanks to those of you who’ve expressed interest even before the project was started! I’ll respond as soon as I have internet access again – probably on Friday, February 6, when I visit Cotonou for a meeting.