Young people in the west African state of Benin are to get a new opportunity to attend school with help of Norway’s Kavli Trust and Unicef.
This will give them a fresh chance to learn to read, write and do maths, and to acquire a trade – crucial for surviving in the labour market and for becoming responsible adults.
Benin is one of Africa’s poorest nations, with almost half its population living below the poverty line. Life for many is a daily struggle to find enough food for their family. These desperate conditions force large numbers of children out into work in order to earn a living, which makes it impossible to go to school. A lot of them work under tough conditions on cotton plantations, in quarries, on rubbish dumps and as domestic servants.
Far too many children and young people are exploited, working for very low wages without the chance of schooling, and thereby lose the opportunity to help themselves. The Unicef project being supported by the Kavli Trust gives youngsters who missed out on their education as children a new possibility to secure the necessary basic skills. After completing the programme, they will also be followed up with help to find work or to start their own business.
The project is aimed at girls and boys aged 14-17 who have been the victims of child labour, human trafficking or other forms of exploitation. Half of all children in Benin aged 10-17 have either never gone to school or ceased to attend, making them particularly vulnerable to abuse. They often live under conditions which damage them both physically and mentally, and frequently work more than 10 hours a day.
The common denominator for these youngsters is that, having lost the opportunity to go to school as children, they have minimal prospects of improving their own future. They are now entering adulthood without the opportunity to participate in the formal labour market, ending up below the poverty line and either unemployed or in poorly paid jobs.
Education is one of the most effective ways known for lifting people out of poverty, and represents the best form of help to self-help. Those who have gone to school possess greater opportunities to do something with their own lives and to make a difference for themselves, their families and their local communities. Youngsters participating in the Unicef project will probably have no other means of securing an education. Vocational training offers them a new – and probably an only – chance of utilising their resources and participating in work and society.
They will be equipped to make good choices for their own future and to create a better life for themselves and their families.
Unicef has long had education as one of its most important priority areas, and builds not only schools but also whole school systems. As a UN agency, it has great influence with Benin’s government and works actively to boost educational budgets and secure laws which safeguard the right of children to schooling. With the help of the Kavli Trust, Unicef will show the government that it pays to get young people back to the classroom. That could allow the project to be scaled up to national level, so that many more young people benefit from the support.
Unicef will collaborate with locals to implement the project, since such mobilisation is important in overcoming challenges as effectively as possible and in giving the local communities ownership of the scheme.
Benin citizens comprise 80 per cent of the staff at Unicef’s national office. The agency also collaborates closely with local organisations and qualified people who are familiar with local problems and conditions.
These girls are learning hairdressing at the Selesian Sisters, one of Unicef’s local partners in Benin.
Awaou does not know for certain, but believes she is between 15 and 16 years old. She lives at the Foyer St Joseph Care Centre, one of the local organisations Unicef is collaborating with. She worked earlier without pay for her aunt in the market, but quit when she learnt about a chance to get an education. Her aunt then threw her out. At the centre, she is fulfilling her dream of getting an education and hopes one day to become a nurse.