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A family for homeless children in Benin
By Sebastien Agboton
President of the Committee for Literacy and Basic Education in Benin

  Benin: a small country (43,500 sq. mi.) with a big population (6 million), 47 per cent of which is under the age of 15. Literacy stagnates at around 60 per cent and 40 per cent of school-age children are not enrolled. Many of these live more and less in the streets. To help deal with the situation, the Comité des Activités en éducation au Bénin (CAEB) has set up a number of homes, called MAE (Maisons d'Accueil et d'Ecoute), the latest of which is located in Porto-Novo. Mr Sebastien Agboton, President of CAEB, relates a conversation between two boys: Amidou, who still lives in the street and Bossou, who has found a new family and is now back in school.

  Bossou: Hi Amidou.
  Amidou: Hi Bossou. Long time no see! Where've you been since the last time we got together in the Dantolepa market in Cotonou?.
  Bossou: I live in Porto-Novo now. CAEB opened a home for street children here, in the Attabe quarter. Life's better here than in Cotonou. The staff really seem to care about us, help us tackle our problems, and try to get us back to normal family life. Besides that, we have running water, soap, one meal a day and a safe place to sleep. No more worries about health problems. The counselors help us work out money-making projects, like collecting merchandise and delivering goods using pushcarts provided by UNESCO. We also sell firewood through one of the girls in the 'family', the only unmarried mother in the group. Besides the firewood, she makes and sells cakes and peanut butter cookies which we can buy at very low cost. At the Centre, we also have table games and outdoor sporting equipment.
  Amidou: Sounds cool! But how come you don't live with your family any more?
  Bossou: What about you? Seems to me you've been living in the street without a family for three years. Right? Tell me about it and then I'll tell you about myself.
  Amidou: Yeah, no more family since my parents died, one five and the other four years ago. It's been hell ever since. One night our aunt took my two sisters away somewhere and I haven't seen them since. I think she sold them to traffickers who shipped them to Gabon as 'slave- girls'. I had the feeling she was cooking up some crazy project for me instead of worrying about whether I had something to eat or about my health, so I got out fast. Ever since, I've been living with a gang of kids just like me. (Amidou bursts into tears.)
  Bossou: Take it easy, pal. We're in the same boat: I'm a orphan, no money either, had to leave school and move into the streets. But now I have a new family: the counselors at the Porto-Novo Home and about thirty kids. We sleep in the house. There's a lot of warmth, care, and attention. We're really happy. When I asked for help to get back to school, Mr Sebastien Agboton, President of CAEB and the MAE Committee, gave me a positive recommendation, so I'll soon be back in the classroom. A counselor (kind of legal guardian), appointed by my aunt and uncles will handle family and legal matters. So, how about it, Amidou? Want to join the family?
  Amidou: Yeah. That would be great. But do you think CAEB would let me continue my truck driver apprenticeship?
  Bossou: No problem. Three other kids about your age are already in training for the same job. One of them, as a matter of fact, is doing his apprenticeship on a 30-ton truck. So, when can you come? How about now? It's just about lunch time and I know everybody'd be glad to see you.
  Amidou: OK, let's go.
  Boussou and Amidou went off to the MAE of the CAEB in the Attabe district of Porto-Novo where the 'family' was happy to welcome a new member. Two weeks later, Bossou returned to school and Amidou started his apprenticeship in a nearby. They saw each other every day, trading advice and experience. Hope had returned to their lives.
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