|Occupation||Entrepreneur and Small Business Owner|
|Lives With:||Wife and three daughters: age 6, age 4, age 6 months.|
|When I think of America, I think:||America is a well organized country capable of participating in the development of other countries.|
|Americans should know about Benin:||Benin is a small country next to the large Nigeria. Nigeria is much better known than us. Americans should know that Benin is small but very capable, too. There are lots of men, women and children here working to contribute to the development of our nation.|
|Languages spoken:||French and Goun|
|Education:||Through 9th grade.|
|Lives with:||Lives by himself.|
|When I think of America, I think:||I don’t know much about the U.S.|
|Americans should know about Benin:||Beninese people are friendly and warm. We like meeting people from all countries. We want to improve ourselves. We aren’t looking for money but for training that can help us improve.|
|Languages spoken:||Goun, Torri|
|Education:||Completed one year of schooling in Nigeria.|
|Occupation:||Tailor’s Apprentice (in 5th year of 5 year apprenticeship)|
|Lives with:||Mother, age 39; Father, age 50; 5 brothers and 5 sisters|
|When I think of America, I think:||Barrack Obama is the president.|
|Americans should know about Benin:||We cultivate the land and raise animals. Both are very important here. Vodun is also very important. That is the religion and tradition of our ancestors.|
|Languages spoken:||French, Goun, Torri|
|Education:||Through 7th grade.|
Compulsory schooling does not exist in Benin. Many who are unable to attend school learn a trade instead. Some of the most common trades in our area of Benin include tailor, auto mechanic, hair stylist, barber, metal worker, carpenter and mason. The trades are divided along gender lines. Auto mechanic, barber, metal worker, carpenter and mason are all men’s jobs. Hair stylist is a woman’s job. Tailor is a unisex position with men making men’s clothing and women making women’s clothing. The skilled trades are learned through an apprenticeship system. A family asks an artisan known for his or her quality to apprentice their child. If the apprenticeship is accepted, apprentices pay the host artisan a series of fees and work for free during their three to six year apprenticeship. Here is a breakdown of the typical fees:
- Apprenticeship Agreement Fee: 5,000 cfa ($10) plus a bottle of rum ($5)
- Training Fee: 30,000 – 60,000 cfa ($60 – $120)
- Graduation Request Fee: 5,000 cfa ($10) plus a bottle of rum ($5) and a duck ($20)
- Diploma Fee: 10,000 cfa ($20) plus an optional graduation party that costs between 100,000 – 150,000 cfa ($200 – $300)
|Lives with:||Father, age 59; mother, age 42; sister, age 33; brother, age 17; father’s second wife, age 40; half sister, age 22; half brothers, age 25, 19, 12|
|When I think of America, I think:||The US is a world power that uses its diplomatic force to help Benin and the rest of the world.|
|Americans should know about Benin:||Our lifestyle in Benin is traditional. Families have solidarity. If someone in the family has a problem, that is the concern of the whole family.|
|Languages spoken:||French, Goun, Torri|
|Education:||Graduated from university.|
Historically, if a family couldn’t afford to send all of their children to school, they sent only their boys. Girls stayed home — cooking, cleaning and caring for other children. Benin is working hard to educate more girls and has been recognized internationally for its progress. According to Save the Children’s The Power and Promise of Girls’ Education from 2005, “The small West African nation of Benin is among the world’s poorest countries, yet it allocates almost one third of its central government budget to education – a higher percentage than any other African country.” Though elementary school is free, middle and high school is not. School fees, typically about $20 – 40 per year, have been waived by Benin’s federal government for girls in grades 6 – 9 and an additional year of free schooling is added each year. Thus, next year grade 10 will also be free for all girls in Benin.
However, the number of girls dwindles with each year in school, with only a small number of girls graduating high school each year. For example, the main high school in our town had 267 boys (54%) and 228 girls (46%) enrolled in 6th grade last year. The numbers for the students in 12th grade were much more lopsided: 302 boys (79%) to 82 girls (21%). This high school has more girls in 10th, 11th, and 12th grades than the average school because proximity to Benin’s capital, Porto Novo, equates to acceptance of progressive ideas not found in more rural areas. Teachers from northern Benin told me of schools with one or two girls persisting until 12th grade. (Note: The photo above was taken in Ghana, thus the sign is in English. Ghana and other neighboring West African countries have similar initiatives related to educating girls.)
Adam and I are participating in a Peace Corps program that awards full, one-year scholarships to middle and high school girls throughout Benin. Girls are starkly underrepresented in Beninese high schools. At the high school in our town, the proportion of girls drops from 46% of the student body in sixth grade to 21% in senior year. The national government is encouraging educational equality by funding girls’ school fees, but they are still catching up. Adam and I had the girls and one of the high school principals over for lunch.
Adam made stir-fried rice with pineapple and tofu: typical ingredients, unusual seasonings. Everyone ate it, but nobody asked for the recipe.
We ate Beninese-style from one big bowl (although we used spoons, which was American-style).