On Saturday the 1st of December 2012 I came home from a very special trip to a missionary project, in Nikki Benin; ‘TALITA’, a Training Centre for Girls in Nikki. In Benin, the SIM-related churches do large work among the Bariba people, including this training centre. (SIM = Serving in Mission. An international, interdenominational, Christian mission agency)
My goodness, I really had to get used to being back home, especially the cold! From 35 degrees to 0 degrees… But soon there was work again and all things besides work. It is amazing how quickly you get back into routine. I can look back on 4 very special weeks. Anni ter Steege, a Dutch Missionary who works fulltime as a volunteer on the Training centre has told me a lot and shown me a lot about the people and the life in Benin.
Besides helping at the centre I also could join a men’s conference in the Wassa region, about 100km North-West of Nikki. 600 Beninese men from the Bariba tribe underneath a shelter. I could not understand a single word they said, but I can tell you that it was very special to experience it all. Especially the women on the field next to the conference who were cooking the meals for all the guests. No modern catering. This was the first place I have had my experience with the African food. The taste and how it looked is not good for your appetite and yes, the first weekend I was sick…… Luckily it did go better after a few days again and I was able to start helping with the lessons. Pattern drawing, sewing and I had a small knitting class, to teach the girls how to do the knitting by hand. I was also able to fix some of the sewing machines. The way of working is so different in countries like this. They hardly do any pattern drawing, all is being cut straight from the fabric! The good thing is that all is going well and the outlook of the garments is fine! Seams of 3cm can fix a lot!
The Western way of working, the way I have been thought, is something that they do have to learn, but a lot of the girls do not have any basic knowledge, so they do not even know how to draw a straight square on paper and do not know how to calculate. I can tell you that this needs a lot of patience, but luckily I did not have a problem with that. Despite the fact that I do not speak any Bariba and my French is terrible I did quite well in being able to help them. To not know the language that well, is better for us Western people, because we might easily jump in an try to change things immediately. The Government is working on a program that in 2 or 3 years’ time, they will have to learn all things the Western way.
On the centre there are girls in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd year class. They are between 15 and 20 years of age. Besides that there is the passerelle, a class with girls from 9 to 14 years of age. This is some kind of primary school, where they will learn the basics which makes it easier to start the training for 3 years. It is very special to see how teenagers get along so well on a centre like this. These girls all have a special history and their own story. The centre gives them discipline and a home. Every week each one of them has got their own tasks. The whole compound is being swept, they collect water several times a day, make preparations for the meals, do the cooking, eating, singing and praying. The day starts at 6am with a prayer meeting, than they cook breakfast and do the sweeping. They have got class from 8am until 12am. After that cooking again, eating and a siesta until 3pm when the lessons start again and will finish at 6pm. Again cooking, eating and then they have free time in which they also do a lot of things again. At 10pm the day ends and it has to be silent on the compound. A good discipline. In the weekend the girls generally go the local markets and they are working on each other’s hair, braiding or using other special African techniques, just like normal teenagers do! On Saturday evening they go singing and dancing in one of the classrooms and on Sunday they all go to Church (just a Casco building). A few girls of the 3rd year are responsible for the whole group and certain tasks. Also there is a lady, which they call Mama, she is in charge of the ‘home’, like a housemother.
Anni ter Steege speaks the Bariba language very well and has good contact with the girls. When there is something wrong, they are at her doorstep. As a missionary you hardly get a rest when you want to. Anni gives Bible lessons in Bariba and she is also responsible for the centre together with the director. There is a lot to organize, especially because it is an African country, where an agreement is an agreement when it has been settled. It happens that a teacher cannot obtain any lessons, because he or she has got other things to do. The Minister was gone for 2 weeks, to harvest his land. All lessons have to be re-organized than. When I was at the centre there was also a teacher from a primary school in Switzerland helping with the classes at the passerelle. Together with her I shared one of the old mission houses. Luckily we did have electricity (on and off), a stove with oven and 2 days before I left the waterline was connected and I could take a (cold) shower. Before that we had to wash ourselves with a bucket full of water. The African meals we got from the kitchen at the centre. 3 to 4 times a week we had to eat what had been made. A salad to go with it we made ourselves, just to be sure that we did get our vegetables. Besides that we did our own cooking, baking bread and make muesli and yoghurt. Shopping is done once a month in Parakou, 100km from Nikki. You start with a fridge full of groceries and after 4 weeks there is hardly anything left in your fridge. Locally we were able to buy unions, tomatoes, pineapple, lemons and bananas. But you cannot survive just on that. It was a pity that it wasn’t the mango season, so I only had mango’s in my dreams. As you can imagine it demands a lot of creativity to lead your life in Benin as a Western missionary. It was very special to have been given this opportunity. How much do you need to be happy!
Concerning all the fundraising done, at the moment the amount comes to €5600! This is great!! Something I could not have imagined to happen beforehand! I really want to thank all of those who have contributed in what way so ever. Also in the name of Anni ter Steege, Augustin Nassam the director, all people working at the centre and all the girls of course! They know that I give that money on your behalf. It is a great amount which they are very pleased with! When I arrived in Parakou in the beginning, we already bought 4 knitting machines, 1 sewing machine, knitting yarns and some other school material. I also brought some school material from Holland together with the tailor’s dummy and the door handles. The dummy we used straight away in the pattern drawing lessons to be able to draw a skirt. One of the two door handles has been placed in the door of the gate which is in the wall around the compound. The 2nd door handle will be placed when the handle in the 2nd gate is broken. Furthermore they will invest in decent washing lines and they will buy a weaving-loom, so they can also offer weaving-lessons. Around €4000,– will be used to continue the construction of the top floor, where they want to build some class-rooms and 2 apartments for teachers. The below picture shows an impression of where the money will be used for.