Interview with Im-Raschima Garba, Benin, Child Education and Training Support Programme 06.06.2013 16:27

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Which project are you currently working on?

I am working on the Child Education and Training Support Programme (PAEFE) for children between 9 and 15 years old who have been excluded from formal schooling. The programme is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and implemented by the HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation/ SOLIDAR Suisse consortium in the seven rural municipalities of Borgou department in the Republic of Benin. It is an alternative form of education applied in the non-formal sector to offer quality basic education and training to 9 to 15-year-old children who have either not been to school or have left school early and thus allow them to sit the certificate of primary education (CEP) at the end of a four-year course.

What do you like most about your work?

I am a lawyer and social worker by training. I like my work helping and protecting vulnerable people in general and vulnerable children in particular who live in difficult circumstances and are therefore excluded from the formal education system (with no right to education and training). What I specifically like about PAEFE is that the programme is aimed at excluded children and gives them a second chance to benefit from their right to education. PAEFE recruits children between 9 and 15 who have either never been to school or left school early and provides them with an up-to-date, high-quality education that takes account of the reality of the situations they live in alterative education centres. What I find touching about this programme is its bilingual approach; the student starts out from the national language he or she knows to grasp French. The children begin their classes in the language they know and over the four years of the course progressively move into French. They also learn practical and manual skills, as well as practising cultural activities (traditional dance, storytelling, etc.). The other thing I like about my present work is that PAEFE is a local development programme for and by the community, as the local community is responsible for the day-to-day running of the educational centres by means of a centre management committee (COGEC) that is set up in every place or village where there is a centre.

What do you most and least like about your country?

What I like most about my country: Beninese ingenuity. We often come up with very good and innovative ideas and many West African countries come to learn from what we are doing. I also like the fact that the democratic system works relatively well compared to other countries and also the fact that the Beninese are very hospitable and peace-loving. What I like least about my country: The fact that we never implement our own innovations. The Beninese invent something and other countries make use of it. Also, in Benin we don’t make sure we do things carefully; we’re always improvising and spreading ourselves too thinly. The thing I hate most about my country, and which is common to all African countries, is the clear gap in development between different areas of the country due to the unequal distribution of public investment. It’s as if people in disadvantaged areas were still second-class citizens over 50 years after independence. These areas are usually referred to as ‘deep Benin’. There is also the excessive regionalism, which is noticeable in every field and at every level. I don’t like the selfishness of the Beninese; they think only of their own development to the detriment of the country’s development as a whole. Last but not least, there is absolutely no respect for a gender approach and there is very little advancement of women, however educated they may be.

What is the greatest challenge in your work?

To succeed with PAEFE, which is totally unique in Benin, and to institutionalize it throughout the country.

What is the greatest challenge for development?

To reduce illiteracy among beneficiaries as much as possible to enable them to take their own development in hand.

Why are you working in development?

It is a field that allows me to find out more and more about the real problems facing the grassroots population and to familiarize myself with the serious issues that prevent my country from developing. This kind of work forces us to keep learning and doing practice-based research and that is excellent training. We observe, create and experiment, we discover and adapt; and that is what I have been doing ever since I finished my studies in 2001.

What aspect of your work brings a smile to your face?

Seeing the positive impact of my work at every stage. Why? Because it gives me the feeling that I am reaching my goals and being useful to society.

What do you talk to your colleagues about during your lunch break?

We talk about lots of different things. We talk about what’s going on in politics, about our work, various topics and some jokes or funny stories to relax everyone.

What is the first thing you do when you get home?

I chat to my little son, who is three and a half, to know what school and his day were like and then I tell him about my day, if he asks.