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|Posted on Sunday, September 04, 2005 - 01:36 pm: ||
NAACP women build schools in Benin
Thursday, September 01, 2005
By Zenitha Prince
AFRO Staff Writer
Among the traditional grass and mud huts that make up the African village of Yawa, Benin, the brick and concrete edifice stands as a monument of stability and hope. And it is all thanks to the Women in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (WIN).
The newly built elementary school will not only provide much-needed facilities to educate the children of the village but will act as a central gathering place for the villagers, officials said.
"All of the people in the village came out to the opening. For the first time there was any kind of solid institution in their village," said WIN Director Thelma Daley. "There was a void, but now [this school] is bringing in a whole life around the community."
The school represents the first phase of the organization's efforts to build schools and other institutions in villages across the Republic of Benin, Daley said. WIN investigated several potential African countries in which to do the project, but all signs seemed to be pointing to the small nation on the western coast of Africa.
"I saw the need, and when I saw the children and the villages, I said this is where we have to be," Daley said.
The educational needs of Yawa's children mirror those of children in inner-city schools across America: books and supplies, sound buildings and physical safety. Not only did the NAACP women provide money for the building, but they also shipped "oodles and oodles" of school supplies and will continue to do so periodically, Daley said.
"Previously, these children were writing on clay, drawing in the mud with sticks ... you can't imagine," she said. "This international effort impacted a community that has been void of any educational institution within a radius of 15 miles. This humble effort now allows children in the elementary grades to attend school within their village and not be endangered by walking each morning to receive a basic fundamental education."
A few years ago, after attending a town hall meeting in Atlanta, Daley said she encouraged the women to "gather their nickels and dimes" to finance this project, which Daley said is an extension of their motto: "Open Hearts and Outstretched Hands to Women and Children." In addition to the school in Yawa, a second school in the Benin village of Hetin is near completion and Daley said they plan to build a maternity center in Yawa in the near future as well.
Benin officials view the school and the rest of the project as an important part of its attempts to deal with the residual effects of slavery.
The country, which was once a major slave port in the triangular slave trade route with Liverpool, England, and Richmond, Va., recently unveiled a reconciliation monument meant to represent forgiveness, recognition and resolution concerning its slave past.
Benin Ambassador Cyrille S. Oguin, who played a part in drawing WIN to the country, said in a statement: "I don't know if WIN measures its own value by the impact of the action in Yawa. The school not only fills a gap, which has been there too long, but above all, it appears as the cement of unity and the symbol of reconciliation between the people of Yawa, who need it so strongly; many thanks to you all."