Matt Kopac shares his experience in the Peace Corps, where he worked with an organization called Project Abeni, which focuses on education for girls.
By Matt Kopac
June 2, 2010
While serving as Peace Corps Volunteer in Djougou, Benin, I discovered an incredible organization called Project Abeni, which assists young girls to stay in school despite strong financial and cultural pressures that might otherwise force them to drop out. Thanks to Project Abeni, girls' education became a major area of focus for me during my second year, in addition to my work in small enterprise development and microfinance.
Project Abeni was founded by Dhyne NOUA and his wife Nady in 1999 after the death of their young daughter Abeni. Abeni, a gifted student, had been receiving educational assistance from friends in Germany. After her death, Dhyne and Nady decided to put those resources toward assisting other young girls to realize their potential. Over the years the organization grew with the generous support of Help Alliance in Germany as well as the personal resources of Dhyne and Nady. I arrived in 2001 to find Project Abeni with 25 students.
The organization provides broad support to children from difficult circumstances. Most of the kids are orphans or come from families in destitute poverty. Many of the girls would have otherwise been taken out of school and married off, and in a number of instances, Project Abeni has negotiated with parents to rescind plans for forced marriages, a still common practice in Djougou. All the students have shown academic aptitude in passing the primary school exam to pass into our equivalent of middle school. The project covers the students' school fees (about $15 a year), tutors, books, school uniforms, one nice pair of clothes for project functions, soap to clean their uniforms and clothes, and a stipend for lunch.
In addition to providing technical assistance and operational support to Project Abeni, I fundraised for the organization with the assistance of my mom, Mary. Friends and family generously donated over $13,000 for the organization, which my parents brought with them on their visit to Benin in the fall of 2002 (pictured above with Dhyne, Nady and some of the kids).
With the goal of bringing more students into the project and the hopes of one day constructing a dormitory for the girls, Dhyne and Nady expanded operations to over 30 students, purchased land for the dormitory and put the rest in a bank account to await the proper time for construction.
Other blog posts by Matt Kopac can be found by visiting http://projectabeni.blogspot.com/
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