BENIN: Street children increase self-esteem through art course
Mamma Margherita Salesian Center launches an introductory art course for street children from the Dantokpa open-air market
(MissionNewswire) The Mamma Margherita Salesian Center, operated by Daughters of Mary Help of Christians in Cotonou, Benin, has started an introductory art course for street children from the Dantokpa open-air market. The project is leading children to discover their hidden talents, increasing their self-esteem and teaching them to establish themselves in society. Educators provide support to and teach children to stretch the canvas, prepare the necessary material and paint.
“Teaching children art skills gives them another healthy outlet for self-expression,” said Father Gus Baek, director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “Street children in Benin suffer many injustices. Having adults they can turn to for support and a way to express themselves are important steps in their healing.”
The Daughters of Mary Help of Christians have been active in the Dantokpa market since 2001, where they have been working to reintegrate youth known as “vidomegon” into society and their families of origin. Vidomegon is a legacy of colonial custom. In the past, young girls from rural households were entrusted to a tutor to ensure the girls had access to a better education.
Today, these young girls are often sold into slavery by the poorest families and employed as low-cost laborers in private homes and in markets. They are victims of psychological and physical violence of all kinds. These young girls spend their lives working day and night, sleeping under benches, and are often exploited and abused.
In 2017, Salesians launched a new center for girls known as the Maison de l’Esperance. The main objective of the initiative is to provide young girls with a place where they can sleep in total safety, but also to raise awareness and provide support activities. In addition to receiving comfortable mattresses to sleep on, the girls have access to a psychologist and an assistant who will help them to overcome the traumas they have suffered. They also have access to skills training, and many go on to become bakers, cooks and pastry makers.
The girls first enter the program right in the market at Barra Vidomegon, a Salesian shelter where girls can rest, ask for help and find support participating in recreational activities. After they are provided information about the Salesian center, they can choose to formally enter the program. The dormitory can accommodate up to 70 girls each night.
Children in Benin face significant challenges gaining an education within the country’s poor educational system. According to UNICEF, Benin remains one of the poorest countries in the world with close to 70 percent of its population living in poverty. About half of all children between the ages of 5-13 are engaged in some kind of forced labor in the country and almost 20 percent are chronically undernourished. Youth in Benin also face overwhelming challenges in combating poverty, one of the root causes of child trafficking.
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Salesian Missions – Benin
UNICEF – Poverty in Benin