Hi all! My name is Jackie Gaston & I’m the Marketing Director here at CodeToHope. Starting with our inaugural post on this site & continuing for the next few months, I’ll be writing a series about my recent trip to Benin along with CodeToHope volunteers Vishvesh Patel & Brandon Walton. Stay tuned for some exciting topics including Stuck In The Mud (An Infrastructure Analysis), Cultural Perspectives and more details about the activities of our trip.
The three of us have been volunteering with CodeToHope for about a year now (see our About Us section for more info on what we do!), but for all of us this was our first time visiting Benin. We all took one week away from work, so we left for Benin on Sunday, October 20th and returned to the US on Saturday, October 27th. Each volunteer raised funds for the purpose of going on this trip.
While we were in Benin, we had activities each day that supported the mission of CodeToHope. One of the primary activities was delivering school kits to students in a few communities. These were the kits that we had previously fundraised for (https://www.codetohope.org/school-kits/), and each contained essential school supplies necessary for students. We delivered them to excited students in So-Ava, Sohon & Comé. These backpacks went to some of the students with the greatest need & will help to ensure that they have the ability to attend school.
We also delivered 40 computers to the community of So-Ava. So-Ava is a large community made of up of 8 smaller villages, so the 40 devices will be distributed by the community leaders among the schools there. Part of our CodeToHope team will be returning to the villages in December to check up on their progress after one semester. The teachers who will be instructing the classes on computer skills will be attending a boot camp to learn how to teach these skills to students.
On Wednesday we visited a school in Sohon, which was the very first community that CodeToHope brought devices to. We were able to check in on the progress of the students – and we were very pleased with what we saw! The school has had these devices since November of 2016 (two years at the time of writing this article). We saw the students use the computer to type out the day’s lesson. This is a task which seems basic to those of us who have grown up with computers, but for someone who has limited access, it was impressive to see how well they navigated the computer and were able to type out the text on the board.
While in the main city of Cotonou, we met with some software developers who have been working closely with Philemon on an android and web app. Meeting them, especially as developers ourselves, was a great opportunity to network and pass along advice. During a demo of the product (which will be launching soon – stay tuned to hear more!), we were able to provide feedback that the development team found valuable & will help to make their products competitive and relevant. We met with them several times throughout the trip & exchanged contact information so we can stay in touch as friends and mentors to provide support for them even while remote. It’s worth noting here that all of the dev team grew up and went to school in Benin, and the app they are releasing will be supporting the community – a great way that we’re helping the community help themselves.
Throughout our travels to different villages, we saw a wide range of situations that gave inspiration for how CodeToHope can best help in the future. One great example: we visited the village of Ganvié which is literally on the water. They only have four places in the city to get clean water, let alone electricity or internet. The importance of providing more widespread access to these necessities concurrently with devices & training became very clear.
One place that Phil insisted we visit despite our busy schedule was the historic city of Ouidah. While this seemed like a touristic need to me, the cultural understanding from our tours became incredibly clear. To best understand the culture and needs of the society, you need to know the origins. Ouidah is the origin of slavery and voodoo, two incredibly large aspects of the history of Benin. We received a lot of valuable perspective about the communities that we’re involved in through this tour.
Along the lines of cultural understanding, a very important part of being involved in any community is understanding the mindset and culture. Throughout all our travels we gained valuable perspective on how parents prioritize conflicting time and monetary pulls. We also got visibility into the comparative state of living conditions, schools, etc. Learning about this gives us a great new way to help target improved technology education moving forward.
I hope that this post gives you an understanding of what our trip was. We have many many more blog posts in the works, about our trip but also other topics! If you have any feedback, comments or questions, feel free to submit via our Contact Us section!