African History – The Door of No Return – Blog Day 3

June 2nd

This morning we visited a school that hosted a Right to Play seminar with the goal of teaching the participants about children’s rights. The children came from several schools in the area. They were elected by their classmates to serve as leaders of their schools. Those children will be returning to their classroom with the mandate of educating others on their rights. There were several different activities to encourage children to talk amongst themselves to identify their rights such as the right to an education, to play, to a nationality, to access food and water, to medical care, to be treated without discrimination. The students were very focused to the task. I was very impressed with their attention level and eagerness to participate.

Following the visit, we went to an all female Right to Play program with teenager women coming from one of the most underprivileged neighborhood in Bénin. We had great discussions with them about the challenges and difficulties they face. For one of the girls, her parents refused to send her at school so she had to frequently convince them using different arguments to be able to attend school. Another young girl had 20 siblings, making it very difficult for her family to afford the material needed at school. Another young girl asked if it is possible to combine sport and motherhood. One was debating whether football would help her find a good work after school. It was very interesting to hear about how they deal with the adversity they face. Many are very different than ours but some we can relate to in various situations.

After the visit we ventured to our first touristic attraction. We visited the museum of Ouidah. We learned that in 1720 the Portuguese, English and French all constructed forts in the city to protect their interests in African slavery.  The King Dahomey traded his own people in exchange of goods from Europe. I was very angry inside hearing about all the suffering and non sense of that violence. Also amad at the fact that women were worth almost nothing, often sacrificed for no reasons and especially because they were used as sexual objects by the Europeans. We visited the prison where the slaves were kept for 2 to 4 weeks in the sun with very little water and bread so only the strong could survive and have a chance to survive the trip across the sea. Many did not survive. We saw the garden where tens of thousands of African were buried over the near 100 years of slavery. We continued on the road worldwide known as ‘’La Route des Esclaves’’ or the Slave Road. La Route des Esclaves, is the route on which slaves were taken to the beach to be embarked on Europeans ships and taken away to the sea. It is estimated that close to 12 millions African were forced into slavery and sent thousands of miles away to live and labor in a foreign country with no hope of ever seeing their homeland country. Approximately 1.2 – 2.4 million of Africans died during their transport to the New World who often took more than two months at the sea.

It was very special to see the monument called ‘’La Porte du Non Retour.’’ The ‘’Door of no Return’’ was build where there used to be a gate where the slaves would enter to walk to the ships. The abolition of the legal slave trade happened in 1807 and I learned something I did not know, the country of Liberia was founded and colonized by freed American slaves upon their return to their homeland.

Sad news today, Christiane, the program coordinator, lost her sister to Typhoid fever. Chritiane was understandably extremely shocked and sad, she told us that her sister has been sick for only one week. Typhoid fever is caused by an infection from a bacterium. If the immune system is unable to stop the infection, the bacterium will multiply and then spread to the bloodstream. The bacterium penetrates further to the bone marrow, liver and bile ducts. The Typhoid disease is transmitted from human to human via food or drinking water, and it’s therefore mainly hygiene and sanitary conditions that determine its spread. I received a vaccine prior to this trip to counter this disease. The World Health Organization estimates that there are approximately 16 million cases a year, which result in 600,000 deaths. A deplorable reminder of how fragile life is in this country.

We came back to the hotel at 7pm and had two hours to shower and have dinner before we had to leave again to go to the National television station for a one hour interview about the importance of sport in child’s development. The level of tiredness had reached a record high level for the week but our chief Robert knew that this was an outstanding opportunity to reach out to the population of Bénin and educate them on the mission and programs from Right to Play. RTP would contribute greatly from a better support locally from the government and the upper class. So we ventured to the hotel restaurant and I had quickly a third omelette since I have arrived. Showered, put a dress on, some make-up and it was time to go.

The interview went well and Roméo and Marie-Joséphine from RTP Bénin were outstanding in their answers to describe the work of RTP in the country. The journalist asked difficult questions and they were prepared to face all of them. For example, the journalist did not understand why RTP’s program did not reach out to the whole country of Bénin. Marie-Joséphine explained that RTP started in a refugee camp in the south of Bénin and the staff noticed that regular children would approach the refugee camp and watch with envy the children playing within the RTP program. Slowly the refugee children were integrated with the local children in the programs which greatly promoted tolerance and social inclusion. After striving to build a solid base for the program, RTP started to expand in other areas of the country. However, there are still schools near one another where only one school is benefiting from RTP’s assistance. The goal is to make sure that RTP reaches out to all the children in the area before it expands it resources further away. I was very proud of Roméo and Marie-Joséphine. I love to know that great people with big hearts and the will to improve the lives of children in Bénin are brightly leading the RTP program. I am very happy to have been given the opportunity to meet them.

Today was a very demanding day but also difficult emotionally as we saw one of the staff being touched by family tragedy. And also to be in the place where millions of people were tortured and consequently either died or were enslaved is destabilizing and very shocking. What a sad period in the human history and a striking reminder that the human kind is capable of the worst atrocities.

Thank you for reading!