The phenomenon of child trafficking is getting worse and worse in Benin, particularly in the areas of Atacora and Donga, where traffickers of children destined for exploitation in countries such as Niger, Togo, Nigeria or Ghana are regularly intercepted on the street.

Traffickers pretend to contribute to their social welfare by promising parents a better future for both the child and themselves. In this way, minors generally between the ages of 8 and 15 are entrusted to the neighboring countries and also to other regions of Benin for remunerative work.

The situation in Atacora

Mani Tese has been present for many years in Benin and in particular in the Atacora department, where it has carried out several projects to combat early school leaving, a phenomenon connected and often consequent to the trafficking of minors. According to the results of a survey conducted by the local organization “Fee-Développement”, and subsequently transmitted by the Benin News Agency (ABP) in 2020, 2096 children were reported as victims of trafficking in five municipalities of Atacora. The municipality of Kouandé leads this sad ranking with 794 identified cases, followed by other municipalities such as Matéri, Péhunco, Toucountouna and Cobly.

This phenomenon is spreading throughout the department leading many children to drop out of school. For the examination of the Certificate of Primary Education (CEP) of the June 2021 session, out of a total of 12078 registered candidates, 685 students were reported absent by the Examinations and Competitions Service of the Departmental Directorate of Infant and Primary Education of Atacora.

The tragedy of girls forced to drop out of school

The education situation in Atacora is particularly dramatic for girls. The illiteracy rate is very high but has a greater propensity among women, for whom the value is about 80%. Unfortunately, women are not educated because they take care of agriculture and the family, usually in conditions of submission. Due to low literacy levels, most of them do not own or manage money and are unable to start businesses. The unemployment rate of women in 2018 was in fact 51.7%.

Mani Tese’s projects

Mani Tese has developed several projects to fight early school leaving in three municipalities of the Atacora department (Natitingou, Toucountouna and Kouandé), which have helped raise awareness among girls, their teachers, and their families on the rights of boys and girls and on the importance of education. In total, 9 schools were involved.

The activity also included the creation of school attendance monitoring committees and support for the poorest families by providing seeds for the creation of fields to be cultivated.

Radio programs were then organized on two community radios to raise awareness about the importance of the right to education and the dangers of dropping out of school, especially for girls.

Mani Tese’s intervention allowed the communities to have a better awareness of the phenomenon of early school leaving and its consequences, however, there is still a lot to do because not all the villages of the three municipalities have been reached by the proposed activities and the the population’s determination to guarantee the right to education for boys and girls is still not enough.

Mani Tese’s commitment today continues with a new project, which aims to combat the trafficking of children and the phenomenon of early school leaving, focusing on the code of infancy existing in Benin.

Radio programs continue, during which the various issues addressed by the Childhood Code are presented.

The commitment also continues in schools, from 9 to 20, in which awareness paths are proposed on the importance of the right to education and on the factors and consequences of early school leaving, especially for girls.

The involvement of local institutions is of fundamental importance. In this regard, various meetings are planned between civil authorities, school directors and local community leaders in order to develop shared strategies for the protection and fight against the trafficking of boys and girls.

However, all these activities require support so any contribution is valuable and welcome!

Help us to support boys and girls who are victims of trafficking and school dropout in Benin with a small contribution: https://donazioni.manitese.it/en/

by Anna Bartalini

The first meeting between the two tailor’s shops involved in the project was held on 7 September, as part of the “Mending the future” project, funded by the Modena Foundation and the European Union: the social tailoring Manigolde, based in Finale Emilia, and the Renascer Alfaiataria tailor’s shop, based in Antula, a district of Bissau. The meeting was eagerly awaited and finally gave the seamstresses the opportunity to see and get to know each other, and start together a process of exchange of knowledge and experience.

Both sartorial realities arise from great motivations: the Manigolde, in fact, are a tailor’s shop that is particularly attentive to the themes of reuse, the circular economy and environmental protection; Renascer Alfaiataria, on the other hand, pays special attention to the local population and women, with the desire to support the latter in achieving socio-economic autonomy.

The meeting took place online and, after a first round of introductions and some initial hesitation, probably due to the physical and linguistic distance, the will and curiosity to observe different models of clothes and fabrics, and to learn new technical notions, prevailed. Later, various fashion shows, paillettes and mutual compliments, and at the end the final judgment.

The seamstresses of Antula were particularly fascinated by the use of crochet, a technique that the Manigolde juggle with great skill. On the other hand, the Manigolde were eagerly waiting to explore the use of some of the bright fabrics seen in the videos, which the seamstresses of Antula use daily for dresses and other products.

There are many meeting points between these two apparently distant realities: the two tailor’s shops, both highly-creative laboratories, are united by passion, desire to experiment and a strong sense of community.

Thanks to this will, the path that began on September 7th will be able to continue in the coming months, also through online tutorials and guides that both tailors are producing to facilitate and ensure the exchange of knowledge. The hope for the future is that we can arrive at the creation of a common garment.

Group photo of the women participating to the trainings in the tailor’s shop Renascer Alfaiataria in Bissau.
A screenshot of the meeting.

Tha* is a girl from the Pursat province of Cambodia. After the separation from her husband, Tha’s mother decided to migrate to Thailand, with the help of an intermediary, and the little girl ended up begging on the street.

Tha’s mother knew that her intermediary forced her to beg, but she always refused to go to the police to report him in order not to be taken back to Cambodia. Later, Tha’s mother remarried another man and no longer cared about her daughter.

“I was very afraid – Tha later told us – I didn’t want to live and work in Thailand anymore, but my mother didn’t listen to me. So I tried to find another job and I talked about my situation to the people, who then reported everything to the police”.

In December 2019, Tha was identified by the Thai immigration police and sent to a center for boys and girls called Banbratakan, where she remained before being brought back to Cambodia. Once she arrived in her country of origin, she was directed through the Poipet Transit Center to the Damnok Toek reception center, supported by Mani Tese.

“At first – Damnok Toek operators tell us – Tha she was very frightened and she did not want to talk to the other children or to the staff of the center. Then it emerged that the little girl was ashamed of having been abandoned by her mother and exploited by intermediaries”.

Since she has lived in Damnok Toek’s shelter, however, she has gradually reborn and has been able to study and learn Khmer, the Cambodian language. She is very happy with her new life and of being able to learn new disciplines, such as meditation, dance, crafts and drawing. She also receives counseling and assistance support from the reception center team.

Tha finally smiles and tells us: “I’m no longer afraid, everyone here has helped me. I want to study hard to be able to have my own business, maybe a small shop, I think I can do it. In the future, if I have the opportunity, I hope to be able to support other vulnerable children like me. I don’t want them to drop out of school and be exploited”.

* Tha is an invented name to protect the privacy of the child.

At the end of 2020, together with the Mani Tese Finale Emilia Social Promotion Association and the social tailoring Manigolde, we launched the “Mending the future” project in Guinea-Bissau, funded by the Modena Foundation and the European Union.

Now the project is also an exhibition, open until Friday 10 September, at the SpazioF of the Modena Foundation. Through the history of some of Manigolde‘s tailoring garments, photographs and books, you will make a journey into ethical and sustainable fashion and know more about the project itself.

“In Antula, an area of ​​Bissau, tailoring courses have begun – the Manigolde tell us – 27 women victims of gender violence participate, and they can access the facility alternating training moments with the production of clothing, bags, backpacks and glove boxes”.

“Just today, 7th September 2021, we will meet the Mani Tese women, operators and co-workers in Guinea-Bissau to start awareness-raising activities and collaborate in the creation of a product that narrates the sartorial twinning between Italy and Guinea-Bissau”.

We are therefore waiting for you, until the 10th September, at the SpazioF of the Modena Foundation which is located in Modena, in via Emilia 285.

Here are some photos of the exhibition and tailoring courses in Guinea-Bissau:

Tailoring garments by Manigolde
Tailoring garments by Manigolde
A woman part of the project in Guinea-Bissau (© Andrea Santopaolo)
The group of participant to the tailoring course in Guinea-Bissau (© Andrea Santopaolo)
Manigolde

In Guinea-Bissau, we are working with local farmers and breeders to develop the poultry sector thanks to the “Let’s sprout wings to development” project, co-financed by the European Union as part of the broader Ianda Guiné program.

From the beginning of the project, among the various activities, we are also carrying out professional training dedicated to poultry men and women. After Mrs. Janoveva’s testimony, we bring you today Delfina‘s story.

My name is Delfina Indequi and I am a beneficiary of the Ianda Guiné program, co-financed by the European Union.

I was already a beneficiary of the COAJOQ program (Cooperativa Agrícola de Jovens Quadros), in Canchungo, and thanks to this path I had first received 10 laying hens and then I was informed about the poultry course in Bissau and asked to participate.

When I started the course – Delfina continues – I did not know how to take care of the hens, for example I did not know that they needed clean water and special drinking troughs. All of this was taught to me and now I am putting it into practice in my farm.

This path I am following is helping me and my family a lot because now that I have hens I can sell eggs and with the proceeds buy food for my children and support various daily expenses.

I hope that Mani Tese and IMVF (Instituto Marques de Valle Flor) will continue supporting us and I invite the women of my village to raise hens like I did. Some women say it is useless to raise hens because they die, but thanks to the vaccination campaigns supported by the project, this happens more rarely.

Find out why it is important to develop the poultry supply chain in Guinea-Bissau and what are the objectives of the project: https://www.manitese.it/en/project/lets-sprout-wings-to-development

Here are some photos of the project:

© Cosimo Tendi
© Cosimo Tendi
One of the vaccination campaigns of the chickens (© Cosimo Tendi)
Hens in the henhouse with drinking throughs (© Cosimo Tendi)

David Chelal lives in the Kirambach, area of Baringo County. In 2014 he started to take up horticulture, but initially he didn’t have enough knowledge and his harvests were poor. However, convinced that horticulture could change his life, David moved to a new piece of land and rented it.

During this period of change, David learned a lot about fruit farming. He started planting bananas and taking care of the mango trees that were already on the land. If water was scarce during his first experience as a farmer, David was luckier after the move because the new land is reached by a small canal from a nearby river.

David’s new business is off to a good start, so much so that he has given up horticulture for the time being and his desire is to expand fruit farming and thus increase his income. Given his determination, the Mani Tese staff in Kenya decided to involve him in the project “Agri-change: small small, big opportunities. Development of agri-food chains in the Molo river basin”, co-financed by the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation.

A selection of fruit plants was delivered to David, including 125 papaya plants, 15 acacia plants and 10 mango plants. Now David wants to become a fruit supplier for the city of Marigat, where there is an important market, and for other neighbouring areas, but he isn’t giving up the project of growing vegetables.

“This experience – says David – has made me realise that, with the knowledge, I can also be successful with growing vegetables. But now the most important thing is that the fruits of my trees are harvested and become both nutritious food for my family and a source of income. I would like to thank Mani Tese because the training has been crucial in enabling me to grow the seedlings well”.

At the time of our visit to David’s farm, the trees were in excellent condition and harvest time had already begun. The hope is that David’s example will lead other farmers and people in the area to develop their own businesses, increasing their income and improving their living conditions.

In Burkina Faso, the women of the Song Taaba cooperative in Banko, in the province of Boulkiemdé, have decided to make the transformation of shea into butter their job. Mariam Zongo, one of the protagonists, tells us: “We inherited this business from our mothers who in turn transformed the shea into butter. This product is traditionally part of our consumption habits, but now it is also an important source of income because, beyond Burkina, it is in great demand everywhere, even in Europe”.

Shea butter, in fact, is the basis of many cosmetic products, such as moisturizers or soothing ones, and has always been used by Burkinabé women to treat and soften their own skin and that of children. Moreover, it is also used in the kitchen as an dietary fat to replace oil, especially in recipes such as benga, a dish based on rice and local beans, but it is also used for the preparation of hazelnut or chocolate spreads that are found in supermarkets.

Mariam and her colleagues from Song Taaba are very happy because thanks to the funds received from the project “Innovative social enterprises and participation of migrants for social inclusion in Burkina Faso” (co-financed by the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation and the Maria Enrica Foundation) have finally been able to purchase adequate material and strengthen their production capacity. Furthermore, the literacy course organized by the project was highly appreciated by the women of the cooperative, in fact Mariam herself tells us that “priorly they didn’t even know how to hold a pen” while now they are much more autonomous even in writing.

The biggest change that Mariam and her colleagues have witnessed, however, was the transition from manual to semi-industrial work, which facilitated and increased production by transforming a simple group into a company. The women who are members of the cooperative can now give their own contribution in the management of the domestic economy, through the payment of school fees, medical care, the purchase of clothes and food for their children.

FOLLOW OUR BLOG “THE CHALLENGE OF GROWING TOGETHER”

In Burkina Faso, Mani Tese has been accompanying the 238 members of the Loumbila NANGLOBZANGA Producers’ Union for many years now, on a path of awareness and change towards the agroecological transition. In this process, the training and transformation center plays a key role; it was built over the years by the Union with our support, and it has become the hub of many activities of our projects.

During the second week of June, as part of the “TOMATO REVOLUTION” and “DOLCI PRODUZIONI” projects, respectively financed by the Emilia-Romagna Region and the Lecco Committee for Peace and Cooperation among Peoples, two important trainings were held. Trainings are the key to change, because they give participants the opportunity to learn new techniques and acquire new skills.

Firstly, together with the NANGLOBZANGA Union, we have identified the criteria of selection of the participants, namely: specific interest in the proposed transformation activities, previous experience in training activities, homogeneity and fairness of distribution of participants among the various villages represented, and account of gender to encourage the participation of women.

The first training was dedicated to the tomato transformation process and involved 30 women, while the second, focused on making jams, involved 10 women.

The trainings are always led by local experts accompanied by the animators of Mani Tese and follow a consolidated model that allows participants to acquire important basic general information, such as hygiene during the manufacturing process, as well as the ingredients to be used, but above all which allows the transformation processes to be put into practical practice.

The participants experimented with the different varieties of tomatoes and fruit that can be used; the different maturity stages were then discussed and the most suitable ones for each final preparation were identified, and finally information about additional ingredients that can be integrated was shared. The Stevia rebaudiana, for example, can be used as a substitute for sugar in the preparation of jams, with over 200 plants already being ready to be planted in the Union’s garden for experimentation. This introductory part of the training was essential to facilitate understanding of the hygiene rules to be adopted during preparation and packaging in order to ensure a healthy and safe product.

But the practical stage remains the vital heart of the trainings. The women, accompanied by the expert trainer and our team, carried out the entire process of transforming fruit into jam and tomato into puree, putting into practice all the steps learned and using all the necessary materials. The Loumbila center has thus become a real transformation laboratory where women are the protagonists, very busy experimenting, understanding the various steps, carrying out conditioning tests of the final products and evaluating the quality of the products obtained. Last but not least, these trainings were an opportunity to talk about how to market this type of products, their positioning and their potential.

After a total of 6 days of intense training, all the participants had a big smile on their face, satisfied with having acquired new skills, and finally felt ready to start the production of a new line of products from agroecological agriculture with the brand of the NANGLOBZANGA Union.

Together, we have taken another important step to make the producers of the NANGLOBZANGA Union more autonomous and to make these projects sustainable!

Here are some photos of the trainings:

Joel Kiprotich is a beekeeper from Baringo County, Kenya. Today his life is full of hope, but his childhood was very difficult.

At the age of three he was diagnosed with an eye problem and although the infection was cured, he could no longer see out of that eye. After two years, following a serious accident, Joel lost his second eye, leaving him completely blind.

Although dependent on his parents to help him walk and perform daily tasks, Joel was always a determined boy and, as he grew up, attempted to become self-sufficient by working in fruit farming. Unfortunately, drought, which is recurrent in the area, caused the business to fail.

Joel, then, decided to experiment with beekeeping, which his father already practiced and which can be managed with less physical effort than farming and fruit farming. He started with five hives and, after an initial bountiful harvest, bought himself another hive.

Joel’s determination pushed us to involve him in the project “Agri-change: small enterprises big opportunities. Development of agri-food chains in the Molo river basin”, co-financed by the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation. Thanks to the project, he was provided with three new hives and modern equipment for the collection and care of beehives. Joel was also able to get in touch with the Rabai honey refinery, which the same project realized during the first year.

The last time we visited, Joel had a total of twenty hives and production was going so well that with the proceeds he can now help his family and also make small investments in his business.

Beekeeping can be said to have changed Joel’s life, and he now has a wife, a son, and nurtures a dream of becoming a great beekeeper.

“I thank Mani Tese for supporting me – says Joel – in most cases we people with disabilities are invisible. Now I hope to improve my life and show everyone that disability is not inability!”

Below are some photos of Joel:

If you are born, grow up and live in a context where the woman is considered inferior to the man, at the first slap you won’t say anything, because it will seem normal, you will feel you deserved it, it will seem right. If you are born, grow up and live in such a context, when your husband comes home at night and shouts that dinner isn’t ready yet and there is dust in the corner, you will feel guilty for being late to collect tons of wood in the woods, carrying it on your shoulders. You’ll agree with him and apologize. If you are born, raised and live in such a context and no one tells you, you simply cannot know that this is not okay, not normal at all and that you have rights.

That’s why in the last two months, with the project “Social and rights promotion of women and children for the improvement of health and civil status services”, co-financed by the European Union under the “Population” program, we have trained civil society organizations from 7 provinces in 3 regions of Burkina Faso on what gender-based violence is, how to recognize its signs, what are the tools for protection and how to accompany victims to get the psychological and legal support they need.

The training, aimed at people, both men and women, with a certain level of education and open-mindedness in order to empower them within their communities, started from a very simple question: what is a purely male and a purely female task? The answers were the ones we can imagine: “the woman has to take care of the children”, “the woman has to cook”, “the woman has to take care of the house”, “the man works”.

The trainer then asked the men in attendance if it had ever occurred to them to sweep the yard or wash dishes. Most of them answered yes. She then asked them to stand up and show themselves properly: indeed, they did not appear to have suffered any permanent damage. Laughter in the room. It was then shown visually, with the help of signs, the number of tasks and duties that traditionally fall to the woman and those that are instead attributed to the man. They were read out and each was assigned a realistic time frame. At the end there was silence in the room. And at that point, faced with a slight embarrassment but above all a greater understanding, we began to talk about violence, which is wrong regardless of cultural context and habits, which must be denounced and whose victims must be identified and supported.

The participants accepted the challenge: they confronted themselves with very raw and hard cases from their communities (we’re talking about child brides, 11 year old girls impregnated by a family member and then removed from the family as witches, female genital mutilation and much more) and committed themselves to be a reference point, both to raise awareness among people in their area, and to take charge of identifying and supporting victims with the tools that the law provides.

In the coming months, we will be organizing theater sessions to get right to the heart of communities and spread the message, so that the same potential victims know where to turn if they need help. And we hope that change starts here, with the realization that NO!, it’s not fair.

Below are some photos of the formation: