|© UNICEF Benin/2011/Langue|
|Seven-year-old Eric lives with 20 other vulnerable boys and girls in Saint Joseph transit centre in Parakou.|
By Gisele Langue-Menyé
PARAKOU, Benin, 19 October 2011 – Two years ago, Eric N’Koue was nearly sold by his father to child traffickers. Fortunately, he was intercepted by police and brought to the UNICEF-supported Saint Joseph Centre, a facility providing care and opportunities for vulnerable children in the eastern city of Parakou.
Now seven years old, Eric is one of about 20 children for whom the centre has become a permanent home.
Cycle of poverty
In Benin, child labour and trafficking are central concerns. About half of all children between the ages of five and 14 are engaged in some form of labour, a consequence of the country’s pervasive poverty – nearly half of Benin’s population lives below the international poverty line of $1.25 per day.
Saint Joseph, run by the Salesian Sisters with financial assistance from UNICEF, offers children refuge from this cycle of poverty and exploitation. There, a team of caretakers ensures children receive nutritious meals and enrol in nearby schools, providing the essential support their families cannot.
These days, Eric prefers to focus on his future. He is now in Grade four, earning the highest marks in his class, and he dreams of one day becoming a priest.
|© UNICEF Benin/2011/Langue|
|When UNICEF Representative Dr. Souleymane Diallo visited her class with a television crew, Céline forgot her natural shyness and blurted out, “Mr. Representative, I would like to go to school!”|
A bright future
Twelve-year-old Nahomie Abdoulaye arrived at the centre after escaping an abusive step-mother. She is now learning to speak and write French at school. Nahomie is eager to begin an apprenticeship in Benin, after which she plans to support her four younger siblings as a tailor.
Like Nahomie, 11-year-old Thierry Kouagou has a bright future ahead of him thanks to the centre. His mother died when he was only six, and his father, who is living with HIV, has grown too sick to care for him. Still, Thierry smiles when he speaks of his life at Saint Joseph. He is attending classes and is on track to complete primary school next year.
Choosing her own path
Céline Tchetekoua also lost a parent – her father. After he died, her mother placed her with a host family as a ‘vidomegon’, an unpaid domestic worker. For three years, Céline cooked, cleaned, and cared for the family’s children, though still a child herself.
In spite of her heavy workload, Céline found time to attend daily literacy classes at a recreation centre hosted by the Salesian sisters. One day, UNICEF Representative Dr. Souleymane Diallo visited the class with a television crew. Forgetting her natural shyness, Céline blurted out, “Mr. Representative, I would like to go to school!”
She grins as she tells this story at Saint Joseph Centre, where she now lives. The centre has helped her enrol in a nearby primary school.
Like the other children at Saint Joseph, Céline refuses to let poverty or hardship dictate her future. Through her own force of will – and with a little help from the centre – she is choosing her own path, one to a world of possibilities.