Benin: Gianfranco Zola visits UNICEF Programmes for children
Cotonou, Benin, 9 May 2008 – UNICEF Ambassador for the Italian Committee and international former football star, Gianfranco Zola, was in Benin, for a 5-day journey to first hand witness and also have a better understanding of UNICEF-supported projects in Education and Protection. He was accompanied by Alessandro Pinto, responsible for the Goodwill ambassador unit of the Italian Committee, and wife and daughter, Franca and Martina were part of the trip.
Even though it was his first visit to Africa, Gianfranco Zola felt at home in this small country ranked 163rd out of 177, according to the Human Development Index, with approximately 4 out of 10 people living under the poverty line.
The visits brought Zola to better understand the situation prevailing in UNICEF-supported programmes, particularly in the fields of Protection and Education.
In St Joseph Centre, 60 working children aged 7 to 17, are given a second chance to be literate through the alternative education system. They can complete for free, primary education within three years. In this centre run by the Salesian Sisters, the curriculum is divided into 3 levels that take into account the child’s capacities and working hours. It enables vulnerable children to enter secondary school or vocational programmes. To date, 4 primary schools are involved.
Another tour took Zola to the Oasis Center, where a 3-year project targeting 1200 children, run by the international NGO Terre des Hommes. It gives care, educates, rehabilitates, and reinserts children victims of violence, mistreatment and trafficking. The children’s spokesperson, Dieudonné D. in a warm welcome address, told Zola that his visit testified of his “commitment to the welfare of the youngest” and gave them “hope for a bright future with attention, love, and education”. Zola, with joy and enthusiasm, said he will be a strong advocate for child protection, and he advised the 37 children aged 5 to 15 to remain determined, and to work for shaping their future.
Empowering families and especially women’s groups is one the fruitful strategies to address poverty and promote children’s rights to protection and education in Benin. This is the reason why income generating activities are the basics for programmes.
In Itchohou-Ketty, the delegation met children of a kindergarten and of a primary school, and women’s groups involved in income generating activities to sustain girl’s child education, in the school. Zola, who was very impressed by these activities, said they are “one of the best means to alleviate poverty, and give the children a chance for education”.
As of now, UNICEF has supported 737 women groups within the Education Programme. Even though the children in Itchohou-Ketty school do not have access to drinking water, the number of girls has doubled from 2005 to 2008 (45 to 95). Unfortunately, the level of dropouts is still high due to poverty, and because most children are used as cheap labour force in farming. Zola encouraged children, and told them that “in order to become good football players, they must be very good students first.”
During his tour, Gianfranco Zola kicked the ball off several times, with the children of the Cotonou based International Training Center for football players, with those of the primary school of Kpomassè, and the secondary school of Pobé.