We sat down with Program Officer Caitlin Hone to discuss her recent trip to Benin – read along to learn more about Batonga’s staff, mentors, Girls Club members, and our exciting on-the-ground work!
Q: What was your favorite part about the trip?
A: The mentor training! At our quarterly mentor trainings, I am always so impressed by the women that represent Batonga. They are working 24/7, in capacities that are not always in their job descriptions. They’re not just teachers or mentors, but they are also functioning almost as social workers; they are helping to resolve interpersonal problems between girls and their families and they’re always on call as Batonga’s representative. It’s always so motivating to hear their stories about what they’ve been doing everyday on the ground. Some of the sessions we did during this training were about Batonga’s organizational values, and the mentors came up with a list of traits that they thought were crucial for all mentors to have. The mentors also write songs about Batonga, and I’m so impressed with their creativity. Even since the last time I was there in March, they’ve written new songs about Batonga in local language!
I also enjoyed the recruitment for our new clubs. Some of the most dangerous situations and transitions in a girls life occur before she turns 15, so we are launching clubs for girls as young as 10 years old in September and October. We began the process of surveying villages and gathering data while I was there.
Q: What was different from when you visited in March?
A: One of the many reasons we do these quarterly visits from the DC office is so that our mentors and the girls in our clubs know that this organization is bigger than what they can see on a daily basis, and that people around the world are involved with the operations of Batonga. When I’m in Benin, I listen directly to our field staff and it’s my job to ensure that everyone knows that the organization really cares about them and their concerns on a personal level. When we have these quarterly visits, it really instills a feeling of greater connectedness within the organization. I noticed this feeling a lot more during this trip than when I visited in March.
Q: Are there any new programs or events that are being implemented?
A: We started a mentor peer-to-peer observation program, where mentors can visit other mentors across regions. They get to sit in on club meetings and observe how different mentors lead the same sessions that they are leading with their own clubs. It has been very successful so far! One of the mentors said that she thinks it’s really positively impacting not just her teaching ability but also the girls in the clubs- they are able to see how large the network of Girls Clubs really is.
We also launched an Exemplary Women’s Speaker Series this quarter! We recruited 11 local women from different professional backgrounds- a midwife, a teacher, an entrepreneur, a government worker, etc.- to go from club to club and give a presentation about their life, focusing on their professional success and personal growth. Our mentors told us that so far the girls have absolutely loved it! For most of the girls in our clubs, this is the first opportunity that they’ve had to get questions answered by a professional woman in this context- a LOCAL woman from their own region, not a woman from a big city.
Q: The girls have just finished the first phase of the Girls Clubs’ curriculum. What will be different in the next phase?
A: The second phase contains a lot of information on sexual and reproductive health, as well as maternal and infant health. It also includes lessons on what domestic violence is and what the word violence means. Phase 1 covered a lot of interpersonal skills like negotiation and public speaking, as well as basic financial literacy. After the 2nd phase is completed, we will hopefully have the mentors revisit some of the more conceptually challenging lessons from phase 1 for the girls.
Q: What is one thing that everyone should know about Batonga’s programs?
A: It’s so hard to boil it down to just one thing because the methodology is so multifaceted, which is why it works so well! It’s not just teaching classes, or opening small businesses, or creating a safe space for the girls, or providing them with a local woman to be a role model to them- it’s all of these things at once! It’s such a multidimensional program, and it’s addressing so many different social and economic issues. I hope that people understand that we are trying to not just educate girls but really empower them through mentorship, friendship and small business skills, among many other things.
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