The Origin of the Word “Batonga”
Our founder, Angélique Kidjo, invented the word “Batonga” while she was attending school in her native country of Benin at a time when education for girls was not socially acceptable.
While she was at school, Angélique experienced frequent taunts by the boys around her. As a response to this bullying, Angélique would yell “Batonga!,” a word she invented. The boys didn’t understand what the word meant but to Angélique, it was an assertion of the rights of girls to education.
Later, it became the title of a hit song of Angélique’s in which her lyrics address a young African girl and can be translated as “you are poor but you dance like a princess and you can do as you please regardless of what anyone tells you.” Angélique wanted to use this word as the name of her foundation when she co-founded Batonga in 2006.
When Batonga first launched operations in 2007, it was one of the few organizations that invested exclusively in adolescent girls and recognized their potential for greatness. Batonga offered scholarships, school supplies, meals, mentoring, and in-kind support to vulnerable girls in Benin, Ethiopia, Mali, Sierra Leone and Cameroon in partnership with organizations such as USAID, Mercy Corps and Peace Corps.
Over time, it became clear that the formal education system wasn’t viable for many of the girls. The most vulnerable, including orphans, teenage mothers, and child-brides, weren’t being reached by the organizations trying to serve them. These girls faced many barriers in their attempts to reach secondary school, leading them to fall off track and become invisible to Batonga and the other organizations attempting to help them with formal education initiatives.
In 2015, under the guidance of the intentional design team at The Population Council, Batonga reoriented towards a data-driven approach and refocused its methodology on identifying the most vulnerable adolescent girls and young women in Benin, the home country of founder Angélique Kidjo. Our primary goal became to learn about and serve the most ‘off-track girls’, to understand the unique challenges they face, and equip them with the assets, tools, and technologies necessary to transform their lives.
After a decade of work in this sector, Batonga has taken on a new role as advocate, leader and convener for organizations aiming to serve off-track girls in Francophone West Africa via our intentionally-designed programming. As a constantly evolving and learning organization, Batonga has become a laboratory for piloting programs to shift the paradigm for these girls and for transforming the ways that others see, understand and empower vulnerable populations