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How Salesian Sisters are Facilitating Vulnerable Children Integration in Beninese Society

Some children at the Mamma Margherita Salesian Center, operated by Daughters of Mary Help of Christians in Cotonou, Benin. Credit: Salesian Missions

Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (FMA), also called Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco, are reaching out to vulnerable children in the West African nation of Benin by offering art classes to street children and sheltering former slaves to help reintegrate them in the Beninese society.

The members of FMA in Benin are reaching out to the children through the Mamma Margherita Salesian Center and the Maison de l’Esperance (Hope Center) for girls. 

In a Thursday, June 3 report obtained by ACI Africa, the officials of the Cotonou-based centre say, “The project is leading children to discover their hidden talents, increasing their self-esteem and teaching them to establish themselves in society.”

Educators working at the centre teach the children how to stretch the canvas, prepare the necessary material, and paint. 

“Teaching children art skills gives them another healthy outlet for self-expression,” the Director of  the development arm of the Salesians, Salesian Missions, Fr. Gus Baek has been quoted as saying in the June 3 report. 

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Fr. Baek adds, “Street children in Benin suffer many injustices. Having adults they can turn to for support and a way to express themselves are important steps in their healing.”

FMA members in Benin have been active in Dantokpa market, the Cotonou open-air market considered the largest in West Africa, since 2001, the report indicates.

Since then, the Salesian Sisters “have been working to reintegrate youth known as ‘vidomegon’ into society and their families of origin,” the report further indicates, describing “Vidomegon” as “a legacy of colonial custom.”

Vidomegon is a cultural tradition where children, mostly girls, from poor families are placed in richer families therefore gaining education. Today, however, the children are often used as slaves for their host families. 

At the Hope Center, the Salesian Sisters provide girls with a place to sleep. 

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"In addition to receiving comfortable mattresses to sleep on, the girls have access to a psychologist and an assistant who will help them to overcome the traumas they have suffered," the leadership of FMA members in Benin says.

At the Centre, the girls also “have access to skills training, and many go on to become bakers, cooks and pastry makers," the Salesian Sisters have reported. 

Prior to being admitted to the Hope Center, the girls join the Salesian program through the Barra Vidomegon, a Salesian shelter where they can rest, ask for help and find support, participating in recreational activities.

At the Barra Vidomegon, the girls are provided with information about the Hope Center and can decide whether to join the program or not. 

Established in 2017, the Hope Center has a dormitory, which accommodates seventy girls a night.

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