Evaluation of the Youth Coalition and Care International Canada's ProJeunes project in Benin
By: Natacha Tchékpémi COFFI
"Better the end of a thing than its beginning" (Ecclesiast 7:8) because the end inevitably determines its success and beauty. Thus, after three years of implementation of ProJeunes project, a symposium was held in Parakou, Benin on Saturday, March 27, 2021, to evaluate the scope and success of the project in accordance with the initial objectives. The evaluation, which took place all day on March 27, 2021, was facilitated by the Youth Coalition’s Project Manager Carole-Ann FILIATREAULT and facilitator Kader AVONNON. The event took place in a friendly atmosphere at the Séro Kora Hotel in Parakou.
The ProJeunes project is a partnership between CARE, the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (YCSRR or Youth Coalition) and the Government of Benin. This project is funded by Global Affairs Canada. During the project, the Youth Coalition worked with youth activists and youth organizations in Benin to implement advocacy, awareness, and capacity building activities on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in the Republic of Benin.
Like many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the youth and adolescent population faces significant challenges related to gender, social and cultural norms that negatively impacts their potential. Benin's population is composed of 48% of Beninese under 15 years of age (EDSB-V 5). This population faces many challenges on a daily basis, including discrimination and lack of services and education. These issues undermine the health as well as the sexual and reproductive rights of youth. These inequalities are reflected in high rates of gender-based violence and lack of information. Early marriage is very common in Benin and remains a worrying issue, particularly in the department of Alibori and Borgou.
54% and 40% of women in these departments have been victims of early or forced marriages before the age of 18 (Care Canada, 2018). Three types of child marriages are traditionally practiced in Benin: simple forced marriages in which the future wife is not consulted at all in the choice of her husband, exchange marriages in which two families exchange their daughters (a practice that is very common in the northern part of the country), and abduction marriages in which the family of the future husband, with the agreement of the family of the girl, abducts the girl to consummate the marriage. These marriages can be early marriages, meaning that one or both of the people getting married is under 18 years old. There are also significant regional and residential disparities. As a result, women living in rural areas in the departments of Borgou and Alibori, those with no or limited education and those living in very poor households are more affected. Solving this problem and allowing youth to benefit from their full potential therefore requires significant investments to improve their sexual and reproductive health and rights.
The ProJeunes project has made a significant contribution to addressing this issue. The project promoted increased and meaningful access to sexual and reproductive health services for youths, strengthened the capacity of youth organizations, and strengthened civil society policies and programs that address early and forced child marriage, gender-based violence, and adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights. Throughout the project, multiple youth organizations participated in advocacy activities and trainings as well as a capacity strengthening workshop on SRHR, feminism, intersectionality and resource mobilization. Also, three (03) Beninese youths had the privilege of participating in international events such as the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25). Ten (10) organizations also participated in the 26th Youth Assembly on the sustainable development goals. Furthermore, some youths who participated in the project decided to create their own organization fighting for SRHR and youth rights. The Youth Coalition created relationships with more than 50 youth activists and more than 15 youth organizations working for SRHR and on advocacy in Benin. Through these efforts, new partnerships have been established and the project management skills of youth have been strengthened. At the end of all these activities and collaborations, the youth produced an Advocacy Memento on sexual and reproductive health and rights in order to share the knowledge they received with their peers who were not able to benefit from the various trainings offered to them by the Youth Coalition.
The objective of the project is to promote the sexual health and rights of youth and adolescents in Benin, while helping to reduce the rate of early and forced child marriages in the departments of Alibori and Borgou. After three (3) years of implementation, it is clear that the youths who at the beginning of the project were under-informed and lacking tools, are now informed, trained and equipped to advocate, inform and sensitize their peers, their parents, and stakeholders on issues closely related to youth in order to facilitate the respect of their rights and their full development. These young people have also acquired confidence in themselves and their potential. These are young people, transformed, happy, courageous and confident, who took the floor during the conference to expose their point of view, testify to the benefits of the project in their lives, and present their evaluation of the said project. The various stakeholders and participants present at the symposium presented their reports after evaluating the project and made relevant recommendations to improve the implementation of future projects for a greater impact. The presence of several notables such as religious leaders, personalities of the city, crowned heads as well as organizations and associations such as Care Benin/Togo, le Réseau Ouest Africain des Jeunes Femmes Leaders (ROAJELF), le Parlement des jeunes du Bénin, l’organisation YON BA, l’Ensemble artistique et culturel des enfants au Bénin (EACEB) and others, has highly enriched the exchanges.
At mid-day, some of the young participants and religious leaders, happy and satisfied with the achievements and the capacity building that they have benefited from the project, shared their impressions:
For Carine ADJASSA (Student in renewable energy & energy system) and Falone KANZE (Student in the faculty of economics and management), this project is a total success. "It allowed us to participate in the 26th Youth Assembly organized by the Youth Coalition, to gain confidence in ourselves and to learn how to advocate both nationally and internationally, to learn more about our sexual and reproductive rights, to know our advantages as young girls and the rights we enjoy in order to conquer the world because this world is only waiting for us," they asserted with conviction.
Olivier KOFFI LOKOSSOU (Pastor of the Evangelical Church of the Assemblies of God, Maranatha Temple of Parakou) thinks that this project really changed the lives of young girls. He would like the project to be perpetuated in order to reach many more young people. According to him, the future of Beninese youth and by ricochet that of the whole Beninese nation depend on it.
According to N.T. COFFI, "The future depends on the strength of youth”. Aware of this reality and concerned about the well-being of Benin's youth, the Youth Coalition and Care International have, through the ProJeunes project, strengthened the advocacy capacities of youth as well as the promotion of sexual and reproductive health and rights of Benin's youth, particularly those in the departments of Alibori and Borgou. Various actions have been carried out in these departments over the past 3 years thanks to the ProJeunes project.
Conferences, seminars and trainings, workshops and sensitization sessions, listening and orientation circles for young people, practical and theoretical advice given according to the case, awareness bringing and meetings with religious leaders, crowned heads, health personnel and various authorities of the cities of the departments of Borgou and Alibori, as well as the actions carried out by the associations and organizations involved in the project, have determined its scope and success.
The project evaluation symposium will conclude with a presentation of beautiful and poignant paintings, songs, and drama depicting the pain of children in situations of early and forced marriage, abuse, and disenfranchisement, offered by EACEB. The breathtaking paintings, palpable and irrefutable proof of the talent of young children will be submitted to the appreciation of the public. The work most appreciated by the public (see image below, painting #3), will see its author rewarded. Wilfried GBAGUIDI, president of EACEB, is full of praise for the benefits of the ProJeunes project for young people and adolescents.
Present via videoconference all day due to the global health crisis, the Youth Coalition’s Project Manager Carole-Ann FILIATREAULT, did not fail to express her satisfaction and to thank each actor and participant for the commitment and the heart put into the work so that the objectives of the ProJeunes project were achieved. This was followed by the projection of a video made by some Youth Coalition members thanking people for this beautiful adventure and the success of the project.
At the end of this conference, all the participants are unanimous: Beninese youth, especially those from the departments of Borgou and Alibori, who can now enjoy a promising and flourishing future, are better equipped thanks to the ProJeunes project.