In September 2011, CAEES welcomed five more children as part of their homestay support program. Elysée and Dominique were brothers from Ouèssè whose mother passed away. Dominique has taken up vocational training in the fabrication of upholstery, while Elysée is in his second year of high school. Mariette and Félicité are sisters from the nearby neighborhood of Adougou whose situations in dire poverty necessitated the move to Ouèssè. Mariette is receiving training as a seamstress, while Félicite is in the sixth grade. Blaise hails from Azraou, one of the most remote parts of Benin, 45 kilometers west of Ouèssè. Azraou is cut off from nearly the rest of the country due to almost non-existent roads. Blaise is in 7th grade, and his father’s passing made it very difficult for his mother to support the rest of the family, particularly in such an isolated area of the country.
In June 2011, CAEES hosted the inaugural Camp Espoir Boys’ camp, held during the school holiday with the goal of addressing gender issues and promoting gender equality in Benin. These summer camps started a few years ago, targeting girls specifically, in order to address the aforementioned problem, called CAMP GLOW or Girls Leading Our World. CAMP GLOW has become an annual tradition in Peace Corps Benin and has touched innumerable girls, showing them they have the same rights as men and can do all the same things as men. Last year, Peace Corps volunteers in the Department of the Donga noticed that boys were not being targeted by these camps, and in order to change the social dynamic of Benin, boys must be targeted as well as girls. As a result, they started CAMP ESPOIR, a boys’ camp promoting gender equality. The Peace Corps volunteers noticed that the boys left camp with a new view on women’s rights and even on their own behavior towards women. Seeing the success of CAMP ESPOIR in the Department of the Donga and noticing gender inequality in their areas, the volunteers in the Department of the Collines decided to host their own CAMP ESPOIR in Ouèssè.
Twenty-nine of the best male students in the seventh and eighth grades from six schools (College d’Enseignement Generale or CEG) in the Ouèssè area participated in the camp from June 17th thru June 20th 2011. The CEGs included in the camp were CEG1 Ouèssè CEG2 Ouèssv, CEG Aklampa, CEG Kemon, CEG Challa Ogoï, and CEG Tchaourou. The children were divided into six teams with one Peace Corps volunteer and a Beninese teacher or “grand frère” to help them with activities. The teams created a team name, song, dance, and banner and participated in soccer and dodge ball tournaments in the afternoons. During the mornings, the Peace Corps volunteers and “grand frères” presented sessions on sexual health, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic abuse, gender roles, and nutrition with an emphasis on gender equality during each session. The camp concluded with a parade through Ouèssè, ending at the mayor’s office to announce to him that the participants had successfully completed the inaugural CAMP ESPOIR OUESSE.
Overall, the camp appeared to change the perspectives towards women of many if not all the participants and even some “grand frères.” CAEES-ONG hopes to make CAMP ESPOIR OUESSE an annual tradition.