by Caitlin Hone, Program and Outreach Officer, Batonga Foundation
The Batonga Foundation, founded by Beninese singer/songwriter Angelique Kidjo in 2006, is one of the few organizations that invests exclusively in adolescent girls and young women in Benin. The organization’s mission is to build the social and economic assets of adolescent girls and young women so that they can be agents of change in their own lives and communities and to shift the harmful gender norms that hold them back.
Immediately following the first official cases of COVID-19 in Benin in March, the Batonga Foundation implemented the following actions to protect the health of, and ensure the uninterrupted delivery of services to, the adolescent girls and young women participants of its programs.
Dissemination of Critical Information
Since April 2020, Radio Lessons have been recorded by Batonga mentors and broadcast weekly to ensure that the adolescent girls and young women participants in Batonga’s programs continue to have access to critical life skills, health, and financial literacy information, despite the potential restrictions to their movement outside the home resulting from COVID-19. Mentors have reported significant positive feedback from girls, their families and other community members related to the radio lessons. Many parents have reported that they are more supportive of Batonga’s work now that they have been able to hear, first-hand, the types of content Batonga teaches and the manner in which Batonga mentors teach. Additionally, Batonga participant girls themselves have recorded daily radio announcements providing Batonga’s partner communities with regular informational updates on COVID-19 transmission and prevention.
Creating New Safe Spaces for Girls and Young Women
A mentor records her radio lesson. Photo Credit: Batonga Foundation. Photo Credit: Batonga Field Supervisors.
A mini-club meets. Photo Credit: Batonga Field Supervisors.
Nearly 200 mini-clubs of approximately 10 girls and young women each have been established across Batonga’s 15 partner communities. These mini-clubs meet weekly, for just under an hour, outdoors, in a physically distanced manner, with all mentors wearing face masks. These meetings allow for girls to remain connected to their peers and mentor despite the Benin’s government’s physical distancing recommendations. During these sessions, girls and their mentors discuss the week’s radio lesson as well as their emotional well-being and play non-contact games.
Continued Access to Supportive Mentors
Mentors lead a discussion on Covid-19 prevention techniques. Photo Credit: Batonga Field Supervisors.
In addition to leading mini-club activities, Batonga Mentors are conducting home visits to ensure that we maintain regular contact with all participant girls and young women, regardless of their ability or willingness to attend mini-club meetings. Mentors have also taken a critical community leadership role, leading COVID-19 sensitizations and handwashing trainings as well as leading the weekly radio lessons broadcast across their communities. In order to support our mentors, Cotonou staff began an immediate information campaign for all Batonga mentors and facilitators in March, equipping them with a COVID-19 FAQ manual as well as daily SMS
message reminders and updates about transmission and prevention. This SMS campaign also includes regular messages of motivation and emotional support for Batonga’s field staff as they work on the frontlines of this crisis.
Facilitating Income-Generating Opportunities
Soap making has always been one of the collaborative income generating activities done by SONAFA Clubs (Sonafa means “A Brighter Future” in Fon, a local language of Benin). Since the beginning of the pandemic, Batonga has focused additional resources on equipping all mentors and girls with the skills and resources needed to produce antibacterial soaps and to safely scale this production to meet increasing demand. Batonga has also begun to partner with other local NGOs to facilitate the large scale sale of SONAFA antibacterial soaps.
Soap production begins in the clubs. Photo Credit: Batonga Field Supervisors.