Thursday, 22 October 2015

One Year In Benin

It’s a surprising fact but we have just completed one full year of our contract with the EPM Benin.  So much has happened in this first year that it feels as if we have already done 3 years!!!
In this time we have;
-          settled in our new accommodation (EPMB  Galilee Compound – PK 6)
-          started to learn French and managed to communicate ( haltingly) with the people
-          learnt our way around Cotonou and Porto Novo
-          been introduced to the myriad of problems at PBS
-          found workable solutions for the problems at PBS
-          started projects to carry out the solutions to the problems of PBS
-          the children have completed one school year and have started their second school year
-          faced the challenges of health issues

Our accommodation
In our last blog post we described our accommodation and its surroundings in full.  Therefore, it is safe to say our accommodation can no longer be called ‘new.  In this time, we have had a change of neighbours as the pastors were changed. In addition, we had to do many renovations to facilitate our needs and making it more comfortable. We have made many friends in the families we come in daily contact with and feel a real sense of community with them.  We pray that God will sustain us all, as per His wisdom, as we continue to strive to live together fraternally and peacefully.
In order to manage the day to day grind we decided to get some help from Sierra Leone.  We managed to invite and transport our ward who have been helpful in managing the daily domestic duties as we busily commute between Cotonou and Porto Novo for work and the school run.  We hope this change in geography will also afford him the opportunity to learn a new language and to continue his studies in the West African school system.
New language
Colleagues from French Class
Well, the most that can be said is, its early days learning French. We realised, only after we arrived, that many of the local people we live and work with do not speak French but instead spoke the local languages of Gon and Fon.  Anyway, this did not deter us to communicate with them.  Hand gestures have become very helpful!!

Learning to live in Benin
Motor cycles a permanent feature on the roads.
We learnt very early that Benin is a country of paper work and bureaucratic rules!  The last blog outlined the stress we faced to complete the mountains of forms for Resident Permits, driver’s license and work permits. These documents are very necessary as woe betide us if we are stopped and asked to produce them!!! So, to reduce the stress that would definitely befall us if this situation arose, we kept within the law.  This took us the better half of 3-6 months to complete. To top it all, in the case of the Resident permit, this has to be done annually!
We thank God we have found a driver who is experienced and able to handle the rigors of driving in Benin as we spend more than the average amount of time on its roads.  This is because although we live and go to school in Cotonou, our place of work (PBS) is in Porto Novo (over 30 miles away). We, therefore, cover our fair share of kilometres in a week.  This is not an easy feat, as the Beninose road code is only evident in theory!! So having a driver who can manage these roads was compulsory and God provided a miracle in sending someone who is capable.  As with every miracle, the story is a long one and will not be covered in this blog.

Our Work – PBS
Polyclinique du Bon Samaritaine
In our last blog we had outlined extensively the problems we met at PBS. These were:
-          Lack of infrastructure (buildings) as the hospital is housed in a 3- storey building, but there is no elevator. We have seen on many occasions the very sick (unable to climb the stairs) being carried up (or down) on the back of a porter or a relative!! 
With Directrice (l) and interpreter (r)
-          There is not enough space to house all the service and administrative departments and so the space for patients is cramped and uncomfortable.  We have seen 2 newly delivered mums on one bed! We have seen new-born infants of mothers delivered by C-section being held by a relative until the mum can manage to care for them!
To get the necessary history, we had to have extensive staff interviews and observe the daily hospital activities before we understood the real problems; the reasons behind the problems to gain the relevant workable solutions to the problem.  In doing so we have worked with the staff to be able to facilitate projects to solve some of the problems.  These have been:
-          Renovating an existing ward to hold up to 10 beds for a proper Postnatal ward
-          Building a simple structure for outpatient’s clinic to better facilitate antenatal and Under 5’s clinics.
-          Drawing up plans for a more permanent structure to house the administration building and the outpatient’s department
-          Putting in place procedures to improve accounting and financial information
These are just a few of the solutions that need to become reality, then we move on to solving and improving other situations.

Our Work – EPMB
Joey & Dr Antoinette doing a health talk at
a local church
In our last blog we briefly outlined the health promotion presentations which we have been helping the local church to organise and promote. This is in addition to working with the hospital. So far, 5 churches in Porto Novo have been given presentations on ‘Diabetes’ by health professionals who are members of their local churches. This was communicated in the local language and involved the health committees of these 5 churches. The plan now is to extend and include 5 new churches in which the presentations on ‘Diabetes’ will continue.  The original 5 pilot churches are to move onto the next topic of ‘Hypertension’.  Presentations of the new topic is planned to start by the end of October. So, by the end of the year, we hope to have covered 2 topics (Diabetes and Hypertension) and to have done so in 10 churches.

The children
The girls at a Saturday bakery class with their friends
Our girls are growing quickly and enjoying school.  Their school’s syllabus follows the UK Cambridge syllabus which will prepare them for settling back into the UK system when we return.  Joelle is now in Year 5 and Janelle in Year 1.  So far, their health has been good and they enjoy socializing with children both at school and on our home compound.  We pray that they will learn the French language very soon.
Joelle & Janelle 

Our health
Joelle with some of her class mates
 and Mrs Carsky their headteacher
Generally, we have been keeping very good health. However, there arose the need for Joanna to have surgery to alleviate a long standing health issue.  This was facilitated by the family going to the UK in July.  In this time Joanna had major surgery, saw good recovery and was fit and able enough to return to the mission field in September.  Overall, we thank God and praise Him for an uneventful medical experience. It’s only left for her to have regular check-ups and this will be done according to medical advice.

Joelle at a school event
Last year's Christmas play

Please help us to pray for:
-          Strength to make the daily commute to and from Cotonou and Porto Novo
-          Protection on the Benin road
-          Patience  and Wisdom to help to facilitate the changes in the systems at PBS that will help to make it more efficient
-          Finances  and other resources that are needed to make the necessary changes at PBS
-          The information given at the church health talks to be effective in improving the health of the congregants
-          The right persons to be used in the presentation of the church health talks
-          Good health to be maintained for us,  our family  and friends ( near and far)
The children to continue to blossom and grow academically, socially and spiritually

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Beyond Salone

This is our first blog in a very long time.  What can we say – we’ve been busy.  This is just an explanation (not an excuse) as to why we have not posted for months now (maybe a year?!)  What have we been busy doing? To make it easier (and less timely) we will itemise the reasons:

1)      Packing and saying our goodbyes

2)      Catching up with family and friends

3)      New country, new language  - learning French

4)      Unpacking


Packing and saying our goodbyes – to Sierra Leone (Salone)

You can just imagine how much packing needed to be done!! We started serving in Sierra Leone in October 2007.  Joelle had just turned 2 years (she is now 9 years old).  We’ve lived and worked extensively in the east (Segbwema) and in the west (Freetown) of Salone. We have had an addition to the family (Janelle – now 5 years old).  And so in June 2014, after much prayering and soul searching, we thought we had done our best. It was time to leave. So began the sorting, throwing, giving away and packing. Doing all this after 7 years was not an easy task!!!! Another difficulty was saying goodbye to some very special people (at home, in the office and at school). We had made so many friends. We had come to depend on so many (and they on us). It was like saying good bye to family.  But God was good (as He always is) and the time flew. We actually managed to do all we had to do.  In the end we had packed nearly 30 boxes of ‘stuff’.  This was to be transported by road to our next station – in Benin.  This has its own story…..                                                                                                                                        

We said good bye to our home country of 7 years (all of Janelle’s life thus far). It was a difficult task. Then the infamous Ebola epidemic ravaged the country in the beginning of July.  It was so sad to learn of the suffering of so many.  We lost many colleagues especially at the hospital.  Those in school had to halt their lives.  We mourn and wept with them. We also live in hope that this epidemic will cease very soon.

Catching up with family and friends – In UK and Jamaica

This was always fun (and expensive but necessary) especially since it meant travelling a lot!!!! In the UK we were well received.  We missed them all so much.  They missed us too as evidenced by the mountain of mail we had to sift through! We had to catch up on graduations, births and so many other stories.  We had to also do some shopping for those of us who are growing.  This was always the less stressful part of coming home to the UK.

Relaxing at our holiday hotel.
It was not long after we had to jump on the plane again to see family and friends in Jamaica (especially Grandma).  This trip is done about every 2 years (10 hours to and fro on the plane) and it is sensible to maximize our stay by spending a few good weeks just trying to get over jetlag, visiting family and friends and catching up on Jamaican cuisine! And of course swimming in the calm, warm Caribbean Sea.  We all had a great time and made some unforgettable memories. 


New country, new language – learning French.

For our next tour, we felt led to serve in the French speaking West African country of Benin.  We loved the region (West Africa), we loved the work (with the mission hospital) and we thought learning an entirely new language should be relatively easy (especially after all we have previously experienced).  So in September 2014 we arrived in Cotonou with great expectations.  We were warmly received. Hospitality is foremost here!!  The children started their new school (English International) within a week – they LOVE it!!!    Then the whole adaptation to the new culture began.  It’s very, very different!  We had to sort out our work permits BEFORE we could work – in Salone we could work while the papers were being processed. We had to have a police check (from the UK), health checks (Blood test etc. at their own Police hospital in Cotonou). We were interviewed by the relevant authorities and had to maintain a valid visitors’ visa (more paperwork) throughout the process.  Lunch break in Benin starts at 12:30 and ends at 3 pm.  Then they work to 6pm.  Nearly everyone does this (except a few supermarkets).  It was a lot to get used to. The paper work took a while. We had to go to the Immigration Bureau to submit AND to collect our documents. This needed to be done AFTER collecting the children from school.  They wanted to see EVERYBODY.  We were SHOCKED!

The waiting time, however, gave us a good opportunity to start to learn the language at a reputable school (CE.BE.LAE).  It was then we really learnt that ‘Francais c’est difficile’!!!! (French is hard!!!). Or maybe the learner is slow? Anyway, it’s been 3 months (minus a few weeks) and we have been able to communicate enough (still with the use of a lot of hand signals). It’s hard to hear ‘je ne comprende pas’!!!! (I don’t understand!) and to see the blank look on the recipients’ faces. But we continue to try to communicate and continue to hope that the language comes alive for us. In the meantime we have our support personnel / interpreter (Brother Constance) who is nearly always there to smooth the communication pathway.


Our 30 boxes arrived in November after leaving on the last bus out of Freetown (to Accra) in August.  It then had a very interesting journey through 6 West African countries - Sierra Leone, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Togo before arriving in Benin.  They took a short rest in Accra (Ghana) before we received them in Benin in November. We are still unpacking!!!! But we think we received all we packed.


 We received a visit from Sister Bunmi – Partner Co-ordinator for Africa at the World Church Office.  Seeing her was good for us as we had the opportunity of her ever listening ear.  We thank God for the support we get from our employers. The plan is to officially begin work at the Bon Samaritan (Good Samaritan) Polyclinique in February this year – armed with our language skills, support personnel and work permits!!! The hospital is in Port Novo, so we will be many hours on the road travelling to and from home in Cotonou.

Please pray:

-          For the people of Salone to be free of this Ebola epidemic

-          Our language skills improve

-          As we start to officially  work at the hospital in February, God will prepare the minds and hearts of our co- workers as we work alongside them to make the service more efficient.

-          For continuation of good health ( in body, mind and spirit)

-          For continuation of good experiences at school for the children

-          For continuation of good health ( in body, mind and spirit) of our family members

-          For safety on the roads as we travel to and from work and school