CRS in Benin
Benin, with 11.2 million inhabitants, is ranked in the low development category of the Human Development Index, rated 167 out of 187 countries. This index comprises data on life expectancy (health), average years of schooling and gross national income per capita (economic development). The low index indicates the hard struggle of the poor and vulnerable to make a living, send their children to school and improve their access to health, with often substantially lower indices for women.
CRS in Benin is providing a real and direct response to address the underlying factors affecting the health, education and incomes of the poor and vulnerable by 1) improving family health and nutrition; 2) getting more kids to school and improving their education; 3) improving household incomes; 4) improving household equity, and 5) building effective partnerships.
IMPROVING FAMILY HEALTH & NUTRITION:
Community Action Against Malaria: According to the CDC, malaria is the leading cause of mortality among children under five years of age and morbidity among adults in Benin, and accounts for 40 percent of outpatient consultations and 25 percent of all hospital admissions according to the President’s Malaria Initiative.
CRS, in partnership with the Benin Ministry of Health’s National Malaria Control program (PNLP) and with financial support from the Global Fund for Malaria, TB and HIV and AIDS, supports 2,700 community health agents in 14 health districts to promote prevention messages, detect and treat simple cases, and refer complicated cases to health facilities and hospitals. During July-Dec 2017, CRS trained community health workers treated 121,086 children younger than age 5 who suffered from malaria.
Nutrition: Among the most chronically malnourished households are found in Atacora department of northern Benin, with a 37.2% prevalence of chronic malnutrition. Funded by private donations, and in collaboration with the National Food and Nutrition Council, CRS’ Exclusive Breastfeeding project in collaboration with l'UNICEF and the local health district is undertaking a social behavior change intervention among 939 pregnant and lactating mothers to increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding of infants between 0 and 6 months of age. The project relies on community health workers to expand the audience beyond pregnant and lactating mothers, to include spouses, grand-parents, community opinion leaders and health center staff to create a more favorable enabling environment for mothers to adopt and continue their new behaviors.
Health micro-insurance: With high rates of malaria, diarrhea, and respiratory illnesses among children, and a 4.8 fertility rate, health costs disproportionally impact poor households. Lack of money is the most common reason cited for not seeking health care. Only 10% of the poor benefit from any social safety net. To alleviate this economic burden, CRS integrated private health insurance schemes into established savings-led microfinance groups. CRS negotiated lower insurance premiums for group members in exchange for increased patient volume and incorporated an innovative tablet-based patient, health service, and pharmaceutical registry to facilitate insurance coverage.
Today, over 3,000 members in 174 savings groups have improved access to health services as clients of commercial health insurance companies. After paying their premium, poor families pay only 20% of normal health service costs, while accessing a wider range of services than they could otherwise afford.
FEEDING KIDS TO STAY IN SCHOOL & IMPROVING THEIR EDUCATION:
Food for Education: The mean years of schooling in Benin is 2.4 years for women versus 4.8 for men, and over 40% of the population has never attended school. CRS Benin, with support from the McGovern-Dole International School Feeding and Child Nutrition program, in partnership with World Education, Inc., feeds 38,000 first and second graders in 144 schools, while improving the effectiveness of 204 primary school teachers in Alibori and Borgou Departments, where school attendance barely reaches 30%. This arid and poor department in northern Benin is additionally challenged by cultural taboos and practices that reduce girls’ attendance and by a severe ack of accessible clean water sources.
Through CRS’ efforts, school enrollment increased by 7.6% for girls and 11.2% for boys in 144 schools, between October 2015 and September 2017. Eighty more schools in the Food for Education (FFE) program have increased access to improved water sources. Communities around the FFE schools benefit from CRS’ signature savings-led microfinance groups who learn to manage savings and credit to expand small commercial activities resulting in members’ ability to financially support their children’s education.
In a unique school feeding approach, CRS’s Besen Diannou (Food from Our Fields) project, also funded by the US Department of Agriculture, is working with local governments to create a “farm to fork” model for sourcing locally produced crops, such as corn, shea butter (yes, you can consume shea butter), rice and beans to provide hot school lunches for over 17,000 students in 80 schools in 4 communities in northern Benin. The local purchase of commodities provides additional markets for local producers and strengthens the economic development in the region.
IMPROVING HOUSEHOLD INCOME:
Benin Caju: The gross national income per capita for women is $1,673 versus $2,287 for men, exacerbated by unremunerated work for women as primary care givers. In partnership with TechnoServe and with funding from the US Department of Agriculture, CRS Benin supports 32,000 small cashew producers to sustainably increase cashew productivity, quality and revenue from sales, through the effective transfer of new technologies and methods, improved market and marketing education, and participation in savings-led microfinance groups as well as access to formal credit. After the first year of improving farmer practices, 15,669 cashew producers, including 3,822 women, increased production by 31%. Average net revenue for 15,669 cashew farmers increased 64.5%, from $484.64 per farmer at the start of the project to $797.21 per farmer in 2017, not including revenues from their other value chains. The increased income generated by cashew sales enabled one husband to double the money he provides his wife to manage the household and strengthen their children’s wellbeing.
IMPROVING HOUSEHOLD EQUITY
In Benin, men who head of households exert more control over fertility, food and cash than their spouses, exacerbated by cultural practices that inhibit women’s full potential. To address this imbalance and improve household wellbeing, CRS Benin has incorporated The Faithful House curriculum into several of its interventions. This faith-based and gender sensitive curriculum requires deeper reflection by men and women who head households to examine their traditional roles and responsibilities. It results in a radical change in thinking and behavior resulting in greater mutual trust, negotiation on issues of feeding, fertility and cash among couples as equals and greater household wellbeing, especially for their children.
BUILDING EFFECTIVE PARTNESHIPS:
CRS partners with several local and two international non-government organizations in Benin to improve local capacity and results. Among our most robust partnerships is with Catholic Church in Benin. We support several dioceses to develop strategic plans, improve the management of their diverse resources and collaborate on the execution of several projects. CRS also provides a “partnership fund” that strengthens National Caritas support to and relationship with individual diocesan Caritas to address the health, education or social needs of local populations, without regard to creed or ethnicity.
Our work is no less important to the government of Benin’s efforts to improve the wellbeing of its people. To this end, CRS’ work directly contributes to the Government Action Plan, entitled “Benin Revealed”.
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CRS' History in Benin
Catholic Relief Services began working in Benin in 1958, two years before the country’s independence and has worked continuously in Benin for the past 60 years. CRS' early years in Benin were characterized by projects to support rural communities in their economic, health, cultural and social development. Project activities included school feeding as well as health and nutrition activities.
Today, we proudly build on CRS’ prior activities and join efforts of the Church’s and government to propel Benin forward through our school feeding and literacy education program in the poorest northern regions; strengthening participation in the key agricultural value chains of cashew, shea butter, maize and rice; and working toward eliminating malaria through community-based approaches to prevention, detection, care and treatment. CRS integrates economic strengthening and faith-based transformation of gender roles at the household level to ensure better household outcomes, as well as improved hygiene practices and access to water in our school feeding program. Our work reaches 1,430,710 participants among a population of 11.2 million.
We work hand-in-hand with the local Church to develop strategic plans, improve the management of their diverse resources and their capacity to develop projects to improve the wellbeing of the poor and vulnerable without regard to ethnicity or creed.
We work with 19 Church and non-church partners in 10 of 12 departments in Benin and have over 144 staff in the main office in Cotonou and sub-offices in Parakou and Kandi in northern Benin, and in department offices of the Ministry of Health in Natitingou, Parakou and Porto-Novo, as well as in the surrounding communities.