After the Basic Safety Training pool session, we had the weekend to prepare for our field service in Benin. It was crunch time, and people packed and repacked trying to stay under the 50lb limit for each of their two bags. For us, it was easier, as we would be returning in 30 days while the others where packing for months.
We left the IOC Tuesday morning and arrived in Cotonou, Benin about 9:00 p.m. the next evening. Customs and luggage collection went smoothly, taking only about an hour. Stefan and the transportation were there to greet us. We drove for about 90 minutes until we reached Espace around midnight.
Espace is a beautifully maintained property that is used for a variety of purposes, including being a model of the development that can be done in Benin. It was a pleasant break for the travel weary.
After a breakfast of baguettes, jam and coffee, we headed upcountry to Abomey. Traveling through the lush countryside for two hours was more pleasant than being on the plane.
Our first stop was to check in to Hotel d’Abomey. The round huts are divided into three separate rooms with bathrooms and air conditioning. The water was not heated, making for brisk showers. In case of a power outage, there was a bucket to keep filled.
The afternoon was spent at Maison de l’Espoir (House of Hope) which is an orphanage. Daslin Small Oueounou, who oversees the home was a long term Mercy Ships staff, having served as the managing director of the Anastasis at one point. She married a pastor from Benin and stepped into a new role which includes overseeing the children’s home which sits on several acres and houses 60+ children.
Mama Arlette is the director of the home and oversees staff, children and facilities. She’s quite a woman who is “velvet on steel,” as Sue likes to say.
It was here that we first met Mercy Ship’s Dr. Lynn Westman whose credentials include being a nurse, ordained minister and a psychologist. She trains pastors and other ministry staff in counseling skills. She had worked with Daslin and Arlette to put on a weekend camp for the kids to help them work through some of the traumas they’ve encountered. She was doing followup to see what the fruit from the weekend was. The kids reported that they felt better, were bonding with each other more and taking more initiative to care for one another.
We put a lot of love and labor into the children’s home, but it wasn’t the only place where we ministered to young people. There was also the prison…