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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Hevie Dormitory Opens

Located about 35km (22 miles) west from the port of Cotonou in a village called Hieve It is a piece of land that belongs to Bethesda, a local faith-based organization engaged in programs of health and social development. By coming alongside and partnering with Bethesda during this year’s outreach in Benin, Mercy Ships has helped develop this land into an agricultural training center called “Food for Life.” The purpose of the center is to train local workers in farming skills, teaching biblical organic agriculture skills in nutrition and crop production. Before the agricultural aspect of the project could begin, the construction of a training centre was needed, containing a lecture room for classes and an on-site dormitory to house 30 people where participants could reside whilst attending the “Food for Life” program. Both construction and agriculture fall under supplemental programs of the Health Care Development Department of Mercy Ships. The Construction Supervisor, was responsible for overseeing the entirety of the dormitory’s construction process. He went out to the site about three times a week, making sure that the site managers had everything they needed and that things were running smoothly, along with a bit of financial bookwork to make sure that the bills were paid. The main resources that were used, were all readily available in Benin, including cement, sand, gravel, steel, and timber. The dormitory is shielded by a zinc roof and glass windows. Bricks for the construction of the walls were made on-site, formed from sand and cement, and were moulded within seconds and then took about 3 days to dry.
Labour for the construction was contracted for a daily wage. There were 16 workers involved, 4 of which were skilled in carpentry and masonry. There was no difficulty in finding willing labourers, and most of them came from nearby churches. Mercy Ships tries to use people from the community to do as much of the work as possible, thereby empowering them to help themselves. But it's more than just providing job opportunities, Mercy Ships helps to train the labourers in new and unfamiliar building skills. For example, some of the workers who were doing steel bending had not necessarily done it before. Two of them were shown how to do it then they would go and show the others. The hope is that at the end, the workers would have sufficient skills to be able to go and work as carpenters or masons. During a project like this, challenges are inevitable, and time was the most pressing factor. The building needed to be finished within two months so that two agricultural programs could be conducted before the end of the outreach. Keeping the project within its budget was hugely important and the threat of flooding from the rainy season was a concern. Heavy rains could damage roads, limiting access to the site, and if the soil became too wet, digging would become difficult.
Last week a ceremony was hosted by Bethesda to commemorate the official opening of the Agriculture Training Center. The ceremony included performances from local choirs, as well as speeches from several notable guests, including the General Coordinator for Bethesda NGO, the Deputy Minister of Agriculture, and Managing Director of the Africa Mercy, Ken Berry. The opening was attended by Mercy Ships crew, additional members of Bethesda NGO, and current “Food for Life” participants.
As you can see below the first session of the three-month program is already underway.

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