Meeting with Arina BZHINAEV, International Philanthropy Officer for Aide et Action, on her return from her very first field visit to Benin and Togo.
“I have been working for Aide et Action for more than 2 years but because of the pandemic, I had never been able to go and meet the populations we support. I was more than impatient that last December, when I finally had the opportunity to go to Benin and Togo. Two countries that I had not heard much about but that I am not ready to forget today. I remember, engraved in my memory, the magnificent faces of these children, women and men who welcomed me everywhere I went, the songs that resounded as soon as I got out of the 4×4, the traditional dances that brightened up each of our visits, the incredible food that I tasted and above all the generosity of all those I met. But behind these countless smiles, I discovered that terrible human dramas were often at play.
Behind the smiles are human dramas
Poverty is everywhere and affects everyone, the elderly and the young. I saw dozens of one-room schools, covered with a roof of straw or woven palm leaves, just to protect themselves from the sun. Dozens of children of all ages and levels were crammed in front of a teacher with no materials. With sparkling eyes, without even thinking of complaining, children explained to me that “here, having a pen or a notebook is a luxury”. As is access to water, to washbasins with soap or even to simple sanitary facilities. For many schools have none at all. And yet the children are so happy to be at school, synonymous with hope, a better future and above all an escape. And what could they possibly learn in these conditions, without books or materials, without going to the toilet or even one meal a day? The ones who suffer the most are the girls who came to talk to me. They explained to me how their whole daily life, their whole intimacy was taboo. When they have their period, many of them don’t know what’s going on. They have no choice but to go to the teacher, who is usually a man, to tell him everything and to ask him for a piece of cloth, a loincloth at best, which they tie around their hips to cover themselves and not to be singled out. Without a toilet nearby, they have no choice but to go home and stay locked up. I would never have believed that such humiliation was still possible in the 21st century. I was overwhelmed by the plight of these teenage girls of course, but more importantly by their mental strength, courage and determination to change things. This only increased my motivation. I understood how the installation of latrines, the creation of committees of teachers to ensure the well-being of young girls or clubs of excellence to facilitate support between girls are essential actions carried out by our NGO. But I am now aware that we must go much further: to ensure that every girl, whatever her age, has access to a quality education and lives freely and with dignity. I feel a duty to do more, and that is why on 3 April I have decided to run the Paris Marathon for Education For Women Now. It will be my first time, a real challenge both athletically and mentally, but I am more than motivated! 42km to run is not much compared to the difficulties faced by women in this world and yet it is more than enough to raise awareness of the need to act now for the education of girls and women.
See you on 3 April 2022 to support Arina in the streets of Paris!