Edit Blog Post
Published: February 25th 2008
the house of Joy
responsible travel in Benin and Togo
The House of Joy
We could not miss a visit to Justine during our journey in Benin. We knew that she was giving a shelter to some women who had been kicked out of their home by their own husbands, together with their children. In general, a wife is kicked out because she did not accept that her husband brought home a second one. Also, the income often too scarce to maintain several wives and all of their children. Harsh quarrels begin, that most often end with the elder woman being kicked out. In general, she leaves her children to her parents and looks for a better life in the capital or in Nigeria, where a middle class exists that needs domestic work.
Justine was managing a maquis - a local restaurant - along the road from Cotonou (Benin) to Lome (Togo), at the height of Ouidah. Some women who had been kicked out by their husbands, originating from the North like Justine herself, asked her for help and advice. She solved the problem by offering a job in the restaurant and a shelter in her home. Subsequently, their number increased to the point that the restaurant is now
the house of Joy
responsble travel en benin and togo
barely able to feed these women and their children.
Last year an Italian friend of mine, married to a Beninese woman who is a friend of Justine, built a house in Ouidah. He would like to start an experience of responsible tourism. He left the ground floor to Justine, her mums and their children. That's where the House of Joy is.
During the day the mums cook in the maquis. They come home at about 16:30. In the afternoon, a couple of them sell buoille along the street, a local sweet beverage.
Justine cares about sending all children to school, because she knows the value of intellectual development.
In the evening, the children gather in the courtyard to learn and to do homeworks. The elder teach to those who are attending the first years. On a blackboard, a carpenter apprentice improvises himself a teacher for primary school children. Pupils follow with interest and try the exercises that he proposes to them. In the few days we stayed in the house, we could remark their progress.
Our friend Justine is married to a mathematics teacher who works in Parakou, in the North-East. They have five children: four daughters and one son. However, the children in the house are eighteen! All of them are handled with the same care and love by Justine.
We asked Justine whether her children are unhappy that they are handled just like all other children, whether they feel they are not sufficiently considered. She said no, they are happy of living together. They do not object to the fact that since they do not receive any preferential treatment, they wear simple clothes and live a simple life.
Her neighbors, remarking the growing number of people in the house, expressed their preoccupation: “You have a small restaurant. So you surely have a fat bank account if you can maintain so many people.” She answered: “Yes, I do have a bank account, but it's constantly empty because the restaurant is barely sufficient to our survival.”. This answer added to their preoccupations, so they added: “One day your children will blame you for you did not care about their future, that you dissipated your belongings to maintain so many people foreign to your family. You should send them away and think a bit more to yourself and your family.” Justine answered: “As I was a young girl, I suffered on my skin what these children are suffering now. I have seen my mother suffering the very same pains as the women that I am sheltering. When I felt and when I saw all that suffering, I decided that I would spend all of myself to balance it and to bring happiness in the hearts of people. I am happy when I see a smiling face, a child who is well dressed, fed and cared. I feel that I should not care too much about my future and the future of my children, because God intervened when and how He knows it is opportune. My husband Christian shares my choices, he just recommends not to exagerate in order not to compromise my health.”
Clemence, Justine's eldest daughter, is coming back from school. I asked her some questions in order to check what her mother said. I asked her: “Are you happy that there are so many children at home? Don't you think that their presence is forcing you to renounce to many things you would like to have: nice dresses, occasions for amusing etc.?” Placidly, she answered: “No, it's nice to be many at home. It's nice to live together and to share the same things. In other families children grow up alone. On the contrary, we play all together. It's true, my schoolfriends wear French dresses while I must content with dresses made in Benin. I come from this country and I must be proud of dressing the fashion of my country.” Then she added: ”Doing good makes happy and I am happy that my parents chose this way of living for me. A few days ago, while I was going to school I met two boys. The younger one was crying. I stopped my bike and I asked why. The elder said that he was hungry. I have taken from my pocket the money mum gave me for buying food for myself and I gave it to these children. I renounced to my food, but those children would not be hungry that morning. It was a little thing, but that's what I could do, and I did it. If everybody would do for the others what she can do!”
Clemence is a 14-years old Beninese girl. What a teaching for all of us, who believe we can teach civilization and democracy to tho people we consider "underdeveloped"!
Tot: 0.096s; Tpl: 0.01s; cc: 10; qc: 50; dbt: 0.0696s; 1; m:domysql w:travelblog (10.17.0.13); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.2mb