Inner Wheel Benin dedicates a medical building
BY JOE LEADERS
Cotonou, Benin (West Africa): The Benin section of The International Inner Wheel, one of the world’s largest women’s-service voluntary organizations that are active in more than 102 countries with more than 105,081 members in 3,908 clubs, dedicated this Easter Friday an unprecedented two-storey medical building within the Benin Hospital for Women and Children, HOMEL, for the treatment of women suffering from a debilitating, unusual disease: obstetric fistula. An obstetric fistula is a hole between the vagina and rectum or bladder that is caused by prolonged obstructed labor, leaving a woman incontinent of urine or feces or both.
A DISEASE LEADING TO SECLUSION AND STIGMATIZATION
Obstetric fistula often results from ill-performed abortions due to the lack of appropriate medical care, or premature marriages. An estimated two million women suffer from the disease in Africa and Asia, with 50,000-100,000 new cases registered every year. A recent survey points to hundreds of cases in Benin.
Despite being very uncomfortable, an obstetric fistula is a disease like many others, but its victims go through hell as they are stigmatized by society, with some people labeling them as cursed individuals. Few patients are aware there is a treatment. Those who are can’t afford the prohibitive cost of the treatment. In the instances they do go under treatment in a medical facility, they are kept away from the other patients. Overall, people stricken with obstetric fistula have no choice but to leave in seclusion, without dignity, unable to pursue any income-generating activity.
The Centre Saint Jean de Dieu, in Tanguieta (in the northern region) is the main center where obstetric fistula patients have so far been treated in Benin, thanks to the support of several partners including The United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA. So the Benin section of The International Inner Wheel took up the challenge, way back in 2010, of stepping in with a plan to set up a medical unit dedicated to treating the patients of obstetric fistula. Better yet, Inner Wheel members are committed to providing the necessary financial assistance for the patients’ post-treatment full insertion in society through an income-generating occupation.
A FRENCH PHILANTHROPIST TO THE RESCUE
Pushed half-way by the tireless efforts and financial contributions of Inner Wheel members themselves and dozens of small and large donors, the project stalled after six years and had to be jump started and finally brought to fruition—within two months—thanks to a French humanitarian organization, MJ Pour l’Enfance, founded in 2014 by the French philanthropist Michel Jestin, a partner of a local foundation, The Ajavon Sebastien Germain Foundation.
During the high-profile inaugural ceremony attended by a dozen influential members of the medical community and government officials including a representative of the health minister, alongside the members of the five clubs that make up the Benin section of Inner Wheel International, Michel Jestin drew probably the loudest applause. Speaking without written notes, he said he had no idea what obstetric fistula was until his friend of five years, Benin business tycoon Ajavon Sebastien, approached him about the project three months ago. Jestin said.
“The Inner Wheel members did a good job presenting the project. It deeply touched me, but I made no promise. I never make promises.”
Although the MJ Pour l’Enfance had ended its activities for the fiscal year, Jestin was able to provide whopping CFA 27 million (nearly $44,000) out of the total budget of CFA 64 million (nearly $105,000). This resulted in the erection of a beautiful two-storey building with each floor spreading over 112 square meters, with a 13-bed hospitalization capacity.
The French philanthropist, who derived his wealth from a food import-export business, is no stranger in Benin. Upon retiring from his business in 2014, Jestin engaged in humanitarian activities, and has so far funded the construction of schools, hospitals, clean-water facilities and more in Benin. The soccer aficionado who has led several French teams, was all emotion in his speech. He is quoted by a French news organization as saying, talking about misery in Benin: “Over there, you read it all in the children’s faces.”
THE CELEBRATION OF A DREAM COME TRUE
Addressing the audience, Ayivi Domingo Perpetue, a dedicated member who took charge of the project in July 2016 and carried it to fruition, stated proudly:
“Ladies and gentleman, our dream has come true thanks to the determination and the commitment of us all, benevolent women of the Benin section of The International Inner Wheel, fully engaged in the social and humanitarian action.”
“This is the opportune time to express my admiration for the work done by the beautiful team that we have been since 2010 to the present, and for the support you have given me since I was entrusted with this mission in July 2016.”
Domingo recognized a number of past and present leaders of the local chapter of the organization, including Past District Governor Fahimatou Salifou who served during the 2006-2007 term, and Past District Governor Marie-Paule Guidibi who served in 2011-2012.
Domingo also said:
“Our achievement is not full until we have spread joy around us, until we have made our surrounding happy.”
More than the dedication of a building, the event took on an air
of celebration of the love and friendship embodied by a dedicated group of good-hearted women who have chosen to give their time, know-how and hard-earned money to make a difference in the lives of people they don’t even know. What could talk more to that than the fact that four of the women who recovered from the disease were given each whopping CFA 100,000, nearly $200—not a change in Benin—to start their own small business. The gift comes with business counseling for the beneficiaries and a follow-up plan to support them. The event was kicked off with the singing of the organization’s hymn, which came up again during the official dedication of the building.
THE ROTARY-INNER WHEEL DUO
Rotary International, a 1.2-million member strong humanitarian organization founded on February 23, 1905 in Chicago, generally did not admit women until 1989. Therefore, in 1924, Margaret Golding, the wife of a Rotarian, established an organization for the wives and daughters of Rotarians. She named it Inner Wheel. The Benin section of The International Inner Wheel came to life in 1990. It is part of district 909 which comprises seven countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Senegal, and Togo, with a total of 16 clubs. While the two organizations are independent from one another, they often operate jointly.
The dedication of the obstetric fistilua wing of the Benin Hospital for Women and Children was no exception. Dozens influential Rotarians, most of whom made significant financial contributions to the erection of the building and the healing of the patients, were in attendance alongside their female partners in giving. Seated up-front, the male Rotarians were recognized and cheered by their long-time International Inner Wheel partners who affectionately referred to them as “our dear and tender.”