At the Saint Camille de Davougon Female Centre we support young women to get a dressmaking, hairdressing, or boilermaking qualifications. Norbertine y Lydie tell us about their plans to be independent women.
For the young women of Saint Camille de Davougon, there are many things that differentiate them, but also many that unite them. Their origins are different, also their ages, but they share the desire to make their way in life after suffering the long-term effects of disease, discrimination, or abuse.
Maybe their physical health has recovered, but their mental health is just as important to ensure a bright future. They need support with self-esteem, sharing their stories, how they suffered, and to learn a trade that will allow them to be independent women.
‘I want to open a sewing workshop and a haberdashery’
Norbertine is 19 years old, she is Togolese, and has lost both her parents. She was brought up in a boarding school with the Consolata Missionary Sisters and arrived at Saint Camille in 2021. ‘I decided to leave school after my Basic Education and the sisters suggested that I came here to learn a trade at this centre. I learn to sew here and I like it a lot. I want to open a sewing workshop and a haberdashery when I finish my training.’
Together with Norbertine, her companions Melicinthe and Lydie also learn to sew. The latter was a Buruli ulcer patient arriving at the hospital in 2018. ‘I see that I have a good future despite this disease because my life has changed since I arrived here’, she says. Lydie walks steadily with her crutch and smiles when she tells us about everything she learns in sewing class with the teacher Eugénie. ‘When I finish my studies I would like to open a sewing workshop and a shop where I can sell my creations’ she says proudly.
The difficult path towards full independence and wellbeing
Although the training programme prepares the young women of Saint Camille with regard to entrepreneurship, financial education, and saving, the majority of them do not have the means to be able to invest in a business that will allow them to be self-sufficient.
This is why they receive psychological and employability help to avoid them from ending up in situations of forced or premature marriage, unwanted pregnancies, or begging. It is important that they should feel listened-to and that they are not alone. Many of them have lived through traumatic situations, whether because a NTD has left them disabled, or because they have been separated from their homes and do not have a family network to support them. In Benin, mental health services are limited to the big cities and to diseases that are considered serious, such as schizophrenia. The depression and anxiety suffered by persons with NTDs is ignored.
Eugénie, the young women’s sewing teacher, admits it isn’t easy. ‘In Benin, full independence and wellbeing for women is still not a reality. For me, men enjoy superiority over women. Men tend to be unfair with women, especially with those who have not been to school. But women, just like men, have their rights,’ she emphasizes. ‘After graduating, the young women are not alone. They have my number and we talk, I go and see them at their sewing workshop … we always keep in contact and I give them support and advice if they need it’.