Tuesday, July 05, 2005

PROJECT BOKONON: Young People In Action

The thing that struck me the most about Project Bokonon, is that the leadership team of this organization is so incredibly young.

Made up mainly of members of the Wake Forest University community in Winston Salem, North Carolina, this group of dynamic young people has done incredible things.

The name Bokonon is derived from the local Fon language's word for "medicine man." This name was chosen because it symbolizes "the organization's focus on improving health care in Benin by empowering local communities."

Similarly, the organization's logo symbolizes what it hopes to achieve. The logo, crossed Bandaids bearing American and Beninese flags and a global map highlighting America and Benin is meant to symbolize "the connection between the two countries and the ability of American citizens to improve the medical conditions in Benin."

The Co-Founders, Brett Bechtel and Rosita Najmi were students at Wake Forest University when they began this operation in 2001.

In 2003 it obtained its tax exempt 501(c)(3) status.

In 2004, Project Bokonon hired its first employee, Bénin Project Coordinator, Abdul-Wahab Bakary. Bakary is Beninese and serves as the liason between Project Bokonon and the local community in the Pobe' Region of Benin.to help assist in the on-site implementation of Project Bokonon's mission.

The focus of Project Bokonon is to work with the people of the Pobé Region in order to help improve their health care. And by improving health care, they also hope to empower the Beninese people.

Additionally Project Bokonon's intends to spread knowledge and awareness of international development and to foster independence and self-reliance in the rural communities of Benin. As a consequence, Project Bokonon encourages "education on both African culture and the methods and issues of sustainable development."
Since its inception in 2001, the organization has conducted projects that range from bringing medical supplies and antibiotics to Pobé hospital to building a new satellite clinic in the village of Issale in the Pobe Region. The clinic was built in 2004 with financing from Project Bokonon and on land donated by the local community. This spirit of cooperative effort embodies the type of Self Help that can take place when people are committed to helping themselves and each other.

When it opened it s Issalé clinic on June 17, 2004, the Inaugural Ceremony was attended by the King of Issalé, the Mayor of Pobé, members of the local community, and representatives from the Beninese government and United States Embassy. At the time that the clinic was inaugurated, a group of Wake Forest undergraduate students participating in the on-site implementation of Project Bokonon visited a school in Issalé where they presented a twenty-minute skit on malaria, its prevention and treatment.

Because one of its missions is to share Beninese culture with American communities, on December 12, 2003, Project Bokonon, with the help of Wachovia (a large bank and finance corporation headquartered in Winston Salem, North Carolina), hosted a presentation on Benin and the concept of Servant-Leadership for the sixth-grade students at the Roberto Clemente School in Harlem, New York. The program included a talk, PowerPoint show, and presenter arrayed in authentic African clothing. The students contributed to Project Bokonon by coloring cards and a mural to be displayed at the Issalé Clinic Inauguration.

Also in 2003, Project Bokonon hosted a Community Day at the Winston-Salem Barnes & Noble, where children colored West African murals, listened to stories, played with African costumes, and in doing so, learned about Beninese and West African cultures.

Project Bokonon has also made health care available by sending medical students from Wake Forest University School of Medicine and volunteers from Unite for Sight to Pobé Hospital.

"The medical students helped administer vaccinations to children and adults, examined the conditions of Pobé hospital, spoke with the doctors and staff, and, after first-hand exposure to the local practice of medicine, formulated ideas on how to improve the conditions of the hospital."

The volunteers from Unite for Sight, a non-profit dedicated to helping improve vision and eye care, were also sent to Pobé to provide free eye screenings and glasses to the local people.

In providing its vital assistance to Pobé, Project Bokonon continues to reevaluate its role there and seeks to form new relationships so as to improve how it carries out its mission of improving health care in this region of Africa.

You have to hand it to these wonderful young people, they are really making a difference, and a lot of "Old Hands" could learn a thing or two from them about how to get things done. You can see who these people are at:

Visit their web site at http://www.projectbokonon.org/ and see who they are, and look at all that they have done.

1 comment:

Orou Gaoue said...

I like this article and I am interested in sharing some experience my non profit is also doing in Benin. I am a Benin national living in the US for my PhD. I created with colleagues yound scientists from Benin studying in Europe or US, Beyond the School (BSc), a non profit organisation to help students at African universities and young scientists plan their career and build in confidence in order to work for the development (scientific development or other). We provide information, training and advices to students on "research proposal, curriculum vita, cover letter, recommendation letter writing", "research design and statistcal analysis of data", "practical field data collection", "scientific publication". Here is our website: http://www.beyondtheschool.africa-web.org and I may be contacted at ogaoue[at]hawaii[dot]edu for additional information or by any charitable organization willing to help us "promote science in the heart or underdevelopment".