During the follow-up stages of the Peace Corps Partnership Program (PCPP) grant, there is a “Tell Your Story” section that PCVs must fill out to close their finished grant. Here is the story of the classroom construction project that I managed in partnership with the secondary school in my Peace Corps post, Agoua. I don’t mention it in the story, but I want to thank everyone who donated and supported this project!
In October, I began a conversation with the local secondary school about finishing four classrooms in disrepair and building an additional two classrooms. After two months of collaborating with the Parent/Teacher Association, the local authorities, and the school’s administration, I submitted a grant for 10,000 USD through the PCPP funding mechanism. After another three months, I received the funding and the school hired a contractor who began buying the materials needed to finish the four classrooms. Because of funding restraints, we budgeted to build the walls, pour the floors, fabricate the cement windows, and buy classroom doors. We did not include funding for plaster or paint, which would have given the classroom a finished look. Within five weeks, the four classrooms were completed and we began the construction of the two new classrooms. Along with constructing the classrooms, we allotted a portion of the funds for a photocopier that would be placed in the existing library to act as a money generating system that would allow the school to hire a librarian. Within the first month, we purchased and placed the photocopier in the library. Because we received the funds much later that anticipated, the school was not able to hire and train a librarian before the end of the school year, but they will do so before the start of the school year in October.
Around this time, an official from the ministry of education who is located in Abomey (a city approximately three hours south of my post) visited the school. I am unsure if he had heard we were building more classrooms or if it was just a routine visit, but he asked for a meeting. During the meeting he was very polite, thanked me personally for the work that Peace Corps does with the secondary schools around the country. He then began discussing school building construction projects. He cited that the government of Benin has a standard for the construction of a classroom, which he has noticed PCVs who conduct classroom construction projects do not normally follow. I replied that firstly, I did not feel comfortable speaking of behalf of Peace Corps but could forward his contact to someone who could discuss our construction project practices with him. Secondly, the funding for the classrooms we were building did not come from the government of Benin and therefore I, as a PCV, am not obligated to follow the government’s standard. I also explained that the ministry of education should make this standard clear to secondary schools’ administration so that they could then explain these standards to their volunteer counterparts. We each took the others concerns into consideration and the meeting ended on a friendly note.
After this meeting, I had a conference that did not permit me to stay in my community for the following two weeks. Because I had been working very closely with the director and it was evident he was dedicated to the project, I entrusted him with a large sum of funding needed during my absence. This portion of project funds was budgeted to cover the cost of the base and the walls of the two new classrooms. When I returned to my post in mid-May, only the base had been completed and I noticed that the base was much larger than our original floor plan. I inquired about this change, and the director told me that he decided to change the design of the classrooms in order to follow Beninese government regulations.
After this conversation, I was a bit discouraged because the director changed the project without informing me and I was unsure of where we would get the funding to cover the additional costs. I asked the director for a new budget and an action plan for finishing the building. The budget tripled and the timeline extended by five months. He believed when school restarted in October, the community would see the need for finishing the classrooms and would contribute the additional funding needed. Frustrated and confused at to how I should continue knowing that I was finishing my service in that community in August, I reached out to Peace Corps Benin’s M&E Specialist for help. In late May, the M&E Specialist called for a meeting with my school’s administration to evaluate the progress of the project. During this meeting she explained their responsibility to finish the project and reiterated my timeline and the importance of consulting the PCV before making major changes to a project such as they had.
After our meeting, I was scheduled to be out of my community for a few weeks and I was promised that the roof would be completed. When I returned in mid June only the walls had been completed. The director had agreed that is was the responsibility of the community to contribute the funds needed to cover the cost of the roof. I still have money left to pay for the door and desk, but not to cover the cost of the roof. I also believed that if I gave the money allotted for the doors and desks then they would use that to cover the cost of the roof and the classrooms would be left unfinished. So I continued to wait and see if progress would be made. By the beginning of July, still nothing had progressed. My Peace Corps counterpart was out of village due to medical issues, so I consulted my landlord, who has been a mentor to me during my two years of service. He had not been informed about the issues with this project and was upset with the developments. The next day he came to my house and informed me that he had visited the chief of the arrondissement (the supervisor of the previous PCVs), the king of Agoua, the president of the Parent/ Teacher Association, and other community officials, and they had reached an agreement to find the funds for the roof within the week. We then held a meeting to discuss the plan to finish the classrooms. By the end of the meeting, the community agreed to cover the cost of the roof and the school’s administration found additional funds from the previous school year to cover the cost of the cement floor, windows, and doors. Thus, to finish the classrooms, we would just need to plaster and paint the exterior and interior walls and buy desks. Together, we decided to use the left over funds from the PCPP to cover the cost of plastering and painting the walls, because the school would be able to send a request for the desks to the mayor’s office in October.
I completed my two years of service in Agoua on the 2nd of August and as I was leaving the walls were being painted. As of now, the construction of the two classrooms has been completed and will be ready for use by the beginning of the upcoming school year.