THE RIDEF IN BENIN July 2016 par Giancarlo CAVINATO
- WHAT’S a RIDEF?
A RIDEF is an international conference organized by the International Federation of Freinet Movements belonging to the FIMEM.
This conference is organized every two years. For ten days in July groups of teachers coming from about forty countries work together exchanging ideas, experiences and projects.
- WHY IN AFRICA?
The latest conference took place in Benin in July 2016.
In the previous RIDEF (Spain 2014) the FIMEM members accepted the request by the teachers from Benin.
Organizing a RIDEF isn’t an easy task and developed countries quite often deal with it as regards location, food, tools and technologies, meeting places, excursions to discover the land. However if a developing country asks to organize a RIDEF, the FIMEM gives it the chance of doing it.
The FIMEM BD planned a preliminary visit carried out by three representatives of the FIMEM that checked the working conditions foreseen by the Benin Movement for the event.
The organization of this conference in Africa was also supported by other African and European groups of teachers.
- EDUCATION AND SCHOOL PROBLEMS IN AFRICA
In Africa teachers need training, facilities, good practices since they work in very difficult situations: classes composed of eight hundred students, child labor, school dropouts, early school-leaving, etc…
Besides in those schools there is a lack of working tools, training materials, new technologies, libraries and laboratories.
FIMEM is based on principles of solidarity and cooperation. We support research and training projects for some countries in Africa, Latin America and East Europe. Many African teachers were able to attend the conference thanks to the solidarity contribution by countries with better life conditions in the Northern Hemisphere.
Participants pay different enrollment fees if they come from 'A' or 'B' or 'C' countries according to a categorization of their life styles and resources based on the OECD data.
We must force governments, school authorities, civil society of 'C' countries and international organizations to overcome this situation of total absence of granted education and to improve the quality of children and girls' lives in this millennium.
One of the priorities of our federation is the full realization of children and adolescents' rights and the accomplishment of the rights worldwide by public authorities in order to offer the same opportunities to everyone, at least at school.
The conference took place in the region of Mono-Couffo, in the Dogbo village. It is about 200 Km from the administrative capital, Cotonou, where the national Benin airport is.
Because of the conditions of the roads, it takes around six hours to get to Dogbo.
The institute where the conference took place was the ENI ( university for training young teachers).
In the school there was room for over 300 people.
It consisted of many buildings, a large room for plenary meetings, several classrooms, a large building for the restaurant, kitchens, student rooms, administrative offices and a large garden.
There were 181 participants (50 from Europe- ten of which were Italian, 7 from South and North America, 130 African from Benin, Togo, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Burkina Faso, Togo, Cameroon, Senegal as well as participants from Nigeria, Niger, Ghana, Congo: there were mainly French-speaking countries, but for the first time also a few English-speaking countries).
- THE BEGINNING OF THE RIDEF
The conference began on Monday 18th July, but several participants had already arrived a few days before and had helped local teachers with the preparation.
On the early days it rained a lot ( it was the rain season although it was called the magician of the rain). The road leading to ENI from the village was filled with mud. Cars and motorcycle taxis ( the most used in Benin) could not go on because of the road conditions. We feared that nobody would come on Monday if it had rained on Sunday. Thank God the sun was shining on Sunday so enough people took part in the event.
- WELCOMING PARTICIPANTS
The participants came from 4 continents. They arrived in different groups and were welcomed at the Cotonou airport . They came from Paris or Casablanca late at night.
From Cotonou, the administrative and government capital on the coast, we moved to the city of Lokossa by car, then we went to the surrounding villages where participants were hosted in some houses and they had, therefore, the opportunity to know the people's lives and habits in the village.
Meanwhile the members of the Fimem BD and other volunteers from Belgium, Italy and Mexico were taken to Dogbo, the village where the conference would take place in order to prepare the final details with the group of teachers from Benin.
They organized the event for the arrival of most participants from Europe and other continents as well as from African countries on Monday 18th July.
On their arrival the participants found accommodation in the rooms for students or at ENI (university for teacher training) or in two hotels in the village. They received a folder and meal vouchers for ten days. They set up many exhibitions with their experiences, the activities of their group, the theme of the meeting (democratic participation in the school for global citizenship).
- THE FIRST PLENARY MEETING
In the afternoon national and local authorities, the members of the FIMEM BD and the organizing committee attended a very busy plenary meeting . In particular we appreciated the interest shown by the local administration thanks to the Dogbo Mayor, the only one who contributed financially to the success of the event.
Speeches alternated to rhythmic dances, to drums belonging to a local folk group composed of highly appreciated young people who simulated hunting scenes in the savannah.
The day ended with a cooperative dinner characterized by products brought by participants from all countries.
CATEGORIZATION OF THE COUNTRIES
In FIMEM we adopt a principle of solidarity. In order to allow participants (especially young teachers of the southern countries of the world) to bear the costs of travelling, stay and training, different fees are applied in accordance with the living standards of the different countries divided into three categories.
- LONG AND SHORT WORKSHOPS
The long workshops took place in seven mornings. Every session lasted 4 hours. The location was represented by the classrooms of the building called ENI. In every workshop there were about 15-20 participants. Each workshop was guided by two entertainers from the same country.
The issues dealt with were class organization, basic techniques of class management, cultural differences, new technologies, body language, theater, science, language learning, environmental exploration,…
In the final plenary the participants had to give a presentation of what they had learned during the workshop without the entertainers' support.
Finally participants were asked to fill in a form to assess the activities and in particular the success of the workshops. The feedback was really positive.
The short workshops took place in the afternoon when there were no other activities. About 10 short workshops were organized every afternoon.
In order to share the various activities, two participants in every workshop exchanged their ideas late in the afternoon.
This activity was called ‘World Café’.
The issues dealt with in the short workshops were children rights, video making, origami and other Japanese activities, Brazilian cultures, storytelling, natural learning strategy, intercultural awareness,…
After dinner, there were sometimes interesting and involving performances by folk groups, singers, dancers and actors. In other evenings national groups participating in the Ridef presented their culture thanks to performances such as folk dances, theater performances, songs, games, videos, exhibitions,…
In two evenings groups of partecipants from Togo, Benin, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Brazil, Canada, Spain, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, ...presented some aspects of their cultures.
These events were often interrupted by sudden rain showers and we had to take shelter in the restaurant nearby.
Two public meetings were organized during the 'day forum' that was also open to participants from outside. The first one was held in the morning and the topic was the role of neo-colonialism and Africa’s development.
Mr. Pierre Dossou Tchouba, philosophy professor, and mr. Jean Baptiste Donnou, history and geography teacher, opened the meeting explaining that, when we talk about Africa in debates and international organizations , we complain about poverty, starvation, disease, local wars. It is never mentioned the fact that Africa is also rich in natural and human resources.
They explained the economic and political domination that France still exerts on the ancient colonies. France and England lead the monetary exchange rates, choosing the presidential candidates of the different countries, stifling their economies.
Political leaders are corrupted. America and China are investing in Africa but they are also getting territories and founding companies, the world trade organization (WTO) controls the finance, Europe and the United States create protectionism that makes it impossible to export goods, China destroys traditional crops to employ its own farmers in extensive soybean crops that upset the previous balance. No compensation for the slave trade has ever taken place on behalf of the European states.
We understand the reason why the banknotes in the countries of sub-Saharan Africa are marked CFA which means 'French colonies of Africa' just like a hundred years ago!
The cultural colonization persists even in the pedagogical aspects : the textbooks are from France, the school authorities indicate the objective of the introduction of the skills pedagogy, the school organization is the same as in France.
Experts say that the only hope lies in the organizations of civil society.
In the afternoon there was a debate on pedagogy and citizenship: ‘the pedagogy for a democratic society’.
The school is the first social experience for a child. It must be open to everyone, to people who come from different social, religious and family backgrounds. At school children meets other children who do not often belong to their community. At school they must learn to live with these other students they did not choose. They must build a relationship of communion and solidarity.
The following points were discussed:
1. The school: public space, social workshop training citizens
2. A citizen agreement among different subjects from a social, ethnic, religious point of view
3. What democracy is and what obstacles it encounters
4. The neoliberal model, the competition
5. The School of Inclusion
6. Principles of a School of Citizenship
7. How to make school democratic
8. The relationship between knowledge and authentic learning context: promoting mental activities
9. Research, truth, critical thinking, debating and questioning skills
10. The Euristhic Role of Error
11. Learning Assessment
EXCURSIONS AND TRIP TO THE NORTH
Its a tradition to interrupt the activities on a Sunday during the RIDEF so that all participants can choose one of the excursions arranged by the organizers.
There were three sites to visit:
- Visiting a lake village on pirogues
- Abomey, the ancient capital of Dahomey and the royal palaces
- Ouidah and the ‘Porte de non retour’, the memory of slavery
Unfortunately the day before and during the night it had rained heavily so
the participants, divided into three groups, had to wait for the coaches for a long time. The coaches arrived very late due to the conditions of the roads and could not park because the mud was sinking.
After several attempts to get rid of the mud and a long wait, we were finally able to leave although the excursions were reduced to two because the lake trip was not feasible.
The two trips to Abomey and Ouidah on the Gulf of Guinea engagad participants and both of them were very interesting from a historical point of view.
In Ouidah we were upset by the vision of the market square and the arch built by UNESCO where the long queue of chained slaves used to be taken on board for the final destination of the Antilles or Brazil.
In Abomey we found a visit to the palaces very interesting and on the way back we stopped to visit the underground caves where the primitives used to live .
Every king had his palace and his totem animal. We were impressed by the story relating to the last king, defeated by the French, who wanted to meet the French king because only his equal would have surrendered. Taken on board by the French with the promise of meeting the king of France, he was sent to prison in Martinique.
At the end of the RIDEF a group composed of about 20 participants accepted the proposal of a trip called post- RIDEF to the North of the country.
Other partecipants were hosted in private houses for a week instead.
The people who made the trip visited Otammari, a mountain area in the North.
After visiting the local ethnological museum, we went to a village formed by characteristic buildings called Tatas where we spent the night.
We were welcomed by an ONG which develops ecology and life in the villages. Some guides showed us the preparation of the Karitè butter and they explained the meaning of the totem hanging on the doors.
Besides, walking through the forest, they described the medical properties of some plants.
Then they took us to amazing falls where we had a swim.
Finally we explored some caves where people found shelter from slave hunters in the past.
Before leaving the village women performed local dances involvig us in the rituals.
On the last day we stayed in a town where we visited a big market with local, handmade products.
BENIN: HISTORY AND SLAVERY
Africans’ diaspora began with the slave trade in the early 15th century.
After the independence of the United States, which was recognized by the treaty of Versailles in 1783, the English lost interest in the slave trade. The Spanish from Cuba and the Americans replaced England in the slave trade.
Benin and other Occidental Africa countries were deprived from their resources and energies since many of its inhabitants were taken as slaves from their villages and sent to the coast of the Gulf of Guinea. The king of Dahomey, and the heads of the villages, were implicated in the slave trade.
Many people died or they became sick on the way to the ocean and were thrown into large pits and the sick were thrown to the alligators in the moats that surrounded the European forts (Portuguese, French, Dutch forts).
In Ouidah, a town near the Ocean, there is the "tree of forgetfulness".
The chained men had to go nine times clockwise and women seven times counterclockwise around the shaft to forget who they were and where they came from. It was a magical rite.
In Ouidah there is the square of the slave market.
A memorial museum contains objects which slaves were exchanged with: beads, shells, bracelets of little value.
In front of the Gulf of Guinea a majestic arch built by UNESCO symbolizes the pain of the slaves taken away from their villages, their families, their land and forced to work hard and sometimes to die.
The museum contains also the photographic exhibition by Pierre Verger, an extraordinary French anthropologist and photographer. Rites, dances, ancestral masquerades of African traditions are the same as those in Bahia in Brazil . In Ouidah there is the 'diaspora' district inhabited by some descendants of the slaves returned from Salvador de Bahia .
They imported animistic religion, voodoo, candomblé to Africa, while in Brazil there are traces of ancient African religions and languages (Yoruba, Olokun, Sango, etc...)
In Benin the main religions are Christianity (Catholic, Evangelical, Protestant etc...) and the Muslim religion, but they are both deeply animistic.
Nearly ten million Africans were enslaved and shipped to the New World before 1867. Yet, slave trade existed in Brazil until 1890.
CONCLUSIONS- FINAL REPORT
At the end of the RIFEF there was a discussion to assess the results of the conference and to evaluate new proposals for the next RIDEF in Sweden in 2018.
The assessment was based on:
a. The performance of the activities carried out in different workshops.
b. A collection of the results of the discussions relating to training needs in developing countries and to their possible application to local schools.
c. The feedback obtained from the questionnaires filled in by participants.
Everyone was really satisfied with the results.
A more accurate assessment was done later by the BD and the organizers.