It was hard to believe that our time in Benin was already coming to an end. You could feel that the “heat was on” as every student worked on their computers every minute that was possible. They all clearly were dedicated to their projects and hoped they would be selected for one of the three available scholarships.
At 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, we began the first three final presentations. We had Gaston present his project on the Kpari Line of Baobab Express, Eveline on the Services Offered at Major Baobab Express Stops and Adelaide on the SIGN and Enabling the Future project. Being first is never easy but each student really did a great job! They spoke confidently and clearly and it was obvious that they had done a lot of work on their projects. It was great to see how familiar they were with all aspects of their individual subjects. Even with regards to answering the audiences’ questions, they were able to respond with good information. We were very proud.
That night, we had our goodbye dinner with the kids. The students who were done with their presentations helped to prepare couscous, noodles, a spicy tomato sauce and chicken. We all gathered around the table like one big modern family and broke bread together. It was a great and happy night but we all knew in our hearts that tomorrow it would end. Every now and then during the celebration, we all had flickering moments of sadness knowing it was the last dinner we’d share together.
Thursday started bright and early with the 5 last presentations: Improving Education, Female Role Models, “Garde-malades”, and the Hospital Garden Project. Once again, all of their hard work paid off. Each student was really excelled and did such a great job it was hard to imagine how we would be able to pick the three best to receive the scholarships. Several people from Belgium had participated in the presentations via Skype and were also very impressed with the quality of the results.
After, we all went back to the house and had lunch before we sat together with local collaborators Euloge and Antoinette to conduct the exit interviews with each of the eight students. We asked questions about what they liked about the summer school, what they thought we could improve for next year, what they wanted to study now that they had so much exposure during the last month, what they were proud of having accomplished and what they thought they could still improve on.
We also gave them positive feedback and constructive suggestions for their future. It was great to hear how positive they were about the experience. They LOVED living together and every one of them stated that this was one of the best aspects of the school. They had fun and learned a lot by living in a group. This also allowed us to have more time to work with them, which makes them feel more confident when it comes to using the computers, speaking to adults, public presenting, structuring information, etc. It was a very rewarding afternoon to hear what a difference the Materialise Summer School had made. It was clear that regardless of whether they win the scholarship or not that these bright, young people are more prepared to success no matter what path they choose.
Then the time came where we needed to pick the three students. After a tough deliberation, we choose Gaston Adje (Baobab Express line to Kpari), Solanbe Guidigbi (female role models) and Constant Kassouin (Wakati). Congratulations to these exceptional students.
The next morning was the 10 hour drive south, 7 hour overnight flight back to Paris and a 1.5 hour train ride back to Brussels. It was a long two days of travel but it gave us time to reflect on the month, what we had accomplished, and our visions for next year.