Started in 2012, the Benin Summer School is one of the social initiatives started up by Materialise. Located in Papané, Benin, the idea behind the program is to select the three best students of the region – and then support these students financially throughout their university studies. The goal is to stimulate the local economy by giving its brightest young citizens the tools to build up useful businesses that last. We work together with a local NGO, Hubi and Vinciane, who helps the two volunteers from Materialise work with the students for two weeks on a project they need to develop and present in order to get selected as part of the final three. Meet Jonas and Dorina, who volunteered to teach the summer school this year.
Jonas Van Eyck and Dorina Kovacs both work at Materialise Headquarters in Belgium. Jonas Van Eyck is a process engineer for our Stereolithography machines, and Dorina leads the German Project Management team for Manufacturing. They had both been interested in volunteering for the Summer School from the moment they started working at Materialise, and after organizing the Run4Benin they decided they had to volunteer in 2016. They are both fascinated by other cultures and the idea of making a meaningful contribution to society and raising awareness about Benin really appealed to them.
From start to finish, they both found the experience overwhelmingly positive. Although the culture shock was quite big – the minimum monthly wage in Benin is 23€, and many students had never seen a computer before – Jonas and Dorina were motivated by their extremely bright class. Every day they would meet the students at their school, and work on the projects together with them and monitor their progress. From setting up a Dropbox account (a "nuage virtuelle") and an email address to coaching the students on making PowerPoint presentations, the students were taught how to work in a business environment. In total, there were eight ideas assigned to each student, which they needed to develop into a project:
- The Baobab pharma express: Could the Baobab Express be used to transport medication to hospitals?
- Baobab Express expansion: Could a new bus line be added to the network?
- The Wakati tent (a solar-powered tent that functions as a refrigerator): What would be the best way to commercialize the Wakati?
- Panneaux Solaires: Is there a market for solar panels in Benin?
- Bananier: Why do very few households in Benin have their own banana tree, and how could people be made aware of its nutritional advantages?
- Hospital of Papané: How could the nutritional value of the cafeteria meals be improved? How could the crops from the hospital garden be used in the cafeteria? How could awareness be raised about the dangers of malnutrition?
After two weeks of intense work - visiting farms, solar plants and hospitals to gather data - and some sleepless nights of worrying which students they should pick, it was clear to Jonas and Dorina who the final three should be. These were students who were not only exceptionally intelligent; they also showed strong motivation and turned the projects into their own idea. Richard, in charge of the Bananier project; Gildas, who developed the course on malnutrition; and Souebou, who did the project on the Baobab Express expansion, were chosen as the final recipients of the education grant. We wish them lots of luck in all their endeavors!
Jonas and Dorina had lived in Benin for three weeks, working with the students every day and experiencing the Beninese culture, and they found it hard to leave. The friendliness of the people and the relaxed atmosphere felt very welcoming to them, and the social contact remains the highlight of the experience for both of them. From sporting local haircuts to getting stuck in the middle of a river with a jeep, Jonas and Dorina will take some unforgettable memories back to Belgium.