Safe Schooling

December 12 2022 | by

THE TOWN of Grand Bassam is located in the Sud-Comoé region of Ivory Coast. It has had a chequered history. Its foundation can be traced back to the 15th century when it was a fishing village and trading centre, and in the late 19th century, it was briefly the French colonial capital. At the end of the 19th century, though, three quarters of the population died during an outbreak of yellow fever. Then, by the 1930s, shipping had all but transferred to Abidjan, 43km along the coast. After independence from France in the 1960s, all administrative offices also transferred to Abidjan, and Grand Bassam become something of a ghost town, inhabited only by squatters.


Tourist resort


The 1970s saw an upturn in its fortunes as it rejuvenated as a tourist and craft centre. “Due to its position, it has become a tourist and seaside resort,” explains Leone De Vita, Director of Communauté Abel. “It has been attracting more and more people attempting to escape the overcrowding of Abidjan, other regions of the Ivory Coast, and nearby countries. It’s had a rapid increase in population since the 2014 census, which estimated the population to be 84,028 people – 43 percent of whom are under the age of 15 – and that figure needs revising upwards.” But the rapid increase in population hasn’t been matched by an increase in basic services, so, for example, both hospital beds and access to education are lacking. “Spending is mainly on food, while health and education account for less than 6 percent,” continues Leone. The poverty rate in Grand Bassam is 47 percent higher than the national average. “Material poverty often translates into educational poverty, which in turn creates ranks of children and young people in situations of marginalisation, active and passive violence, and exploitation.”


Schooling centre


Communauté Abel was founded in 1982 in collaboration with the Diocese of Grand Bassam at the request of the Ivory Coast’s Ministry of Justice. It is part of the Gruppo Abele, which was established in Turin, Italy, in 1965 “to find solutions to problems and issues of social exclusion.” Over the years, Communauté Abel’s role has expanded. “Today it is a project of prevention, help, and assistance for children and young people in difficulty. Our mission is to educate, train, promote socio-economic integration and ensure enforcement of the rights of disadvantaged children and young people. Our actions follow a rights-based approach, as opposed to a needs-based one. In a rights-based approach, children and young people are not seen as objects of charity, but rather as those who claim their legal rights and who learn to take their own responsibilities.” All the services of the Communauté Abel are provided for free and have 250 direct and 10,000 indirect beneficiaries each year.

At the Centre Abel, one of the three centres operated by Communauté Abel, the services of the Ministry of Justice, together with educators from Communauté Abel, use professional training and the acquisition of a profession as an educational tool. The Centre offers professional training courses, literacy courses, food and health care, psycho-social support, and socio-economic reintegration. The Centre is actually a 20-hectare farm just outside Grand Bassam. Its buildings – a dormitory offering residential accommodation to offending minors, a kitchen and a refectory, administration offices, and a house for the volunteers – were built in the 1980s and had received only essential maintenance over the last 40 years.


Wall needed


Changing safety and hygiene standards in Ivory Coast meant that a more substantial renovation was required. “We started with the volunteers’ house, which we completed from our own funds,” says Leone. “Three stages were then planned for the other structures in order of priority.”

The first planned intervention was to construct a surrounding wall, gate, and night-lighting system for the whole area, together with reconstruction of the main internal roads. It was this first stage of the project that Communauté Abel asked St. Anthony’s Charities to support. The remaining stages – the restructuring of the dormitory, refectory, kitchens and boarding house, followed by renovation of the administration offices – are being funded by other charitable bodies. All of the works will make the Centre safer – it has unfortunately already been subject to two robberies.

A sum of just short of €70,000 was approved for the works, and the first instalment received in October 2021 with work beginning on 1 November to repair, raise, and plaster 600 metres of wall, including the addition of concrete casting and iron reinforcement where necessary. A sentry box was also built to house the guard responsible for controlling access to the Centre Abel. The second instalment arrived in February 2022, and was used to replace the old main gate. The company responsible for its construction was asked to provide an entrance gate for pedestrians and a 4-metre wide entrance gate for cars and heavy transport vehicles. This second phase also included the cleaning of an area of 10,000 square metres in order to be able to create the paths and the 950m of internal roads within the Centre grounds. It was also decided to include 6,000 square metres of ground cover grass within the grounds, and this was started during this phase. The third and final phase saw the completion of the grass cover, installation of the lighting – including 12 solar street lamps, delineation of the roads using kerb stones, and water drainage – including PVC pipes and grids together with reinforced concrete channels. The project was completed in June 2022.


Not finished yet


The Centre currently looks after 40 boys between the ages of 14 and 21, with 10 students in residence. The others attend Monday to Friday, from 08:00 a.m. to 17:00 p.m. Since December 2021 around 50 young women – victims of trafficking – have also been using the Centre facilities.

“This project is now completed thanks to St. Anthony’s Charities and the readers of the Messenger of Saint Anthony,” concludes Leone. “But the renovation of Centre Abel isn’t finished yet. With the help of our other benefactors we will complete this project including the transformation of a warehouse into a vocational training unit for agri-food processing.”


Updated on December 12 2022