Voodooism is an officially recognised religion in Benin. As part of this culture, ill children allegedly possessed by spirits can be sent to be healed in Voodoo convents. Children can spend up to 7 years in these convents, completely disconnected from the outside world.
Through our work with partners in Couffo, Benin, we have been able to significantly reduce the length of time children spend in Voodoo convents to a maximum 3 months, instead of years.
Hounmavo fell sick and priests told me it was because I did not give her to the gods.
One mother, Medewaou, spent 7 years confined to a Voodoo convent as a child. Years later, her daughter Hounmavo fell ill and, largely due to pressure from within her community, Medewaou reluctantly sent her to be healed by Voodoo gods.
A Mother's Story
Medewaou, 38, says: “I was suffering from ill health. I went to many hospitals for help, but they were unable to cure me. After consultations with the oracle, I was sent to this convent to be healed. I had to live in the convent for 7 years and I suffered a lot.
“After leaving the convent, I wanted to have a baby, but I was having difficulty conceiving. I looked to Voodoo gods for help and I made a promise that if I had a daughter I would give her to Voodoo gods.
“When I had my daughter, Hounmavo, I just couldn’t bear to give her to the Voodoo gods although I had made the promise. But Hounmavo fell sick and priests told me it was because I did not give her to the gods.
“I did not want Hounmavo to go there, but I had no choice. It was not my will for Hounmavo to go there. I had no choice.
“Hounmavo was little when she was went to the convent. It was a time when children should be playing with their friends. She was meant to stay there for 7 years. But, thanks to Plan International Benin’s initiative, Hounmavo was able to come out within a year.
"My daughter is now 7 and she is free. I am happy she doesn’t have to go through what I went through.
"Hounmavo has told me she wants to become a doctor. She deserves the opportunity to go to school and become what she wants. I pray Plan International continues with this initiative and gives many more children a future.”