Empowering youth in Benin through spelling
Literacy goes far beyond the ability to read and write. It is the way we engage and interact with language and information in our everyday life. With literacy we can get rid of many of the world’s challenges.”Valentin Zanmenou, 2021 Fellowship Alumnus, Benin
Since 1967, International Literacy Day has served as a reminder to people around the world of the importance of education as a matter of human rights, economic development, and social inclusion. 2021 Alumnus Valentin Zanmenou, the Founder and National Coordinator of Benin’s national spelling competition, BeninBee, is passionate about literacy and how it serves as the foundation to understand and find solutions for a variety of global issues.
Investing in learning
Valentin introduced books and storytelling to his daughters at a young age, believing that learning to read would be the best way to prepare them to meet the uncertainties of today’s ever-changing world. And he didn’t stop there, saying, “I believe every kid should have the opportunity to develop their literacy skills at an early age and that is what I am working on.”
Benin has one of the youngest populations in the world; as of this year, 65% of its population is under 25 years old, with a literacy rate of just over 42%. Valentin started BeninBee with the goal of investing in the learning potential of Benin’s youth population. Since its inception in 2015, BeninBee has reached over 30,000 youth, ages 9 to 18, across Benin.
Through the organization, students build digital, communications, and leadership skills, strengthen their English speaking and reading abilities, and develop a lifelong love of learning. According to Valentin, “BeninBee encourages youth to read often and make use of libraries, when available. Through words, we invite them to make connections and think deeply about issues affecting their communities.”
Making literacy accessible to all
Valentin’s participation in the Mandela Washington Fellowship in 2021 at Kansas State University opened his eyes to the inequities that persist in education for different marginalized groups globally. In many parts of the world, including Benin, people with disabilities, those from rural areas, and women and girls continue to have literacy rates below those of the total population. To ensure no one is left behind, Valentin is working to make all of BeninBee’s activities and initiatives as inclusive as possible by expanding to rural areas and increasing participation among girls and students with disabilities.
Today, BeninBee is the largest educational competition in Benin. Looking forward, Valentin would like the organization to reach even more students, since he believes that the skills children develop early in life grow with them, allowing them to positively impact their communities as they grow into adulthood.
“Through education, we have the power to shape tomorrows leaders today.”
Written by Sydney Robinson.
2022 Leadership Institute
At Arizona State University