Embracing a new phase in my life

Hannah Eul

Place of assignment: Dogbo; Benin

Organisation: Kindermissionswerk „Die Sternsinger“

Hannah Eul was on assignment in Benin from August 2019 to March 2020, volunteering with an NGO that helps young people from difficult family backgrounds. Although she had to finish her assignment early due to the pandemic, her time in Benin had an impact on her. Hannah tells us about her experiences in Benin and how she sees her future.

I’d known for a while that I wanted to volunteer abroad for a year after I finished school. The question was, “Where?” Once I’d found the right sending organisations for me – Kindermissionswerk “Die Sternsinger” and missio – I had to say which countries I’d like to go to. Benin, in West Africa, wasn’t my first choice initially but something (God? Fate? My heart?) made me put Benin on my list. And I’ve never regretted it!

On 4 August 2019, I set off on a new life journey to a country I had never been to before but that was quickly to become my second home.

The start is always the hardest part

There were quite a lot of minor challenges to master during my first month. Like remembering how to get from my accommodation to my place of assignment or what things were called in French. And then there was the heat! Thankfully, my colleagues were very patient with me and really helped me settle in. My assignment involved doing administrative tasks for an NGO called “ESI Benin”. They support young people from difficult family backgrounds by providing them with an education or training and accommodation. The girls’ hostel was right next to my accommodation so I quickly made friends with the girls and young women living there.

One in particular, Ruth (who was training with ESI to become a pastry chef), helped me find my feet at the beginning. I also accompanied her to her church (Pentecôte du Bénin) almost every Sunday, where I discovered a completely different type of church service. A rich blend of song, prayer and dance, it filled the church and my heart with life. Apart from Christianity and Islam, Voodoo is also a common religion in Benin. 10th January is celebrated as Voodoo Day. I watched the traditional festivities and performances in Grand-Popo, which is where this photo was taken.

A crowd of people gathered in a big square for the Vooday Day festivities. There is a thin pole in the middle of the square.
Voodoo Day in Grand-Popo

Language opens doors

One of the things I enjoyed most about my assignment was the weekly German lessons I gave for staff. It was the first time I realised how complicated German is and how difficult teaching a language can be. But it also helped me dust off my French, which was quite rusty to start with. The more my language skills improved, the more I was able to take part in the frequent discussions people had about anything and everything under the sun. They were a particularly good opportunity to learn about non-western world views and forge new friendships that have continued to enrich my life despite the miles between us.

Hannah with three Beninese women. They are all wearing brightly coloured clothes and smiling at the camera.
At a ceremony with (left to right) Ruth, Maman Mira, Hannah and Rachelle.

Suddenly, everything changed

Time flew by and suddenly 2020 was just around the corner. As we all know, that was the year that brought the Covid pandemic to Europe and other parts of the world. In March, all volunteers were requested to return home, which came as quite a shock. Having to say goodbye so quickly was very difficult. Re-adjusting to life back in Germany wasn’t easy either. Suddenly, my life was completely different. I felt like I’d been beamed into outer space!

Suddenly, my life was completely different. I felt like I’d been beamed into outer space!

But my assignment in Benin also had an impact on my plans for the future. I was so fascinated by the country and its culture that I decided to study socio-cultural anthropology, focusing on Africa. I’d still like to go back to Benin for a few more years at some point.

A picture of Hannah with the staff from ESI Benin.
Last picture with my ESI colleagues on the day of my departure.

I’m so glad of the things I learned and experienced during my eight months in Benin and I’m grateful this dream came true for me.