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How an Omaha nonprofit is helping support children in a West African country

By Izzy Fonfara-Drewel

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    OMAHA, Nebraska (KETV) — The president of Advance Benin, a nonprofit in Omaha, moved to the United States 10 years ago after graduating from college. Cephas Catraye now has a wife and two kids, but he still loves his country across the ocean.

Cephas grew up in Benin, a small country on the Western coast of Africa. Cephas grew up well and got a good education, but his friends didn’t have the same opportunities. Now, he’s trying to change that.

Everything started with Kemi.

“My mom called about Kemi and she said, ‘Hey, this girl just came to town, she’s between 5 and 6, and she was crying.’ It’s always a heartbreaking thing for people,” Catraye said.

Kemi was working in Benin’s capital as a servant because she needed to help support the rest of her family.

Catraye and his wife, Amanda, met Kemi during a trip to Benin in 2019. After hearing her story, they wanted to put her through school, but there was a problem.

“The parents’ of this girl were literally against her going to school. They did not want it,” Catraye said.

Cephas says in Benin, a father’s word is law, so when her father said she couldn’t go to school and had to work instead, Kemi didn’t argue with him.

“They know this is wrong, you shouldn’t be doing this, but they feel they don’t have a choice,” Catraye said.

But after some negotiation, her father agreed. In school, Kemi started to soar.

“She did so well that she jumped two years. Yeah, literally. And this year, she passed her exam and now she’s going to junior high school,” Catraye said.

After Kemi’s success, Cephas and Amanda were all in on Advance Benin, their nonprofit that uses donations to provide Beninese children with school supplies and uniforms.

“Basically, when we started to help Kemi, I simply realized that this thing that I wanted to do, help my friends as a child, was possible,” Catraye said.

Almost 40% of Benin’s population lives in poverty and the lack of money causes parents to sell their children into servitude instead of going to school. They make only pennies a day.

“It truly is a different form of slavery,” Catraye said.

Even though Benin requires at least six years of education, few actually receive that, something Cephas wants to change.

“All of those who at least have the opportunity to go to school, will have more than one option tomorrow,” Catraye said.

Last year, they helped 17 children. This year, their goal is 50.

“I set a goal and it’s like OK, I need to set a bigger goal. Then, OK, like I don’t want to be unrealistic on the numbers, but we need a bigger goal,” Amanda Catraye, treasurer of Advance Benin, said.

Advance Benin had their first fundraiser at the beginning of July. Their goal was $1,000. They ended up making $1,400.

Cephas said that money will help lots of kids.

“One American dollar can go so far, it can go a long way. One American dollar can feed a whole family in Benin,” Catraye said.

They ask for money instead of supplies because it’s cheaper to send money over. And by purchasing resources there, they can help Benin’s economy.

“We’re partnering with some local vendors to be able to buy fabric in bulk for the uniforms, maybe buy bookbags in bulk,” Amanda said.

Advance Benin is helping these kids do what they’ve always wanted.

“It’s not a dream of ours. It’s not our dream, it’s the kids’ dream,” Cephas said.

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