One of the best ways to leverage support for a community is by celebrating its culture. Angélique Kidjo and the Batonga Foundation seek to amplify their campaign for women and girls in West Africa through a one-of-a-kind benefit dinner hosted later this month in New York City.
Kidjo, a three-time Grammy Award-winning singer and musician, was born in Benin and grew up steeped in the rich musical and social culture of West Africa. She attended school at a time when girls’ education was not considered socially acceptable. In answer to taunts from boys in her classes, Kidjo would shout back, “Batonga!,” an invented word that has since translated into Kidjo’s music and philanthropy.
Batonga is the title of one of Kidjo’s most popular songs, in which she sings to a young African girl experiencing many of the same hardships Kidjo went through in her childhood. In English, the lyrics and the idea behind Batonga translate to, “You are poor, but you dance like a princess and you can do as you please, regardless of what anyone tells you.”
In 2006, Kidjo made this philosophy the heart of her philanthropy, co-founding the Batonga Foundation to support girls’ education in Africa. Initially, Batonga sought to provide African girls with scholarships, mentorships, school supplies, and other support in partnership with organizations like USAID, the Peace Corps, and Mercy Corps.
However, Kidjo and her team soon realized that this approach wasn’t working for girls in rural communities. It was too difficult to reach the “invisible” girls and women in villages that fell off the map–orphans, teenage mothers, girls who married while they were still children, and other examples of the most vulnerable women in Africa could not take advantage of the formal education systems touted and supported by outside foundations. The barriers between these girls and secondary education made it all but impossible for organizations like Batonga to make a difference.
With this newfound perspective, Batonga restructured its approach in 2015 to focus on data-driven methodologies. Today, Batonga assesses education statistics in rural villages using the Girl Roster, a population surveying tool developed for smartphone use by The Population Council and the Women’s Refugee Commission.
“To ‘roster’ a community using the Girl Roster™, local program staff go door-to-door in teams of two to ask adults non-sensitive questions about the girls who reside there,” reads Batonga’s description of their approach. “They quickly gather general information about girls’ schooling, marital and childbearing status, and living arrangements. The household level data is recorded on smartphones and collated in real time to create a picture of the lives and realities of the young women and girls in each community. The tool, and its accompanying information collection and analysis process empowers Batonga to see the full universe of young women and girls in target communities and lead transformative change for these girls and their communities.”
The new approach is working. Instead of focusing on scholarship programs that only a small percentage of the population would be able to use, Batonga connects the most vulnerable girls and women in West Africa with the resources and support networks they need to further their educations.
Batonga accomplishes this mission by training teachers and mentors, establishing support clubs, and continuously updating their research, data, and information networks through a regional thought leadership network in Francophone West Africa called Réseau Batonga d’Apprentissage des Filles Adolescentes Bénin.
Communities across West Africa have embraced Batonga’s education and mentorship model, particularly the SONAFA Girls Clubs. Translated from Fon (the local language of Batonga’s partner communities) Sonafa means, “the future will be better and more peaceful.” This mantra is exactly what Batonga hopes to establish in affected communities, particularly in Kidjo’s home country of Benin.
Kidjo’s celebration of African culture, history, and opportunity shines through in her music. It also embodies the spirit of her foundation and the goal of her upcoming benefit dinner, held September 25th, 2019 at the Standard Hotel in New York City.
The Batonga Foundation Benefit: A Night of West African Flavor with Angélique Kidjo, will feature a dinner cooked by Angélique herself, based on West African recipes passed down from her mother. The night’s menu includes cashew chicken, vegetarian couscous, and the Kidjo family’s Scotch Bonnet Hot Sauce.
Attendees will also enjoy a private concert after the dinner. Kidjo’s special musical guest for the event is world-renowned composer Philip Glass, whose operas and symphonies have played a major impact on today’s experimental and cinematic music. Glass is currently on tour with the Philip Glass Ensemble. His stop in New York to perform with Kidjo will be a once-in-a-lifetime presentation!
Multiple ticket packages are available, ranging from a basic package that includes the dinner and the private show, to a VIP cocktail hour before the event, to an all-in package that gives donors the opportunity to cook with Angélique the night before the event.
“My mom taught me that cooking is about sharing,” says Kidjo. “I love cooking as much as I love singing, so for the guests of our next Batonga event, it feels natural to share my two passions, music and food, to thank our supporters and celebrate Batonga’s work empowering girls in West Africa.”
Proceeds from the event go directly to supporting Batonga’s programs in Benin.
“The funds raised will allow us to continue and expand our work of locating and empowering those most in need,” writes a spokesperson for the event. “The Benefit will support the girls who have been forced to drop out of school, the girls with no parents, and the girls who have had a child or have been married before the age of 18 as well as support our SONAFA Leadership Clubs. Through this event, we will be able to expand the reach of our program, impact the lives of more young women and girls, and develop new innovative solutions to reach and empower those most in need.”
Tickets are now available for this one-of-a-kind benefit dinner. To learn more, visit the event listing online.
To learn more about the Batonga Foundation, visit their website at batongafoundation.org.
To learn more about campaigns serving vulnerable women in Africa, read about CREATE!’s partnership with Vibrant Village Foundation in Senegal, or the NoVo Foundation’s work through The Radical Hope Fund.