In a report presented to the United Nations in 2018, Benin estimated that slightly more than 90,000 Benin citizens live with a disability. This statistic is probably underestimated. The Porto-Novo Healthcare and Art Therapy Centre places art at the heart of its initiatives for mentally disabled people. Through the NGO Vie et Solidarité, Louis Oké-Agbo wanted to take action to break away from a culture where disability is viewed negatively.

Deeply rooted beliefs

In Benin, a persistent system of traditional beliefs upholds the idea that disabilities are not random occurrences but are often still considered to be the work of the devil or of evil spirits, or a test imposed by God.

Discriminations based on disability in this French-speaking country in western Africa result in rejection, exclusion, and abandonment. Disabled people are thought of as a burden for society.

A convention on the rights of persons with disabilities was nevertheless ratified in August 2011. The provisions of the convention advocate equality and non-discrimination among all citizens and are a recognised basis for changing social representations of disability in Benin.

Taking initiatives through art therapy

To address this deep-rooted view of mental disability, Louis Oké-Agbo, a photographer and qualified therapist, is working towards helping his country change its views.

The Porto-Novo Healthcare and Art Therapy Centre was founded in 2017 and allows people with disabilities to take part in real-life situations, to be included and to use all their abilities.

At the Centre, artistic creation is used for therapeutical purposes to encourage the autonomy and social inclusion of residents. Artistic expression activities are an important part of daily life and include painting, photography, dance, music and art classes, etc. Trainers and moderators take turns in helping people with disabilities every day.

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Article updated on 12/08/22