Materialise volunteers and local students “work together on a dream”
The 9th edition of the École de vacances (summer school) saw a trio of Materialise volunteers travel from Belgium to Benin to mentor a group of under-20s as they developed projects around plant-based alternatives for preventing and curing malaria, empowering female entrepreneurs in rural regions, and kick-starting a clean, safe e-scooter alternative to dirty, petrol-fueled motorbikes.
Meet the eight high school graduates who are making ripples across their communities.
Introduction game played on the first day
In 2012, Materialise founders Fried Vancraen and Hilde Ingelaere partnered with the Hubi & Vinciane foundation to support the charity’s mission to “work together on a dream for Benin”. Ever since then, the annual summer school program has provided university scholarships to three Beninese students per year and powered initiatives that stimulate the local economy and social progress. These include Baobab Express, a public transportation company that provides reliable, safe cross-state transport, even to remote areas that had previously been difficult to reach. Launched by African Drive in 2014, Baobab Express has since become one of Benin’s top bus companies.
Every year, as part of the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility program, Materialise employees volunteer to help mentor the young students that are selected in the Borgou Department based on grades obtained during their final year of secondary school. 16 students participate in the first phase of the summer school program; after a few intensive days of workshops, coaching, individual sessions, and evaluation with the Materialise volunteers and members of the local Hubi & Vinciane staff, the group is narrowed down to the final eight candidates who then do project-based work for the remainder of the program’s duration.
Meet the volunteers
This year saw an all-female group of volunteers head to Benin: Miranda Bastijns, Business Line Director of Prototyping for the Materialise Manufacturing department, Caroline Collard, Global Market Manager for Orthopedics, and Kim Pauwels, Market Access Manager, both from the Materialise Medical department. Although they didn’t know each other (well) prior to embarking on this experience together, the volunteers found that their various (soft) skill sets as well as distinctly diverging interests and personalities meshed well and even complemented each other.
The most important asset a volunteer can bring to the table? “A creative, flexible mindset,” all three agree. Although they spent several months preparing for the program – with the support of Materialise CEO Fried Vancraen, past Materialise volunteers as well as members of Hubi & Vinciane and African Drive – the three women quickly realized after arriving in Benin that remaining agile and being able to improvise was just as valuable as laying the groundwork and planning thoroughly.
Meet the students
Jérôme N’Tcha M’Po
19-year-old Jérôme comes from a big family: he and his 11 brothers and sisters grew up on a farm and Jérôme has always helped out his dad by working the fields. To help grow his family farm and support other farmers, Jérôme hopes to study agriculture.
Jérôme’s project: Producing and developing Artemesia to help fight malaria
Every two minutes, an African child dies of malaria. The artemesia plant can be cultivated in Benin and could potentially be used in the prevention of and cure for malaria. The goal of this project was to define the optimal agricultural conditions to grow artemesia, look into economy of scale, and research/develop various forms of the remedy, such as loose tea leaves and powder tea.
Driven by a keen sense of curiosity, Nadiath is a great team player. In her free time the 18-year-old organizes awareness campaigns around contraception, sexually transmitted diseases, and violence on women. This young activist hopes to study epidemiology.
Nadiath’s project: Commercialization artemesia
Once it is possible to cultivate artemesia on a larger scale, the question is how to commercialize it in the best possible way, which is what Nadiath looked into this summer.
At 20, Chantal is the eldest of four siblings. Her dad died a few years ago and the family has been struggling ever since. She works different jobs in order to support her family and buy school supplies.
Chantal’s Projet: Female entrepreneurship
Last year the Benin summer school program kicked off a project around female entrepreneurship in which we supported three women with micro-credits so as to allow them grow their business. Thanks to Chantal, the objective of this year’s phase of the project was to evaluate how these women are doing and to investigate the difference in impact of the various micro-financing solutions for women on the market.
Latifou is 19 years old and his dream is to become a doctor. His father Zikirore teaches the koran and his mother is a reseller. ‘Reseller’ is a very common profession in Benin and usually involves selling gasoline, charcoal, or tissues. Latifou’s five brothers and sisters all still attend school. Passionate about politics, and looks up to ex-president Thomas Boni Yayi whom he admires for his socialist regime.
Latifou’s project: Aquaponics
Aquaponics is a closed ecosystem in which the waste produced by farmed fish serves as nutrients for plants, which in turn purify the water. The goal of the project was to do a feasibility analysis of the local implementation of aquaponics by working together with a group of farmers to assess if they would be open to adopting aquaponics and receive the necessary training. Latifou’s investment in this project was crucial in raising awareness for the system, seeing as almost no one in the Parakou region was at all familiar with aquaponics.
19-year-old Romuald is passionate about soccer/European football and enjoys working out with his friends in his spare time. He is also active in his local community, organizing information sessions about the importance of hygiene measure in day-to-day life. To earn some extra money, he unloads big bags of rice and is skilled in installing solar panels as well as mechanics. He hopes to study informatics.
Romuald’s project: Baobab Energy e-motorbikes
Scooters and motorcycles – petrol-fueled, highly polluting, generally not safe – are a crucial means of transportation in Benin. Led by a past Materialise École de vacances volunteer, the Baobab Energy project have made a business plan for the commercialization of the e-motorbike. Romuald’s focus was on the market readiness of the project. Primary targets groups are governmental organizations who would be willing to participate in a pilot phase of the project.
Samuel is 19 years old, the youngest son of a big family. Eager to learn and a strong believer in hard evidence such as facts and data, Samuel is interested in robots and informatics. His dream to become an informatics engineer thus doesn’t come as a big surprise. He loves to watch cartoons, read comic books, and tell stories about robots in his down time.
Samuel’s project: A banana plant for each woman
A banana project was kicked off during the 2018 summer school program and over 6000 banana plants were distributed in different villages. The goal of this project was to improve healthy nutrition and integrate bananas in the diet of families and children. During his project, Samuel evaluated how families use the bananas, if they consume the fruit themselves or if sell them for extra income.
The 18-year-old son of gasoline and cashew nut vendors is one of nine children. Farouk pitches in to help out his family by doing odd jobs in his spare time. To relax, he loves listening to music and his ambition is to start a company that will create useful products and employment opportunities for others. To accomplish this, he would like to study business and management studies.
Farouk’s project: Raising awareness about malnutrition symptoms for mothers
Balanced nutrition is crucial for the physical and cognitive development of infants, particularly during the first years of life. The objective of Farouk’s project was to create an awareness campaign regarding the prevention of malnutrition. Farouk interviewed young mothers about how they feed their children, working in close collaboration with Erik, a nutritionist working with the Hubi & Vinciane foundation who will continue running the campaign on malnutrition over the coming months.
At 25 years old Modeste was one of the program’s older students. His dad Grégoire, a tailor, suffers from a condition that affects his eyes, meaning he is no longer able to carry out his profession and has had to take on odd jobs to make ends meet to support his family of seven children, including Modest. The latter loves working on his motorbike — and hopes to study mechanics one day.
Modeste’s project: Toilet facilities along the Baobab Express routes
Most of the bus stops along the routes of the Baobab Express aren’t equipped with facilities for the passengers. This issue affects female travelers more so than men. Modeste’s role in the project was therefore to look into the topic from social and economic angles as well as come up with recommendations of how to proceed and increase the availability of toilet stops during the long bus drives.
Having completed their trainings and field work, the eight students presented their projects to a jury composed of members of the Hubi & Vinciane foundation and Materialise. After some deliberation during which many factors were taken into account – overall performance, soft skills, psychological and familial considerations – the three best-performing students were selected: Romuald, who worked on Baobab Energy e-motorbikes; Latifou, who took on the challenge of investigating aquaponics, and Jérôme, who oversaw the feasibility analysis of cultivating the Artemisia plant as an alternative prevention and cure for malaria. All three students have been awarded scholarships to attend universities, and we wish them all the very best!
Working on the dream of a better and healthier world
As a participant of the UN Global Compact, one of the commitments we at Materialise have made is to support initiatives – including NGOs, non-profits, and grassroots organizations around the world – that empower people. That is what we strive to do with Hubi & Vinciane and our shared ‘dream’ for Benin and mission of working towards a better and healthier world.
“The most impactful way of making a difference is to understand and help reevaluate a given mindset. This can be done be providing access to education. And that is what Materialise is doing by initiating the projects and giving students the opportunity to study so that they can have an impact on their communities and beyond.”
Kim Pauwels, Materialise volunteer for the Benin summer school program 2019