On Thursday, 24 March, the Hubi & Vinciane Foundation honoured its outgoing president Marc Vervenne – honorary rector of the KU Leuven – with an academic session in the promotion room of the KU Leuven. After eight years as president, Marc Vervenne passed the torch to Gilles de Kerchove. We could not let this event go unnoticed.
Kathleen Cools, a well-known VRT journalist and ambassador of our Foundation agreed to coordinate the evening. The guests of honour were Meryame Kitir, Minister for Development Cooperation and Urban Policy, Herman van Rompuy, former President of the European Council and Chairman of the Advisory Board of our Foundation, Gilles de Kerchove, former senior European official and new President of our Foundation, and Professor Ibrahim Toko of the University of Parakou, one of our main partners in Benin.
Chris Van Geet, the vice-rector of the KU Leuven, welcomed the guests and explained the KU Leuven’s vision for North-South cooperation. She, too, is very attached to our Foundation. A few years ago, she and Marc Vervenne took part in a working visit in the cooperation framework with LUMOS, and Benin has been her constant companion ever since.
Marc Vervenne was honoured and pleasantly surprised. Although he thought we would organise something, he did not expect so many people to be present. Marc told Kathleen Cools that the African continent has always been dear to him. Indeed, since he became president of the Foundation, Benin has had special significance for him. He has been a good advisor in the field of cooperation with our local partners and has visited our projects on several occasions.
Minister Meryame Kitir particularly emphasised the importance of fourth pillar organisations – like our Foundation – in development cooperation as a whole. These organisations may be less well known than the big NGOs, but they achieve essential, sustainable, and concrete results locally and have become indispensable.
Gilles de Kerchove and Herman Van Rompuy returned from a working visit to Benin. Both were impressed by the achievements of our Foundation. While much has already been achieved, the work is certainly not finished. We achieve sustainable and locally rooted accomplishments by involving the local authorities and allowing the inhabitants to take ownership of the projects,. Both men were also charmed by the dynamism, openness, positive attitude, and friendliness of the Beninese. They both praised our Benin director, Marcienne Houenou, and the other team members.
Professor Ibrahim Toko from the University of Parakou was in Belgium at the end of March. He is in charge of the aquaponics project in Benin, financed by our Foundation. He was honoured to be able to tell during this academic session how he came into contact with our Foundation. His colleagues had warned him that many organisations make nice promises but do not consistently deliver. Our Foundation proved them wrong. After first contact, the first aquaponics installations were delivered a few months later, and the project could start in earnest. Today, a team of assistants and students is working on-site to optimise the technology further. Professor Toko was accompanied by a dozen students from Benin who are studying at the universities of Namur and Liège.
Unable to attend the academic session, Mohamed Ridouani, Mayor of Leuven, recorded a video message to thank Marc for his years of commitment. He later joined the reception to raise a glass in Marc’s honour.
Unfortunately, Ismael Bako, professional basketball player of the Belgian national team, high-level player of the Spanish team Manresa and ambassador of our Foundation, could not come. He also addressed Marc to thank him in a short video.
After the official part, Pascale Van Assche, delegate of our Foundation, paid a beautiful tribute to Marc. Not only had she prepared an original and personal text, but she had also brought back from Benin a magnificent and symbolic gift: a wooden sculpture representing a water jar with holes in it, carried by a group of people whose fingers close the holes in the jar. To the guests of honour she did not offer a bouquet of flowers but a “bouquet of bananas from Benin”.
The celebration ended with a reception served by the enthusiastic scouts of Diependaal.
It was an excellent end to eight years of the presidency for Marc Vervenne, who can pass the torch to Gilles de Kerchove with legitimate pride.