The organizers of the ‘Dreaming, daring, doing’ charity evening had counted on around 100 participants and were hoping for some 200, but didn’t dare imagine that more than 250 people would turn up in the end.
It was a fine program, with testimonials from chocolatier Dominique Persoone, VRT journalist Loubna Khalkhali and former President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, who is also Chairman of our Foundation’s Advisory Board. Cellist Emiel Vertongen added a musical touch.
As a long-standing ambassador of our Foundation, Katleen Cools, journalist and presenter of Terzake on VRT, was the perfect hostess.
Pascale Van Assche, deputy member of the Foundation’s Board of Directors, who has just returned from a working visit to Benin, gave a brief history of the Foundation. Created in 1982 after the death of Hubert (Hubi) Adriaens and Vinciane Van Assche, the Foundation has become a renowned development partner in Benin over the past forty years. While its original focus was on healthcare, through the hospital where Hubi was active, it is now involved in nutrition, education and training, agriculture, agroecology and entrepreneurship.
This last area, particularly women’s entrepreneurship, was the theme and thread running through the charity evening.
The Beninese government is investing. The road network, for example, has improved in recent years. However, the support of organizations like ours remains essential to strengthen the local population. The Foundation finances all its activities through donations from supporters and the funding of specific projects. The annual amount involved is around 300,000 euros. Almost all of this (over 95%) is directly invested in projects in Benin.
Renowned chocolatier Dominique Persoone has experienced this first-hand. A few years ago, he and Prince Emmanuel de Merode built a chocolate factory in Virunga Park. They aim to offer local cocoa producers a fair price – the price they receive has doubled in the last six months – and create jobs. Instead of buying expensive packaging machines, dozens of women work as packers. Only local ingredients are used in production. Nothing is imported. Moreover, 100% of the factory’s revenues are reinvested locally. The factory is now ten times larger than when it started, and export is gradually being considered.
Dominique’s main aim is to get people working. What’s more, chocolate is sold locally at a very low price. So people who have had cocoa beans in their gardens for years can taste chocolate, often for the first time.
For Herman Van Rompuy, infrastructure and the impact on logistics in Benin remain a point of pain and work. In recent years, the European Union and European countries have invested in infrastructure, agriculture, education, healthcare, etc. Strangely, the EU is Benin’s biggest trading partner, not neighboring African countries!
Loubna Khalkhali hopes, above all, to inspire other women. Patriarchal society is deeply entrenched in Africa. It was partly to find an answer to this problem that she studied Arabic and Islam. Young women need role models. Through her work as a journalist in a male-dominated sector, she hopes to contribute to this. When she reported on the earthquake in Morocco, she observed how women were the bastions holding local society together in the destroyed villages.
Dominique Persoone also notes the resilience of the women who work in the chocolate factory. Many of them are widows of injured or murdered forest rangers, with many children of their own. Yet they remain optimistic.
“If emancipation, women’s rights and equality are essential elements to be promoted, a certain humility is called for,” explains Herman Van Rompuy. In our country, the right to vote for women was only introduced in 1948. And until the early 1960s, women working in education were not allowed to marry.
He believes there can be no economic prosperity for Africa unless population growth is curbed. Today, 1.2 billion people live on the African continent. If demographic growth continues at the same pace, they will number 4 billion by the end of this century. What’s more, Africa suffers the most from global warming. Although it is already the poorest continent in terms of per capita income, it has a substantial resource base that makes Africa coveted. However, most African countries lack the necessary political stability. Fortunately, Benin is an exception, with a president genuinely caring about the country’s development.
Dominique Persoone believes, above all, in the tangible. Concrete results are a source of motivation. He has also recently set up a school where men and women can learn a trade.
Herman Van Rompuy spent a year in the Belgian Congo as a child. Later, it was there that he met his wife on a plane over Lake Victoria. His bond with Africa is genuine, and he didn’t hesitate for a second when Pascale asked him to become Chairman of the Advisory Council. From his visits to Africa, he retains the enthusiasm and joie de vivre of the people above all. It’s for them that he wants to remain committed.
Loubna Khalkhali finds it heartening that initiatives such as the charity evening are taking place. There are so many terrible things happening today, but there are also a lot of people who want to do something good.
The icing on the cake was a sneak preview of the fascinating report by 28VISUALS director Andreas Jansen on Belgian singer Ian Thomas‘ visit to our Foundation’s projects.
In the evening, we raised 13,445 euros, which will be invested in our projects to promote female entrepreneurship.
Thanks to donations from all our supporters and to our many sponsors: Vandemoortele, Ritchie, Van der Poorten, UCLL Hogeschool, Elsen Kaasambacht, Portal Azenha, Dormaal Farm Brewery and 28VISUALS.
Thanks also to Bernadette Abts, Kathleen Cools, Peter Janssen and Neal Van Loock for organizing the evening.