On Sunday, November 27, about fifty partners, administrators, donors, and supporters celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Foundation in the impressive Gothic hall of the City Hall of Leuven.
Kathleen Cools, Ambassador of the Hubi & Vinciane Foundation, once again led the celebration.
In his welcome speech, Dirk Vansina, alderman of the city of Leuven, expressed his admiration for the achievements of the Foundation and – surprise – extended an invitation for the Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2032.
Kathleen Cools visited Benin for the first time in November. She said she was extremely touched and even moved now that she had seen firsthand all the Foundation had accomplished over the past 40 years. “My meeting with Zouerath, the young girl who was saved from severe malnutrition thanks to the efforts of the Foundation’s nutritionist, will always be etched in my memory. I am convinced that the Foundation’s work is and remains very much needed.”
Pascale Van Assche, Managing Director of the Foundation, explained that the Foundation started 40 years ago by supporting the small bush hospital in Papané but has since become one of Benin’s most important regional development partners. “The role of the city of Leuven in this evolution should not be underestimated. Thanks to grants from the city, with the project “Every woman her banana tree”, the Foundation has been able to distribute no less than 20,000 banana cuttings to as many families as possible and has taught them how to care for a banana tree. This project, among others, has reduced severe malnutrition in children under five from 12% to 3%.”
The event’s special guest was Marcienne Houenou, Director of the Foundation in Benin, who had come to Belgium especially for the occasion. She has known the Foundation for almost 20 years: first as director of the hospital in Boko and for the last five years as director of the Foundation with a team of nine local employees. She emphasized that the hospital in Boko has become a reference hospital thanks to the support of the Foundation.
She lamented that people often wait too long to get to the hospital. It is then too late to help them. That is why, about five years ago, the Foundation decided to work also in a preventive way around a balanced diet and hygiene. “The detection and treatment of malnourished children, support for the creation of vegetable gardens in villages and schools, the banana project, the construction of wells with drinking water, the construction of sanitary blocks, etc. These projects are part of an integrated approach to fighting malnutrition.”
Marcienne also spoke about agriculture and entrepreneurship, another important sector in which the Foundation is active. Here, an important project is underway today in creating an incubation center where young entrepreneurs receive the necessary support.
Finally, she thanked everyone with a sincere Flemish “DANK U” for the many efforts made.
Then it was the turn of Benoît Akando, Honorary Consul of Benin in Belgium, anesthetist, and member of the Board of Directors for a year and a half. “I have known the Foundation for a long time. I wanted to join the board for two reasons. Concentrating work in a particular region and well-defined areas allows the Foundation to work much more efficiently than many other organizations. There is also a link between Belgium and Benin. I was born in Benin and went to high school there, but I came to Belgium on a scholarship for my university studies. Benin has made considerable progress in recent years, but “there is still a long way to go”. And Benin will not succeed without the necessary help. And it’s not just about money but also about knowledge, technology, development, and training. Especially in the country’s north, where poverty is terrible, and people are easy prey for extremism, the need for training and support is immense.”
Gilles de Kerchove, president of the Foundation, concluded the festive celebration. “I thank Piet Van Assche very explicitly, who unfortunately passed away in March but turned the personal tragedy of losing his daughter into such a wonderful and lasting project. I would also like to thank Pascale and Marcienne, two strong ladies at the head of the Foundation.”
Gilles then elaborated on the values of the Foundation: respect and trust, commitment, shared growth, and sustainability… “Today, relations between some African countries and Europe are a bit more complicated, especially in the context of the war in Ukraine. Trust and respect between Europe and Africa must be rebuilt. We must grow together so Benin can meet the many environmental, economic, demographic, and religious challenges.”
After these inspiring speeches and personal testimonies, it was time for drinks and snacks offered by the city of Leuven.
Thanks to Leuven, and thanks to all the supporters and volunteers.