Microfinance Program Staff Journal Entry: Afro-Optimism

September 26, 2013

Sonia Rahal MFP_0This journal entry was submitted by The Hunger Project’s Senior Microfinance Program Officer, Sonia Rahal.

In Cotonou, I believe once more in Africa.

All around me, I felt an energy that I haven’t known for a long time. The lively THP meetings didn’t hold any of the disingenuousness that is so common among NGOs. In Cotonou, everything was authentic. From the large THP-Benin team, I will remember not only the unique names – Septime, or Feudor – and the enthusiastic young Program Officers. I will also remember Dorcas “Mrs. Microfinance,” an impressive example of professionalism and rigor; Innocent, the Credit Officer with a confident smile; Elodie and Sylvie, who were perfect hosts for the whole visit. And what can I say about Tawa, the driver who devoured the miles and whose car battled sand and pavement to the beat of zouk and Afro-pop!

Finally, there was Pascal, the Country Director of THP-Benin, whose welcome was simple and warm and whose organization was impeccable; it quickly became clear that he oversees a well-oiled machine. Pascal, often camouflaged by his modesty and never haughty, revealed the success wrought from the programs and the unity fashioned from a large team. All of the staff members, even those not mentioned here, share the same devotion to their work – a whole-hearted commitment that doesn’t linger on trivialities.

Kyempo Epicenter MFP smIn the field, I saw communities in action, with the participation of strong and feisty women. “Before, we walked into the village market with our jugs on our heads. With microlending, we were able to buy motorbikes. Now, they call us ‘Amazons,” said one of the partners of Zakpota Epicenter’s Microfinance Program (MFP) as she burst out laughing.

Finally, I was lucky enough to meet and get to know the complex and very human personalities of our team: Dr. Dicko is a bright and accessible Vice President, who was able to use this meeting to successfully galvanize a participatory team spirit of solidarity, while skillfully mobilizing the Country Directors around the new strategic priorities.

And among the CDs, I got to know Madeleine, the courageous and charismatic Senegalese leader; Neguest, the Ethiopian built of wisdom and intelligence; Evariste, the friendly Burkinabé philosopher and Samuel, the lively and smiling Ghanaian! One evening, overlooking the Cotonou lagoon, we were at ease and conversation was simply friendly – our table was pan-African. And God, it was beautiful to see Africa incarnated by these men and these women who carry it in their actions and in their hearts. Intelligent but not pedantic, eccentric but subtle, conscious of its past but committed to its future. The air I breathed wasn’t fragrant from the local beer – la béninoise – but from the warm and powerful wind of Pan-Africanism, a wind full of hope and conviction.

If the apologists of Afro-pessimism like to speak of Africa as a land of fatality where you are born already condemned, I saw something else during this trip. I saw that the possibilities are infinitely greater that what we can imagine. And nothing is forever, because innovation and solidarity will conquer inertia and poverty.

The winds have changed. Africa has straightened its course. The future is there. Here. Now.