In 2012 freelance journalist Mariken Stolk and photographer Johannes Odé visited The Hunger Project's Zakpota epicentre in Benin. Five years later they went back and revisited the same people. This is Louise’s story.
Photo credit: Johannes Ode
Finding her voice.
When we arrive at the village Dotan of the Zakpota epicentre, we hear music and singing. Louise Lagni, leader of the women’s group, her close friend and co-leader Gisèle and her entire women’s group are welcoming us, singing and dancing.
Five years ago, Louise told us that she was usually ignored when she spoke up during the discussions in her village. “The VCA workshops at the Zakpota epicentre taught me how to better express my opinion. After that no one has ever ignored me again! I got much more included in the decision making in my community. And that just keeps growing.”
Gaining economic independance.
The women’s credit group that Louise and Gisèle are coaching, has grown considerably over the last five years. There are 70 participants now.
“Five years ago we could only apply for a group loan at the joint agricultural bank,” says Louise. “Because we have all been reliable in paying our instalments, we can now apply for individual loans. That gives us much more leeway, and we are less dependent on our husbands. It is such a relief that we don’t have to ask for money anymore when we need anything."
"At first, I traded mostly corn, but The Hunger Project (THP) advised me to expand my business and I did. Now I also own a street shop where I sell beauty and haircare products and clothes.”
However, the women of the group still have a couple of wishes. Louise: “We can take out a loan up to 2 million CFA (3,000 euros), but that is not always enough to help us increase our income – we would need higher loans for that.”
Promoting health initiatives.
At the women’s group meetings, twice a month, they discuss the problems they run into concerning their businesses, as well as health issues. Louise is a health animator.
“I advise them on the importance of family planning, for example. It’s much better not to have too many children. I have not been pregnant these last five years, because I don’t want more children than the six I already have. My husband did, but I said no.”
Louise is very active in health care. “I assist in giving out polio vaccines (drops) from the government. And I am a member of the committee that monitors the government health post. Villagers that feel they haven’t been treated right, come to me. And trust me, I make sure that their complaints don’t disappear in a drawer somewhere.”
“The other day I was asked to run for village council membership. I did, but I didn’t get elected. In reality, it’s usually the older men who get the votes. Next time I will put more effort in getting elected. I may not have much money and I may not be a man, but I will just push them out of the way!"
I find it extremely important that people become self-reliant, so that they become economically independent and can solve their own problems.
Louise Lagni, Zakpota epicentre, Benin
"When I look back I feel much more balanced now than I did five years ago. I am proud of the things I have accomplished. In five years’ time my youngest children and I will live in a new and bigger house at the lot of my husband. I am not his only wife and I want to be self-reliant. So, I am going to expand my business even more. I will buy an extra field to grow corn and other vegetables, and hire seasonal workers. The revenue from that will be my pension, for when my body cannot work so hard anymore.”
When people are empowered to realise their potential and provided with the skills and knowledge to transform their own lives and that of their community, the change is sustainable. Empower people. End hunger. Will you join us?