José Hounsa supervises the water and sanitation facilities for the Nokoué programme, in Benin. In November, he stayed with several Emmaus communities in France to get a better idea about how they operate and the companions’ work.
What is the aim of your trip to France?
As the water and sanitation supervisor on Lake Nokoué, I run the water organisation and ensure the infrastructure operates properly and is well managed.
The aim of my trip to France is to get to know some of the Emmaus groups, observe how they operate and compare this with how our organisation works on Lake Nokoué. Perhaps we’ll be able to replicate some of the ways they do things.
What have you learned about the way Emmaus communities operate in France?
I’ve seen that the work is well organised and thorough. I’ve also noticed that responsibility is participative. I was expecting to see managers and administrators, but I’ve seen that everyone takes part in the work, whatever their position in the organisation. The managers are directly involved in the communities’ work. Being in charge doesn’t exempt you from getting stuck in. Although that’s not always the case where we are. Basically, I’ve seen that everyone gives their all, all day long. Everyone works their very hardest, eight hours a day. There’s constant activity!
What contact did you have with the companions?
I worked alongside the companions and got involved in a range of activities – selling, sorting, loading and unloading. We also went into the town centre to collect furniture.
This contact helped me realise we have a lot in common. Firstly, a passion for work, and the willingness to devote ourselves to it. In the communities, like on Lake Nokoué, we don’t count our hours, or our commitment! Also, the fact that these people used to be socially excluded, but no longer feel marginalised thanks to Emmaus’s support. It’s the same for us on Lake Nokoué. We used to be socially excluded because we had no access to drinking water and sanitation, but Emmaus International has enabled us to reclaim our rights, specifically the right to water. All this makes me feel truly part of Emmaus.
What kind of solidarity have you seen?
Solidarity is everywhere, it’s a seriously active kind of solidarity!
Between all the companions, between the leaders, and between the companions and the leaders. Without solidarity, work isn’t possible. The Nokoué programme is officially known as the ‘Citizens in Solidarity for Water on Nokoué Programme’. Solidarity between citizens is sometimes lacking, however. Once I’m back in Benin, I’d like to raise awareness about the importance of this solidarity, although I realise that change can take time. I think this change in behaviour and adoption of good practice will be achieved through empowering others to take responsibility; giving individuals tasks to do in a specific timeframe, making them responsible and independent in the execution of the task, and providing supervision.
What will you take away from this trip?
It’s been a very rewarding experience and I think Emmaus International did the right thing to suggest I made this trip to France to better understand how the organisations operate here. The Nokoué programme has largely been financed through contributions from the world’s Emmaus organisations, and I’m pleased to have been able to see the source of this funding. Even though few companions have had the opportunity to come to Benin to see the progress made on the Nokoué programme, they are all well informed about it, and many of them have worked to generate resources for the programme.
I’ve been able to see that the companions used to be socially excluded, and help other socially excluded people, and have used their strength, work and intelligence to support the Nokoué programme.
This has further empowered me and has encouraged me to want to make the local organisation progress a little more day by day.
To find out more about the Nokoué programme :