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Meet our new Country Director Togo: Géraud Hellow!

VSF- Suisse, 20.12.2017
 

Since November 1st, VSF-Suisse has a new director in Togo: Géraud Hellow. The 34-year-old Cameroonian studied veterinary medicine in Senegal and completed a Master in the sector of livestock production in France. Before assuming his present function at VSF-Suisse, Géraud Hellow worked for the FAO for two years, first as a field officer and later as a coordinator in the area of food security. What he likes most about his work is the direct contact with no-mads and small farmers and to contribute to the improvement of their living conditions.

 

Hi Géraud, welcome to the VSF-Suisse team! We are happy to have you on board! Thanks to VSF-Suisse for the opportunity to work with the “Big Family”.

 

 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where are you from? Have you got a Family? I am from Cameroon, but since 1st November I work for VSF-Suisse in Togo. And before VSF-Suisse I worked for the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) in Chad.
Our nuclear family consists of four people: my wife and myself, and our two children. But as you know, in Africa one always regards more people as family. I come from a large family in Cameroon. My father died two years ago, and he gave me the responsibility to hold the entire, very big family together. I have got a lot of brothers and sisters, and then cousins, uncles, aunts.

Can you tell us something about life in Togo? I know Togo since 2013. It is a very small country in comparison to other countries in Africa. It is divided into five regions, and French is the official language. The Togolese people are very kind and hardworking. In comparison to other African countries, the majority have at-tended school, and this is a big asset for the country, because we do not have any lack of human resources. Obviously, with such a high rate of poverty, there is a lack of educational establishments and universities, but when the Togolese have the opportunity to study, they do it very seriously.

 

What was your field of study, and what were your previous positions? I studied veterinary medicine in Senegal from 2001 to 2007. After this education, I wanted to broaden my knowledge in livestock farming, and thus I obtained a Master’s degree in France with a focus on pork value chains, environment and livestock production. And at the moment, I’m about to graduate with a Master’s degree in business management, with a focus on the management of humanitarian organizations. Before joining VSF-Suisse, I worked at the FAO as a coordinator in the field of food security, thus in the field of emergency aid within the FAO. Before that, I worked for FAO as well, but I worked in the field as Field Office Manager in Chad’s interior region of Mao. I enjoyed this experience very much, because it allowed me to work with the rural and farming communities to improve their living conditions, fight malnutrition and increase food safety.

In addition to livestock farming, I had the opportunity to deal with agriculture through the implementation of vegetable cultivation projects, especially the cultivation of the rather unknown moringa plant. The moringa is a very rich, nutrient-rich and drought-resistant plant, so it is ideal for the rather dry areas of the Sahel, where there is usually little agriculture possible. It is important to build upon such plants, which provide an additional nutritional value, but also an important source of income to the population.
In addition to my experience in humanitarian aid, I worked in France as a technician in the pork meat industry. I was also occupied as a private veterinarian in Togo and Cameroon. And I worked a bit for AVSF, that’s short for “Agronomes et Vétérinaires Sans Frontières”, the French chapter of VSF, as a consultant. Furthermore, I worked in Togo, Benin, Chad and Guinea.

 

What brought you to VSF-Suisse? I saw the advertisement of VSF-Suisse and was immediately interested in the job. Firstly, because the position is in Togo, where I have family, and secondly because of the challenge of setting up a new office and searching for new financial partners. And for my career it is a new challenge that I would like to take up.


You only started working for VSF-Suisse three weeks ago. How did you perceive these first weeks? Knowing that the office in Togo has previously been established in the Northern region and not the capital city of Lomé, I was already warned of a certain idle period in my work, because the relocation of an office takes time. The first weeks consisted of making contact with the partners in Lomé. It was easy to get in touch with them, thanks to my colleague Constantin, who had taken over the local representation in the absence of a Country Director. I had already known some of the partners, but others I met for the first time. In any case, we quickly became friends, and this is a good sign of good cooperation in Togo.

 

What is your role at VSF-Suisse? I am the Country Director of Togo, and in a first step, my role will consist in opening the new office in Lomé. I will have to analyze the needs of the local population and check, which of them fall within our field of activity. Then I will have to seek new partnerships and find new funds. We expect to be able to extend the existing project through the financing of the Swiss cantons. But finding new funds for a country that no longer interests many donors is a chal-lenge. In order to do this, I am going to work out a Country Strategy together with the Head Office.

 

The main goal of our project APFA in Togo is to reduce poverty of the population living in the vicinity of the Abdoulaye Forest, and to protect the environment and the biodiversity of the zone. Could you explain to us how you proceed to achieve these goals? The project has got several specific goals, which have been defined according to the needs of the population. Afterwards, activities were identified that allow us to achieve these goals. With regard to project APFA, the activities related to livestock production are a good example. We originally intended to increase the number of livestock, especially the one of the small ruminants. After two or three years, we recognized that the number of livestock has not grown sufficiently. The second phase will therefore be to provide increased support for the training and monitoring of the operators, in order to ensure that the growth dynamic of the livestock is improved, and that livestock can be distributed from one beneficiary to another. We are thus aiming for a snowball effect.
A further step will be to protect the nomads and their herds of animals, who are also based in the Abdoulaye Forest region during certain times of the year. In this project we want to facilitate transhumance by rehabilitating old or building new water points. In this way, the livestock can be provided with water without damaging the livelihood of the farmers in the zone of Abdoulaye Forest. Because the wandering nomads often get into conflict with the local farmers.
I think that it is very important for VSF-Suisse to include this aspect, because Northern Togo is a popular zone for the nomadic peoples from neighboring countries like Burkina Faso and Niger. And the transhumance is the future of the livestock in Northern Togo at the border to the Sahel countries. In Togo, there had been designed specific paths for the nomads and their herds of animals in order to avoid possible conflicts of interest with other beneficiaries of these regions. These paths are provided with water places, and the livestock can be treated with veterinary medicine.
On a third point, the focus will be on accompanying the local communities to a higher level, at which they will be able to take care of themselves, even when the project is going to be finished. In cooperation with government bodies, in particular the ICAT, the Institut du Conseil d’Appui Technique, which accompanies the agricultural sector and other associations, it will be possible to enter the cooperative stage.
And the other environmental activity, which will contribute to the protection of the Abdoulaye Forest, is the reinforced fight against the “poaching” of forest products. We do so by proposing income generating activities to the resident population, in particular the processing of products and agricultural activities. In this way, the effects on the forest and especially the felling of trees can be reduced.

 

That leads me exactly to my next question: in our project, we want to reconcile two areas, that are sometimes considered incompatible: environmental protection and poverty reduction. Do you think this will work? That works very well, because by giving people the opportunity to practice other activities such as livestock production, agriculture and product processing, the attractiveness of forest exploitation, for example hunting animals or felling trees to produce coal, or hunting, diminishes. And these other activities are new sources of income. 

So it is about training people over and over again, to accompany them in their product chain, from production to processing and marketing.
What do you like best about your work? I would say, above all, the contact with the farmer, the beneficiary, who is the first reason for our local presence. Working with the beneficiary population groups is always an opportunity to learn, to see new things, which is very valuable. It is not given to everyone to visit places, to travel, to see new things.
There are always thousands of beneficiaries in a project, and that is why there are thousands of new people you meet. In general, you do not know everyone, but often these thousands of people know you: “Ah, it is you, Géraud”. When you arrive in a beneficiary village, everyone calls you, they come to you. And it is a joy to bring something with you. And that makes me happy. It is a pleasure to bring something for them.
Could you tell us a little bit more about how you spend your free time? I have just found a new home with my family in Lomé, a house that has a very large garden, and so I spend my free time setting up the garden. By the way, this gave me some blisters (he shows his hands and laughs), I wasn’t used to doing that after years of work in the office. And now I have enough to plough and cultivate… I also watch TV programs about politics and business and about the innovative in entrepreneurship in Africa. I also do a little, very little bit of reading, but that is something I have to improve. I have to organize myself to find time and interesting readings.
Which message would you like to transmit to people in Switzerland, who support VSF-Suisse? First of all, I would like to thank the Swiss people who support the actions of VSF-Suisse. It is a very noble act to donate for people you don’t know or for people you have never seen. I really want to thank them for that. I am not speaking on behalf of VSF-Suisse, but on behalf of these populations to which I belong…
I believe that these are actions which must be continued, actions which I support. Because every African country has its specific characteristics, a large part of their citizens still excluded, many of them belong to the most disadvantaged classes. In any case, there are more disadvantaged groups of the population than people who are able to respond to their needs.
There is still a lot of work to do to support these people, so that they can gradually take care of themselves, and thus avoid seeing how they dare to cross the Mediterranean or that they are kept in Libya as slaves.
Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions with such precision and kindness. We wish you the best in your work and private life and are very happy to work with you. Thank you, it is a pleasure to work with VSF-Suisse.
(Interview: Selina Baumberger)

 

 
















 

Tags: Togo  VSF-Suisse has a face 
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Dr Andre BEDEKELABOU

25.04.2018
Hello Dr Géraud I'm a veterinary Doctor from Togo. I have just finish my veterinary trainnig here in Senegal at EISMV and i'm looking for a job. If you need a person for technical assistant in AVSF-Suisse in Togo please contact me. it will be my pleasure to work with you to meet the challenges of livestock development in Togo my country.

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