A year on from Togo – words and photographs by Deki volunteer Liz Stagg.

A year on and it’s time to reflect on our visit to Togo in 2019. 

We left London in the rain and arrived in Lomé, Togo’s capital, in hot, humid weather. Our purpose was to see the impact that Deki supporters have had on the communities we work with and to carry out field research to see how we could improve our programmes. We had a full schedule – working with field officers and other IADES staff in their Lomé office, interviewing groups of entrepreneurs who had taken out a loan and attending various training sessions on gender equality and managing a business. Often whilst these training sessions were being delivered, field officer Emanuel, and a colleague, would be collecting loan repayments and updating beneficiaries’ record books. 

We held strategic planning sessions with Christian, founder of IADES, looking at their plans for growth and how Deki could support them: we planned the budget, discussed the loan cycle and the length of time it takes for people to be approved for a loan and to receive the funds.

We observed a role play with the Yokoe group which illustrated the dangers of allowing customers to buy on credit. We were inspired by the words of Madame Clare of WiLDAF, who explained how women could take control of their lives and provide better opportunities for their children by running their own small business.

One session which I felt made an impact was held on the outskirts of Lomé, with the Lancouvé group. IADES had arranged for a midwife to give a talk on various methods of birth control. She explained how using a contraceptive implant can allow women to decide when to start a family. One woman shared her own experience of using an implant and how, when she decided to start a family, she returned to the medical centre to have it removed. Her 2 year old daughter played happily at her knee.

It was shocking to see children drinking dirty water drawn from an unsavoury well, the mothers were very aware of the dangers of water-borne diseases especially for young children, but knew they had no choice but to give their little ones water. On the other hand, it was encouraging to see girls attending school, learning about maths and geography. Sadly, only a small percentage of girls will have the opportunity to attend beyond primary school, local cultural norms prioritise educating sons over daughters, but attitudes are beginning to change. Through IADES’ training programmes, women are learning about gender equality, how they can make choices for themselves and for their families. In turn this knowledge can be passed onto the next generation, educating their children to new behaviours.

During an afternoon of needs assessments and interviews with beneficiaries in Dzegbakondi village, we spoke to a new entrepreneur about the reasons for starting a community group and for setting up her business. She told us that her husband would not give her money to pay for things her daughter needed for school. Determined to give her daughter a better opportunity, she learned about IADES from a friend in a neighbouring village. She soon formed a women’s group in her own village and set up her business. She now feels empowered to make decisions herself and to send her daughter to school.

I am overwhelmed by the strength of will of the people of rural Togo, who are determined to improve their standard of living and to develop their communities through their own endeavours.

While we were in the village, I noticed a loom set up under a shelter and wandered over to take a couple of photographs. A young boy, in his teens, came rushing over after the village grapevine had made him aware of my interest. He put his bare feet to the pedals and worked the loom with great dexterity, a broad smile acress his face as his work drew admiration from us.

I felt there was so much more work to be done, both on the ground and back in the UK to build awareness of the problems faced by communities in rural Togo. We wanted to stay longer, to make a bigger impact, but we know that we can make a difference through our partnership with IADES and the support we garner in the UK.

The experience is one I will never forget – being greeted by women bursting into song, singing ‘Bonne Arriveé’; being showered with petals as we arrived in Abobo, testing the kids on their geography lessons and the headmaster asking me to stay and teach.

Many hours were spent in Christian’s cramped office devising our strategic and financial plans to make IADES self-sustainable. It was an exhausting week but there was lots of laughter and Deki’s partnership with IADES was strengthened through our work with the communities and the groups we seek to help.

I recognise that an accident of birth meant I have had a privilege of an education and I am proud to be part of Deki’s work to improve opportunities, especially for women and girls in Togo.

Life has been tough for everyone this year, but Covid-19 has had a big impact on IADES and on people running their small businesses in Togo. Your donation will help them to achieve their goals.

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