How we started.

The charity was set up in July 2003 by Laurence Lalanne, a former BBC Africa correspondent, following a visit to the village of Bonou. It became clear that even with very few resources the village was making considerable efforts in terms of their own development, but their needs remained huge. The plight of a seriously injured girl in the village, at the time of Laurence’s visit, highlighted the lack of basic medicines and health facilities. This was the catalyst for Laurence to set up the charity.

Laurence's account of her first visit

Laurence Lalanne, Founder of Friends of Bonou writes:
“The first time I went to Bonou, a journey that was to have a huge impact on my life, was in January 2003. As a former BBC journalist in the World Service African Section, I already knew the continent very well as I had been travelling to and reporting from there for 20 years, often to very remote and dangerous areas. But that morning, I was a 'tourist', which in Africa, for me, was a rare feat! The reason was that I had heard through a friend of mine that the villagers there had achieved quite a lot in terms of their own development with very limited resources. As I was in Benin on a freelance assignment, I took a few days off to go to Bonou. I visited the small community school, the micro-credit institution that the villagers had created themselves without help from outside (and which gave a rate of return superior to anywhere else in Benin!), talked with the High Council of Elders and I was becoming very impressed indeed. Once again the negative images of Africa that I had tried so hard to combat during my whole BBC career were proven to be wrong or at least not the whole picture. Then I went to the Health Centre also created by the villagers and it is there that I saw a young woman who had been attacked with acid in neighbouring Nigeria after refusing sexual favours to a man. Her body was an open festering wound and she was in terrible pain but the Health Centre did not have enough medicines at the time to relieve her pain. Besides her pain, she was at risk of dying of general infection. Back in the capital, Cotonou, I arrange to send a few antibiotics to the young woman in Bonou and her life was saved. Back in England, that experience but also the dynamism of these villagers who were so resilient in adversity and above all, were doing so much to help themselves remained with me. So I thought of asking a few personal friends to contribute a small monthly sum to help the Health Centre to buy a regular supply of medicines, that little 'push' which could make a difference and provide some security and forward planning where there is permanent uncertainty. Friends responded very generously and after only a few months, I was able to return to Bonou to give the first thousand pounds. But it soon became apparent during the many conversations I had with the Elders of the village that the plight of the injured girl was the consequence of a bigger problem: that girls, uneducated and devalued as in many other developing countries, go to Nigeria to earn a living (mostly as domestic help) as they have no prospects in their own village. So the problem had to be tackled at the source and the Elders explained that the solution was to build a training centre, the Sonagnon Centre which opened its doors in 2007 after a lot of fund-raising activities.