From BØRNEfonden Child in Benin to Bacteria Researcher at SUND – University of Copenhagen

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01 June 2017

From BØRNEfonden Child in Benin to Bacteria Researcher at SUND

Tv-appearance

Gildas grew up in poverty in West Africa and received financial support from BØRNEfonden enabling him to get an education. Later he obtained both a bachelor and a master’s degree, and today he is a PhD student researching cholera bacteria at SUND. Last Tuesday he met his Danish sponsor in front of rolling cameras.

The children in Yaovi Mahuton Gildas Hounmanou’s home town did not have high hopes for the future. Large parts of the West African country Benin are marked by poverty. So he and his friends from the small fishing village mainly hoped to finish school and find a job that could put food on the table.

Some of Gildas’ friends succeeded, while others had to leave school early because they were unable to pay for books and tuition. As for Yaovi Mahuton Gildas Hounmanou – or just Gildas, as he is called – it is a slightly different story.

He finished school and obtained as many as two university degrees, a bachelor in Benin and a master’s degree in Tanzania. Today he is a PhD student at SUND, where he researches cholera bacteria. Last Tuesday he appeared on TV2 Lorry, where he met his sponsor from the children and youth foundation BØRNEfonden.

More Sponsor Children than Expected
Gildas’ sponsor is a Dane called Johan Alsing living in Hundested. It was Gildas who contacted BØRNEfonden, wanting to meet his sponsor. He had something to say, you see.

’Wow, it is so good to finally meet you. Thank you’, Gildas said.

Johan Alsing was happy to hear that Gildas had done well. He was especially pleased to learn that his sponsorship through BØRNEfonden, which in fact was meant for Gildas’ cousin, had been sufficient to cover the schooling of all the children in the household.

‘I was so happy to hear that it helps, and that the money I have paid really make a difference’, Johan Alsing said to TV2 Lorry.

Finally, Lots of Books
The money from BØRNEfonden went to tuition, school uniforms and books, among other things. And Gildas describes his schooling as fun, though he, in his own view, was merely a ‘B student’ in primary and secondary school. But that changed when he moved to the largest city in Benin, Cotonou, and enrolled in university and became “A” student.

‘I come from a place where life is hard, and where there was nothing to read. But when I moved to the city, I finally had the same opportunities as other young people. In the library I was able to read all the books I wanted. And I could go online and continue reading. The culture I had brought with me from the village was the need to work hard, and now I was able to optimise it’, Gildas says.

Gildas former school


Hard work and a strong work ethic is something his present PhD supervisor, Professor Anders Dalsgaard from the Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, recognises in Gildas:

’My experience of him is a talented and eager student. He is very committed to his project. If he has sent me an email with a couple of questions and he has not received an answer in a day or two he often shows up at my office to get an answer’, Anders Dalsgaard says.

Met PhD Supervisor in Tanzania
Because he worked so hard on his bachelor in Benin, Gildas explains, he was encouraged to apply for EU funding to take a master’s degree at a university in Tanzania. He was accepted and wrote his master’s thesis on cholera bacteria.

This was also where he met Professor Anders Dalsgaard, who was in Tanzania doing a Danida project.

‘He independently and with great drive explored the possibility of continuing his research. In fact, he applied for a series of PhD projects and was offered several. But he chose the project here at SUND, because it gave him the best opportunities’, Anders Dalsgaard says.

Research at SUND to Fight Cholera
Just like his master’s thesis, the PhD project that Gildas is doing now is about cholera bacteria. He is studying the bacteria epidemiologically, examining how they are related and mutate with time. He is also looking at fish and plankton as carriers of cholera and sources of infection of humans.

In the long run Gildas hopes his research will help reduce the prevalence of cholera in Tanzania, where he is collecting data. But he also hopes his research will prove useful in his home country Benin, which is also struggling with the disease.

If you ask Gildas about Benin, he is very proud of where he comes from. In fact, he is convinced that many other young people from Benin could do what he has done.

‘I think all the children from my village could have come as far as I have. It is just a matter of opportunities and hard work. BØRNEfonden has given me a lot of opportunities, and I believe there are many more talented young people where I come from. If more were given the opportunity, they would prove me right’, Gildas says.

In the future, he would like to continue his life in science and research, while starting an agricultural production to help create jobs for the locals in Benin. He would also like to establish a foundation enabling poor girls in Benin to get an education. But not the next three years, where he will be working on his PhD here at SUND.