Non profit founder lives and works in the Amazon neighborhood of Eugene, but his impact reaches far beyond the borders of Oregon
Kokouvi, in his soft demeanor and thick Akposso accent, can speak endlessly about the poor living conditions in Africa. After only a couple minutes of speaking to him, it is evident that he dedicates his life to his passion of helping people in rural Africa find better economic conditions for themselves.
In the 1970s, Kokouvi Oni Peter witnessed first hand how poverty and hunger affected his home, family in his rural village in Togo, Africa. He saw how the devastation affected his community and he was, from then on, determined to change it. His 112-year-old grandfather taught him to find the solution to the problems that affects many people who have no resources to do it themselves.
Kokouvi’s interest and drive to help people beyond the means of money inspired him to create his non-profit organization Hands Helping Humanity. He first began his work in his home country of Togo to focus on demographics that live outside the borders of government aid and wealth. Beginning at its initial inception in Togo in 2005, HHH representatives have begun to advise rural communities on ways to improve women’s education, management skills, culinary experience and efficiency, as well as language skills. Kokouvi holds a strong belief in the power of education and the effect it has on the community.
“To educate a man is to educate one person,” Kokouvi says. “But to educate a woman is to educate the community.
Kokouvi’s experience growing up in a rural and impoverished village in Togo opened his eyes to the inequalities that women and children face and how helping them has the power to help solve issues of inequality and poverty. As the founder of Hands Helping Humanity, Kokouvi devotes his time and energy to developing his program and sacrifices being home in Togo and sleep in order to make it happen.
Kokouvi arrived in Eugene in 2004 with his wife Afiwa to develop the plans to make Hands Helping Humanity an official organization in 2008. After his first challenge of naming the organization he proceeded to write the by-laws by himself, which indicates his passion considering he wrote them in English, which is not his first language and only one of five languages that he speaks.
“He likes papers,” said Kokouvi’s wife Awifa. “I don’t. He always likes to be reading.”
Kokouvi’s 12 years of experience of working for the United Nations refugee and returnee programs, a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture Science and a Masters degree in Rural Economy and Development helped him develop the his desire and network for creating Hands Helping Humanity.
Kokouvi came to Eugene to share how people lived in all countries. One goal he has for HHH is to share the African diet staples of corn, beans and kasava to people in America with the hopes that the crops can be improved with the technology and eventually spread the knowledge back to the developing world.
Kokouvi says he has known people to go three days without eating due to unfair pricing forced upon the farmers by the government and by spreading the knowledge of increased economical ways to use their staple crops, the rural poor and the wealthier communities will become more equalized.
“Poverty does not exist everywhere,” Kokouvi says. He explains that the resources and wealth is just not well dispersed among all communities.
In Africa, namely Ghana, Benin and Togo, Kokouvi currently has a pilot program to reach the rural communities and train them to find solutions to the economic instability and inequality themselves. The Buway-I-Solution focuses around the populations in the rural areas of the countries, because they do not receive the same attention and aid as people within the city limits, Kokouvi says. As someone who grew up in a very rural area of Togo, his experience directly influences the communities that he knows needs the help.
One goal that he has is to train and educate 100 women in rural areas of Africa in just one year. Though HHH’s resources are limited, Kokouvi and his team of 300 people in the field in Africa know the value of giving the communities advice and an education. “Money is good,” Kokouvi said. “It can help, but it’s not a priority.”
Eventually after he has developed his pilot Buway-I-Solution program, he plans to present it to the United Nations for funding and support. “If they give me just one tenth of their annual budget, I will get three times their results,” Kokouvi said.
Kokouvi’s dedication to the humanitarian cause of HHH originated decades ago. “Its something I had in mind since childhood, so I want to see the results.”