Gerson Konu, whose real name was Kwadzo Gaglo Gù-Konu (1932 – 2006), was the originator of voluntary workcamps in his homeland, Togo. Workcamps which are still run by the ASTOVOCT – The Togolese Association of Christian Volunteers at Work. In 1957, when a young primary school teacher, Gerson discovered international voluntary workcamps in Ghana, and thus heard about SCI for the first time. On returning home he founded an association called ‘LVT’ – Volunteers At Work.
Togo which had recently become independent (1960) was at that time under the the presidency of Sylvanus Olympio, and Gerson was elected Member of Parliament for the region of Kpalimé. The LVT workcamps were a response to the needs the new state whereby local people were encouraged to take in hand their own development. Villagers, secondary school pupils and foreign volunteers – African as well as European – worked shoulder to shoulder. In parallel with these workcamps, Gerson organized literacy tuition programmes in the local vernacular. These initiatives were very successful as they corresponded to people’s aspirations, all the more so as they fitted in with the indigenous custom of working together.
After the coup d’état of 1963, and the assassination of President Olympio, Gerson was arrested and tortured. He was freed four years later thanks to petitioning by Amnesty International and the IVS, the British branch of SCI. He then fled to France where he found work in SCI Paris office, and became a permanent member of staff. From 1970 to ’78 he was SCI International Secretary for West Africa, alongside Jean-Pierre Petit, International Secretary for North Africa. He developed links between SCI and partner associations in Africa. He founded the UACVAO, that is, the Union of West African Workcamp Associations in order to strengthen these associations, and also started long-term projects with local communities. In France he set up a certain number of aid groups which pursue long-term exchanges with African partners, including ‘The Women and Development Group’ which works with village women in Africa; the ’Vendée – Africa Group’ which carries out exchanges with African farmers and craftsmen.
In 1978 he resigned from his position with SCI and went to work for the International Secretariat of Amnesty International in London. He was in charge of the development and support of A.I. branches in Africa.
Throughout his exile he was threatened by the régime in Togo, and was not even able to visit his homeland. He became very ill, and on retiring shared his time between London and Ho, a small village in Ghana not far from the Togolese border. He continued to launch development projects based on trust in local initiative, and to support human rights associations in Africa.
All those who have known Gerson have been impressed by his passionate desire to bring about a democratic Africa – independent, developed and open to the rest of the world – and by his perseverance in furthering these aims in every possible way.
From a homage to Gerson Konu, by Nigel Watt.