Antonino Serra, Buenos Aires-based Senior Policy Officer at CI, visits Seychelles, a group of islands east of Africa, and finds the beautiful surroundings are home to a strong consumer organisation presence.
If you stroll with Jules Hoareau, the Executive Director of the National Consumers Forum (NATCOF) of Seychelles, through the streets of tiny Victoria, you’ll surely spend much of your time waiting for Jules to greet and talk with people. Jules is very well known in Seychelles, as he is not only an officer at NATCOF but is a journalist that conducts TV and radio programmes that are very popular in this archipelago immersed in the bluest waters of the Indian Ocean.
The popularity of Jules is also the popularity of NATCOF. The name and advice of the Forum are widely spread all around the city – stuck on the sides of public buses (or the Tata Bus as Sechelloises call it), on banners hung in-between trees. From giving warnings to businesses to write contracts that are written clearly, to encouraging consumers to eat ‘bread fruit’ – a local version of fried potatoes – consumers know their rights and have a name to remember if they need help with problems with goods or services.
My own experience in Seychelles was one of the most interesting in my twenty years working in consumer issues. I found an organisation that is not only powerful but very professional, with truly dedicated people committed to pursuing consumer welfare. They are a handful of people that work to ensure that the 87,000 inhabitants of the country have their rights respected, and are reminded of their duties.
Consumer education workshops
I went there to be a facilitator in a workshop on consumer education for teachers and professors of elementary and secondary schools. The workshop was organised in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and the support of the Anne Fransen Fund.
Bernard Shamlaye, the Minister of Education, was present at both the opening and closing ceremonies, and delivered a speech in which he stressed that consumer education is an essential asset for developing wiser citizens and a better marketplace. He promised the continuation of the efforts in order to ensure permanent training for teachers and professors on consumer issues.
But it was Raymonde Course, NATCOF’s Chairperson and true leader that set the tone of the workshop. She said that consumer education is for life, and this ‘mantra’ covered all our activities. She understood that consumer education deals with activities essential for everyday life, to help us to be better people, better citizens and more aware consumers.
The workshop was designed to trigger debate and discussion. It included a market survey, which involved participants walking though the streets of Victoria in search of the prices, labels and languages of food and cosmetics. This exercise was a great companion to other classes: Madame Course led a delicious session on the basics and importance of following a budget at home; Jules led a hilarious presentation on what the free trade and market economy is – or should be! – using an approach concluding with Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup can pictures and Pop Art.
Throughout the workshops there was the kind and merry intervention of Jacques Koui, the ‘entertainer’ and well-versed consumer specialist from the Ministry of Education.
Entangled in the beauty of the landscape, entwined in the friendliness of their people – the experience of sharing a time with colleagues of Seychelles was unique. To all of them – now friends and fellow consumer activists – a big thanks.