INTERVIEW/Caroline, Princess of Hanover discusses for L’Obs’ the priorities of Amade Mondiale over which she has presided for 25 years. The princess makes no hesitation to campaign, sending strong messages advocating the dignity of women and migrants forced to flee from conflict or poverty, who are “desperate to find their place as a person”.
You initiated the Dignity for Women programme. Amade has co-funded the manufacture of Makapads, biodegradable sanitary towels made in the Gbadolite camp from papyrus and paper fibre. How did this idea come about?
It all started after a meeting in September 2016, during my visit to the Mungote camp for internally displaced persons in the east of the DRC. There, with the UNHCR and UNICEF, Amade backs a support programme for the demobilisation of former child soldiers, the “Capoeira for Peace” programme. During my visit, in the privacy of a tent, the women wanted to confide in me on the abuse they are victims of, and their complete lack of access to personal hygiene. In great destitution, forgotten there for many years, unable to return to their home region afflicted by war or to resettle within the hostile communities bordering on the camp, they asked me, as a woman, to be their spokesperson for their dignity to be restored. Obviously I could not remain indifferent to their call and resign myself to this situation. Consequently, I wanted AMADE to mobilise alongside the UNHCR in order to give them a real solution.
Was that when you found this original initiative?
After some investigations, in Uganda we were able to identify an initiative led by a local NGO, Technology for Tomorrow, enabling the manufacture of fully biodegradable sanitary towels from natural materials. We asked this NGO to go to the DRC to adapt the technique to the local conditions. In this way, a first manufacturing unit was quickly installed in Gbadolite refugee camp on the Central African Republic border. You can imagine my joy when I was able to go back to see these women this September and give them the first MakaPads products. It is a first step in a process we wish to continue with the UNHCR to allow these women to regain their dignity!
The notion of dignity for women has increased relevance today, whether in Africa or in the western world, with the Weinstein scandal, the #balancetonporc operation etc. Has Amade planned to fund other programmes to promote girls’and women’s rights and change attitudes?
Amade places special emphasis on equal opportunities, by fighting gender discrimination in particular. Furthermore, if children are at the heart of our concerns, Amade is also aimed at the community and at mothers first of all. In Mali, for example, for two years we have been obtaining very good results in reducing infant mortality through our work with mothers to raise awareness of good health habits, reproductive health training and the spreading of health micro-insurance enabling children to access quality care at the first signs of malaria or dysentery. Another priority for Amade is girls’access to education, especially in secondary schools. 2018 will therefore see the creation of a high school in Burundi and a secondary school in Niger, in which we will prioritise girls’ schooling.
Is that a key to development for you? A struggle which particularly moves you?
Of course, it is fundamental. There is an urgent need to invest heavily in girls’education, since we know that only 20% of girls continue their studies to secondary school in the countries where we are established. Education is a powerful development and stability tool for families and their communities. A child whose mother can read is 50% more likely to reach his or her 5th birthday.
In Burundi, you want to promote access to digital education with a pilot programme, creating digital libraries. How?
Africa will see its population double by 2050; a terrific opportunity as long as those children can be educated. Beyond infrastructure construction, the major challenge remains teacher training but also access to quality teaching content. Faced with this observation and interactions with our partners in the field, Amade is therefore at the root of an initiative to foster access to digital education. This programme targets two objectives: making content available to learners and teachers in schools by creating digital libraries, and developing and distributing digital apps to enable children to access textbooks, corrected exercises and correspondence courses etc. directly, using their mobile phones. A first initiative has just taken shape in Burundi, where in the secondary school governed by Amade Burundi we have created a digital library in partnership with the NGO Bibliothèques Sans Frontières (BSF – Libraries Without Borders). BSF has translated the Khan Academy app into French and Amade will work with this NGO to digitise Burundian textbooks.
Is a link with Monaco Tech possible?
Why not, working in partnership is always preferable in order to generate synergies and mutually enrich our experience. At this time, Amade is in contact with the Kenyan start-ups grouped together in the Nairobi IHub. Kenya is in fact a leader in new technologies and innovation for development, particularly through the development of dedicated apps for payment by mobile phone (M-Pesa), access to health and to education. These start-ups in a growth phase, such as Kytabu (whose app is used by nearly 300 000 children in Kenya) which are talking to, are interested in working with Amade with a view to expand also in the French-speaking market. There are a great deal of opportunities to develop in this area, and it will be a priority for Amade in the coming years.
Programmes are underway to help refugee children in Sicily and Ventimiglia. Is managing current migration, reflecting wars, a challenge of this century in your opinion?
Historically, man has always moved in search of new opportunities, fleeing areas of conflict; it is nothing new. However, what is new is this tremendous population growth which Africa is experiencing, the multiplication of areas of conflict and the existence of these so-called failed countries, unentitled countries. People flee their countries with regret, the entire challenge of this century is to prevent these migrations and restore hope in people by allowing them to live with dignity, safely in their country of origin; this is where our responsibility lies.
These migrants are sometimes rejected in their host countries. How can we change prejudices?
As is often the case in this kind of situation, ignorance drives people to look inward and fear personally for their situation; this type of reflex breeds fear of others, stigmatisation. When we are in contact with these migrants, we realise that these women and men, forced to flee by conflict or poverty, are dreaming of a better future and are driven by tremendous energy, desperate to find their place as a person. In Germany, with the Roland Berger Foundation, we support a programme for the professional integration of young migrants. After a period attending vocational secondary schools, these young people are employed in the automotive sector. Our partner decided not to house them in the working-class suburbs of Munich but rather in residential areas. Needless to say, this initiative received a cool response from the residents. But these young people’s arrival in an aging population very quickly resulted in the strengthening of a social bond which was somewhat stretched thin. Obviously this kind of approach needs to be helped.
Your daughter-in-law is involved personally in the programme in Sicily. In what way?
Beatrice, who is particularly sensitive to the fortunes of unaccompanied migrants arriving in Italy, has indeed wished to take action for the initiative we support in partnership with Terre des Hommes Italy for the psychosocial and legal assistance of minors without a family who land in Sicily after crossing the Mediterranean, and to do so in two hotspots (Ragusa and Syracuse). Beatrice wanted to go into these centres to meet these young people and talk with the teams of psychologists and lawyers which her action has made it possible to mobilise.
What are Amade Mondiale’s other priority programmes for 2018?
As we have seen, our priorities for 2018 are the “Dignity for Women” programme, the “Capoeira for Peace” programme, the digital education access programme and the care of unaccompanied minors programme, which is already substantial. We must, in fact, focus our efforts so that we can continue to monitor the supported programmes in detail, particularly in the field, and ensure the consistency and effectiveness of our work to help children. However, following my last visit to the east of the DRC, we have also made the decision to mobilise to care for girls who are victims of sexual abuse. Thanks to our donors’generosity, in 2018 Amade will therefore fund the construction of a mother and child facility in the Heal Africa hospital in Goma, specialised in operations for women and children rape victims. We are also interacting with Professor Mukewege of the Panzi Foundation, the doctor who “repairs women”, and I hope to be able to support him in his extraordinary work serving these forever scarred girls. In this country where civilians are victims of an appalling psychological war, rape is a weapon. Grandmothers and babies are raped – we must put a stop to this.
_Interview by Milena Radoman