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A passion to save orphans all over the world

Albina du Boisrouvray visits a development project she supports in Rwanda. M. Pelletier/ Corbis Sygma

Countess Albina du Boisrouvray is rarely in Switzerland. She spends most of her time jetting between world capitals to lobby governments and big business, and visiting slums where she funds projects to help the poor.

This content was published on September 30, 2000 - 14:53

Her work includes highlighting the plight of children directly or indirectly affected by Aids in Africa.

"The talk is of 40 million orphans in Africa by 2010 but our studies show that it's probably going to be four times that figure," she explains at a meeting in her chalet above the resort of Verbier.

"It includes the children who are affected in the same way as orphans, who are in extended families who take orphans in," the Countess adds. "So that makes a much larger number of children who are out of society, out of education, health services, love and caring because very often their parents can't take care of them, or the extended families are very old or dying."

Her Foundation Francois-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) is named after her only child who died in 1986. He was a helicopter pilot who had flown hundreds of rescue missions in Switzerland and abroad before he lost his own life in a crash.

She says the charity has three aims that continue his passions; financing aeronautics at the American university he attended, supporting aid projects in canton Valais, and rescuing people.

To satisfy the third goal, she set up a separate association with the same name, initially funded by the foundation, to do humanitarian work. It is involved in various projects in 13 countries, dedicated to promoting children's rights and improving health, primarily by combating Aids.

"I've been an activist since my student days. I was always trying to get into groups that bettered the world in one way or another," the Countess explains.

"I even tried to get into politics but was very disillusioned by the way politics works, and thought it was much better to be outside where you had much more freedom of speech, and you could be much more effective. So I have a long history of being concerned, not specifically by children but about human rights, about injustice, about poverty about hunger, about peace."

Always present in her mind is her grandfather, Simon Patino, the Bolivian "Tin King" who on his death in 1947 was considered among the richest men in the world. In her words, he "heartlessly exploited kids the same age as his grandchildren in a form of economic slavery."

In 1989, she sold off 60 per cent of her estate, much of which was inherited from her grandfather, to start the foundation.

"I thought FXB should focus on the children and those most destitute of all, which are orphans. I think the world should make it a priority to get these kids back into society, because they are the future of every country."

She sees her strength as a lobbyist, as her position enables her to get to the decision-makers. As far as she's concerned, there is enough money and know-how to fight the Aids epidemic and return orphans to society.

"The problem is how do you get the money down to the grassroots, to trustworthy grassroots, how do you monitor it. The programmes are all there, the people at the grassroots have their own way of dealing with getting their children back. You just have to be sensitive to what their needs are, listen to them, help them."

She finds inspiration from the people at the grassroots, and to illustrate why she takes on such a mammoth task Albina du Boisrouvray tells a story:

"There's a beach, it goes on for miles and miles, and there are starfish that have been brought in by the tide and have been stranded on the beach. They're dying in the sun. And there's a man walking on the beach and he sees a woman picking up the starfish and throwing them back into the water one by one."

He's very intrigued and goes up to her and says, 'but look this beach goes on for miles and miles and there are millions of these starfish, you'll never be able to put them all back into the water, so what does it matter?' And she takes the one she has in her hand and while throwing it back into the sea says 'it matters completely to this one'."

by Dale Bechtel

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