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ML: How did you end up in Monaco?
MA: After finishing my Masters in France, I was planning to go live in England where I’d found a job in marketing.
But one evening, while I was heading to a new pub in Old Nice, I got lost so stopped to ask someone for directions. This passerby in fact accompanied me to the pub in question and eventually became my husband. I never went to the UK and ended up moving to Monaco in 1994.
ML: Child CARE Monaco is a Monegasque association created in 2012. Why and how did you create it?
MA: In 2011, we took a family trip around the world. I told my children, then aged 8 and 10, that we had to thank all the wonderful people we were going to meet during this world tour and combine a humanitarian aspect with our exploration of our beautiful planet.
In India, we met street children in a centre where a man named Mr Ramesh Paliwal was helping them to “re-socialise”. I asked my children what we could do for them and we bought school supplies and organised a snack together. When Ramesh told me about the circumstances of these children and his work with them … I promised to come back and help them. Which I did when we finished our world travels, because it wasn’t just about buying them pens and candies and then abandoning them.
I kept my promise. Ramesh had also told me about these girls from a village near Udaipur who needed to be educated and helped. We went together and had a school built.
Returning from our trip, I created the Child CARE Monaco Association. I gathered support for this cause from all my friends, who continue to support me and then had the idea of organising a Women’s Car Rally that raises funds for the running of the school and for the associated costs.
My two children continue to be involved in this great cause and understand the importance of education and respect for others with these social differences.
The value of a person depends on his actions, not who he claims to be.
ML: Can you give us some of Child CARE Monaco’s key facts and figures?
MA: The school costs around €15,000 per year to run, which includes education, uniforms, basic care, two meals a day, and wages, plus the additional costs of school maintenance (painting, electricity surplus, last minute expenses, etc).
I organise child sponsorship – 149 €/year per child – to help keep things running smoothly and provide for every student.
The association is made up of me as Founding President, Vice-President Annie Battaglia, Secretary Dominique Revelly and Treasurer Bernhard Ackermann. We also have other volunteers: Caroline Healey (with whom I am in India at the moment), Ella Miscrikhanova, who has accompanied me to India, Michael Vassalo, Desire Levaillant, Igor Malyskhov and Gersende Chialvetto.
ML: What are your goals? What are your achievements in India (school, bikes, etc)?
MA: The primary objective is for girls to go to school safely without fear of being raped, kidnapped, or abused on the way, as well as to have health facilities worthy of the name, which is not the case in the majority of schools in India, and is the source of many problems because no access to sanitation means no privacy.
Also, you have to understand that girls in India represent a burden for families because of the dowry, and because boys take priority when it comes to education. Girls are not taken into account. Why educate them when they will always be the “maids” of their future husband’s families.
So in 2012, I first visited the village of Trestha, Rajasthan, where I met with the chief about the importance of having a school in the village to educate the girls. The chief has always given me his full support and is both motivated and involved in the project.
In 2013, we opened the first school in a grain warehouse that the chief had put at our disposal as a test and to show the villagers the changes in the village.
From 60 girls we went up to 105, and now have a waiting list. Our school has become a model in the region not so much for the quality of education as for the infrastructure and equipment. The government has paid for the construction of the road from the village to the school.
Then in November 2017, I went back to distribute bicycles that we were able to buy for the school girlsthanks to our donations and sponsors.
ML: Tell us about your annual women-only vintage car rally in September.
MA: The idea of organising a women’s vintage car rally came to me one morning. I wanted to put together an all-female event to show solidarity and to fight for a good cause while at the same time being glamorous and combining business with pleasure.
So every year, I suggest a theme – last year it was Gingham style – so that everyone is dressed the same and comfortably. No labels, no visible luxury logos. We are here for a cause: female solidarity and the education of girls.
We leave Monaco in the morning from the Café de Paris with a road book, and travel the beautiful landscapes of the French Riviera before returning to Castelroc, at the Place du Palais in the evening, where Prince Albert gives us the great honour of awarding one of the prizes to a winning team, and then we finish off with a cocktail.
I would also thank the government for their support and encouragement: Stéphan Valeri, President of the National Council; Jacques Pastor, 4th Deputy Mayor Delegate Sports and Recreation Department; Patrice Cellario, Minister of the Interior, Jacques Medecin, Ambassador of Monaco in India; Virginie Cotta, Chief of Staff for Mr Valeri; and Gery Mestre, President of the Automobile Collection Committee of the Automobile Club of Monaco.
Fabrice Leroy from Rent-a-classic-car in Nice supplies many of the vehicles although some ladies drive their own cars.
This year’s rally will take place on Sunday, September 16, and for this fifth edition it’s a nautical theme … Sea, Sun and Stripes.
ML: Your only other annual fundraiser is a gala dinner in December?
MA: Yes, the association’s other big event is a gala dinner which takes place early December at the Salon Bellevue at the Café de Paris – this year it will be on Saturday, December 8.
This is really about the opportunity to get members together and thank them for their support, and to screen the film of our last trip to India – to show the school, the schoolgirls, the delivery of the bicycles, for example, the celebrations and the girls dancing. It’s so important to show this film, to help everyone visualise the work we do on the spot and the evolution of one year over another.
ML: How does membership work? Do you need volunteers or assistance to organise the Car Rally?
MA: There is no membership. People who wish to sponsor the education of a child for one year for €149 have the opportunity to receive e-mail photos, as much as possible.
I always emphasise the fact that we are all volunteers. We cannot pay someone on site to take pictures every month and send them. When I’m in India, I do my best with the limited time we spend with the girls to take pictures and e-mail them to families. Then at Christmas, a group photo, a photo for Diwali usually accompanied by a drawing.
I also have to explain to sponsoring families that unfortunately, we are not immune to the possibility of arranged marriages, that the girls stop school to get married and go live with a good family.
We are happy to have seen a decrease in this practice but we cannot go against ancestral traditions.
ML: Describe what life is like for the girls you help. How does it affect your life?
MA: In the morning, the girls start school depending on the season. The day begins with song and then yoga. After they have classes like mathematics, English, Hindi, geography, drawing. The fastest schoolgirls can go to the library to read books and get ahead in their work in English.
After school, it’s not uncommon for them to go to work with the parents in the peanut fields, cotton fields, wheat fields, or lentil fields. Some bring in the goats and the others prepare the meal several times a week. For this reason there is no homework. They are very motivated to go to school and some teach their mothers to count and read stories. Several mothers have come to tell me and to thank me.
I am very happy to see it this way because the first time I went to the village it was very different. They had a very harsh look, never smiling. They had never seen a blonde woman with white skin and I intrigued them.
Now more than six years after that first meeting, they take my hand and do not want to let go, and often families invite me to their home for tea or coffee. They are much less sick than before. They have emancipated themselves, became self-confident, and became flirtatious.
It makes me happy to see them evolve and motivated to become “someone” as they say.
ML: You are in India at this moment. What are you doing there? Describe the life you see.
MA: I am currently in India because we have just built an enclosed area to park the bicycles and caretaker’s cabin, and I wanted to check that everything is in line with what we had planned.
Also, I had asked to build two new games for the school playground and install surveillance cameras … because the school is a victim of its success; it’s attracting the curious and I don’t want our equipment to disappear into thin air.
Ganshyam Paliwal, the school supervisor, and Ramesh asked me to come and inaugurate the new spaces.
Usually when I’m here, I distribute letters and gifts to sponsors’ families. I make sure to take a picture of each girl with her present and her drawings, which I then send by email to the sponsors. This is the hardest and longest part of my trip, and usually takes 2 to 3 days.
I also spend time in each class where I speak in English and evaluate a student’s level from one year to the next. On site, we play games to build the girls’ confidence. When Annie accompanies me in October, she takes care of the creative workshops, such as drawing in the library and designing cards for the sponsors.
Right now I’m here with Caroline. She presented each class with a lesson on hygiene and explained how to drink water properly. On my side, I taught them how to tell time. I brought small clocks .. and they loved it!
ML: You are one of the Monaco’s most social people, as documented on your FB page. You have a busy family life, where do you find the energy to go to all these events?
MA: I like life and I like people. I am curious and I adapt to all situations. My energy stems from my curiosity. I love giving my time to others and making them happy as best I can. Their happiness feeds me with positive energy that I can in turn pass on to others.
ML: What do you hope your own children learn from your mission in India?
MA: Carla and Theo, who have the chance to live in a clean, safe environment, to go to school, to eat to their heart’s content, and to travel around the world with us, know that this is not necessarily the same case for all children.
They both help me with the association and have understood that happiness is also about sharing, about keeping it simple and about being open to others. And to be curious while believing in yourself and your dreams. If they understand that and live by that, I will have given them the best education.
ML: You live in two worlds different complements – Monaco and India. How do you manage both?
MA: Yes, I live in two completely different worlds but I am the same person, Martine Ackermann. I am still me and my values don’t change, just my comfort.
For me, the value of a person matters more than everything else. At the moment I’m in India, in the middle of a power outage so no water … I’m going to heat the water for my shower … I’m surrounded by great people as I write and life is a simple happiness when you do not ask too much.
I like “bling bling” because I can use it to have fun but not to exist.
For more on Child CARE Monaco, see www.childcaremonaco.com. Article first published March 28, 2018.
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