How did you come to create a children’s village in Morocco?
I have been sensitive to the plight of the weakest for over 50 years. “Why does he have nothing while I have everything? This question has preoccupied me since I visited a children’s village in Switzerland at the age of 22. It was then that I knew that one day I would want to create something similar. After ending my career as an entrepreneur in the insurance industry, I came across the plight of abandoned children in Morocco. In 2008, I moved with my partner from Küsnacht, near Zurich, to Marrakech and decided to give up half of my fortune to build the village. Construction began in 2013 and the first children moved in in 2015.
How do babies and children arrive in your children’s village?
People who find abandoned babies usually bring them to one of the shelters in the country. But these are overcrowded. The staff doesn’t have time for individual encouragement, play and fun. Some of our children came directly from there to our village community. Others come from very poor families. However, most of our Atlas Kinder arrive in the village as babies and are assigned to us by the family courts.
What condition are the children in when they arrive in the village?
Many of our babies are already traumatized before they are born. After all, no one was happy about their birth. Some children come from broken families, have been through terrible things and are all contracted and scared when we welcome them. It’s beautiful to see them open up and develop over time. We need to do everything we can to make each child feel loved, protected and valued.
Where do the children’s foster moms come from?
Our foster moms usually come from the surrounding villages. We select them with great care. They are not only the most important reference person for the children, but also a link to the traditional community. The foster moms are fully trained in health care and hygiene.
How long do the children stay in the village?
The Children’s Village is the home of the children. They will also be welcome at any time as adults.
We are responsible for the education of the children and must allow them to follow a training or an education later on. Our children must become full members of Moroccan society. In this way, they can support the next generation of Atlas Kinder.
Where does the name Atlas Kinder come from?
Our first children’s village is located at the foot of the Atlas Mountains. Atlas also represents the globe, and the name is synonymous with internationality. I want to create a beacon, a pilot project to emulate. I want to offer a vision and an education to the children of the world who have no chance. We could build such villages all over the world. There are thousands of Hubers who have a good heart and enough money to build similar villages. Anyway, the rest of my life belongs to the children.
You not only built a kindergarten, but you also opened your own elementary school in the first children’s village. Why did you do this?
We originally sent our children to a public school, but they were stigmatized as “children of shame” and went home confused and unhappy. We had to act quickly and opened our own school in September 2018. Of course, we take into account the religious, historical and cultural context of Moroccan society as well as the education laws in force in the country. The organization “La Fabrique des Écoles” financed the completion of the shell, we are very grateful to them. In 2020, the school was expanded through a partnership with a private bank in Geneva.
Your first children’s village Dar Bouidar has its own gallery of precious works that you sell for the benefit of Atlas Kinder? How did this come about?
All my life I have collected art from all over the world. Each painting has a story. Now I sell the art and the proceeds go to our organization. You buy a painting, you help the children and at the same time you give a new story to the painting you bought. It’s a wonderful cycle.
Summarized in a few sentences, what is the philosophy of the Atlas Kinder?
We have a painting in our first village that says “Pride” on it. Everything revolves around that. We want to make our children proud and strong people, who don’t let themselves be crushed just because they grow up without their biological parents. They have to be especially armed or they will disappear. We must, through our education, replace the missing family pride. Later, our children must be able to say, “I speak four languages, I play a musical instrument, I can dance and ride a horse – and what can you do?”
What do you wish for your Atlas Kinder?
I wish that the stigma of abandoned children would stop, I wish that society would change its mindset. I wish that children who grow up without parents are no longer marginalized. But most of all, I wish that one day, no mother will be forced to abandon her child.
Atlas Kinder in 15 years – what is your vision?
The first generation of Atlas Kinder will have found their place in society as craftsmen, teachers, lawyers or doctors, and this of course also applies to our daughters. None of our children will be stigmatized or discriminated against. There will be Atlas Kinder villages all over the world, so that every abandoned child will be lovingly cared for and given the best chances for the future.
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