For more than 50 years I’ve been aware of the needs of the deprived. Why does he have nothing while I have everything? This question kept nagging me not least since my visit to a children’s village in Switzerland when I was 22 years old. Then, I knew immediately: that is something you will do, too. After I finished my career as an entrepreneur in the insurance business, I came across the destiny of those ‘put-away’ children. In 2008, I moved from Zurich to Marrakech and decided to use half of my liquid wealth to start building that village. Construction began in 2013, and the first children moved in in 2015.
In many societies, unmarried mothers are stigmatised and excluded from social life. Those extreme circumstances make them place their newborns in front of a church and such.
People who find the babies usually take them to one of the reception centres which exist across the country. But those are totally packed, and there is no time to develop children individually and to offer playing or sports opportunities. Most of our children come to our village community straight from such centres; others come from very broken homes and are assigned to us by the family courts.
A lot of our babies have already been traumatised before they were even born: nobody wanted them to be born. Many of their natural mothers have tried to terminate the pregnancy by all means. Other children come from broken homes, have experienced terrible things and are very rigid and frightened when they come to us. It is great to see how they are thawing and prospering over the course of time. We have to take all efforts to ensure that each child can overcome its trauma and feels loved, protected and appreciated.
In the most cases, our ‘mothers’ are from the surrounding villages. We select them very, very carefully. They are not only the caregivers, but also important links to the traditional community. All foster mothers are trained and receive instructions in health care and hygiene.
We are responsible for their education and have to guarantee that they can complete a training or such later. I am just about to start an apprenticeship system based on the Swiss model so that they can later train to become a joiner or a fitter. Our fosterlings are staying in the village until they have completed their training and are able to support themselves.
Our first children’s village lies at the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. Atlas, however, also refers to the globe and represents internationality. I want to create a beacon, a pilot that will be copied by many others. I want to provide a vision and education to the children of this world who never had a chance. We could build such villages worldwide: 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.
The first thing I started was the crèche – a mix of kindergarten and prep school for our children aged two to five. I developed the crèche to ensure that children are developed and supported right from the beginning and get a better start at school later. Here, they are taught in French and Arabic. Learning a foreign language is the key to communication, and communication is the key to acquiring knowledge. In the end, the children have to find their place in a globalised society. Later on, I might team up with experts to build a school, too.
First of all, all children should grow up in beautiful surroundings, amongst art and culture. Here, on every wall you will find paintings, drawings and photographs. Soon, I want to open a studio and invite artists from the neighbourhoods who can teach the children how to create their own works. Likewise, each child should learn how to play an instrument. We follow the motto: mens sana in corpore sano. A healthy mind needs a healthy body, too. So each Wednesday we take the children to Marrakech for physical exercise. In addition, I have hired a PE teacher, a young student who exercises with the kids every Sunday at our premises.
My whole life I have collected artworks all over the world. Each picture has its own history. Now I am selling the pieces and the proceedings are given to our organisation. Someone buys a picture, helps the children by doing so and thus creates a new story for the painting that he has just acquired.
I guess I am the only Protestant Christian who has ever built a mosque in Africa. I have even hired an imam who is in charge of the religious community. Religion pays an important part in the Moroccan society, so, briefly spoken: the mosque is very important to help children integrate better in life later.
Yes, our children should grow up being surrounded by animals, trees and plants and also learn something about farming. In the future, the villagers are supposed to harvest fruit and vegetables from their own farm.
We have one painting in the village which has the title “Fierte”, which means pride. That’s what this is all about: we want our children to become proud and strong people who will not be crushed just because they have grown up without their natural parents. They have to be particularly strong – otherwise, they will go under. Our education must be able to replace the missing family pride. When they are grown up, I want our children to say: “I can speak three languages, I can play a musical instrument, and I can dance. And what can you do?”
Exactly. We deliberately decided against TV sets and mobile phones in the homes. That is what the amphitheatre with its 300 seats is for: it is a stage for our children, but also for storytellers, actors and musicians who are visiting our village. A three-year child is listening to a violin concert: that is the moment when dreams are created. We give our children a vision!
You cannot find hearting as a verb in your dictionary, but I think we all know what it means. Everything we do, giving our heart, friendship and love to the more disadvantaged, will show its impact. Love can help close wounds. If we let our hearts talk, we can help children to get their right – a right to a life full of visions, dreams and opportunities. With our hearts and our love, we will empower them to get that.