Schweiz: Marianne Spiller Hadorn

I always found it unfair that such a small proportion of humankind consumes so many resources, while the rest must live in poverty. I did not want to accept it. I could not accept it.

— Marianne Spiller Hadorn

When she was a child, Marianne Spiller Hadorn (born 1940) would prick up her ears when her parents talked about poverty and social injustice. As a result of conversations with liberation theologians like Abbé Pierre and Dom Helder Camara, the teacher and psychiatrist and her husband moved to Brazil in 1972, adopted three children, and in 1979 founded Abai. Today, Abai has a day-care center, homes for "social orphans," and training centers. It conducts prevention programs and holds courses for peasant farmers, provides help for alcohol and drug dependency, and runs a community center.

Marianne Spiller Hadorn’s eyes light up when she talks about Abai: "In 1983, children came to us who were not looked after, and no one wanted them. We took them in. That was the beginning of our social orphanages. It was a new idea in that area to take in children who had been abandoned by their families and to care for them and live with them in surrogate family groups. The social orphanages were an alternative to the huge institutions that treated children like numbers." As her approach showed positive results, it has often been copied by the state since that time. Her work with endangered children started in 1979 aiming to prevent them from turning into street children. Now, the children from that time help the children of today. Since their parents are often alcoholics, Marianne decided to open a therapy unit for alcohol and drug addicts. Today, 30 men from this unit work in the project's restaurant or with the children, and in so doing, learn how to interact in society again. Brazilian staff members teach children and young adults such skills as carpentry, baking or sewing, and provide help with schoolwork. "Every person is important," says Marianne. "Everyone is needed and everyone helps." By planting vegetables, for example, Abai tries to be self-sufficient in food for the 130 meals it provides each day in the day center. The aim is to be proactive rather than dependent. And Abai gives economic solidarity: it supports sister projects in the region and across the border in Argentina. In this way, inspiration can be shared, synergies exploited, and ideas developed jointly, for "another world is possible." And in Marianne Spiller Hadorn’s world no handbag needs to be guarded. Hers is always open, her friends say, be it in Rio de Janeiro or Zurich, for she says that people should be able to have whatever she has.

Associação Brasileira de Amparo à Infância (Abai) Fundação Educacional Meninos e Meninas de Rua Fazenda da Esperança