Since the beginning of Omoana’s activities in Uganda, I have come across many stories of children, men and women whose strength, hope and suffering have left their mark on me. Whether they are artisans or beneficiaries of Omoana’s work, they have brought to life a commitment that goes beyond fundraising and daily activities to remain above all human. Many times, I’ve seen their astonished looks at so much suffering. But I’ve also often been surprised by the resources they find within themselves to face up to adversity.
I think of the perseverance of two teenagers we support. One was a child soldier. The other was HIV-positive, suffering from tuberculosis, meningitis and malnutrition. Both will be going to university next year. They want to become doctors or work in tourism.
I’m also thinking of this woman, a mother of 6, who lost several members of her family during the war. She admitted to me that she had thought about committing suicide because she found it so difficult to think about the pain and to survive in extreme poverty. She then had access to micro-credit. Little by little, her family’s situation improved. Sending her children to school became easier, and food security within the household also improved.
These people inspire us. But this is just the beginning. They will undoubtedly make their contribution to the development of their country, and to humanity as a whole.
Some of these children have not had the opportunity to show the world what they are worth. They often died in atrocious suffering, which the rhetoric of justice and equal rights cannot adequately describe. What did they do to deserve this? They did nothing. Their innocence is simply not important enough to too many of us. Today, no one should die of AIDS or malnutrition. It is negligence above all, at both global and local level, that means these children are leaving us like this. I’m also overcome with sadness, because I can’t forget the cries of pain of their relatives at the sight of the lifeless bodies of these young people. But I like to think that they have become angels who help us fight for the rights of their brothers and sisters. I remember Catherine’s charming smile, Yvan’s dance steps and Rukia’s vivacity. I tell myself that their courage, which inspired us so much, was not in vain and that their loss was priceless.
Because it was children who left us. Every 5 seconds, a child dies of hunger in the world, even though the planet has enough resources to feed 12 billion human beings. According to UNICEF, 230,000 children died of AIDS in 2011. Diarrhoea kills 760,000 children every year. All these diseases are manageable with treatment, yet the heads of our country’s pharmaceutical companies are getting indecently rich.
When we make a commitment to a better world, many people look down on us and describe us as idealists. According to Larousse, the word idealist means “one who obeys an ideal, who believes in absolute values of a moral, social or intellectual nature, in order to improve society or mankind”. They often pit idealists against pragmatists. The definition of pragmatism is “the attitude of someone who adapts to any situation, who is oriented towards practical action”. The people who fought for our rights have often been described as idealists. But thanks to their perseverance and faith, they have enabled some of us to live free, healthy and happy lives. They directed their actions to uphold their ideals.
Edmond Kaiser, founder of “Terre des hommes” wrote: “If we opened the world’s cauldron, its clamour would make heaven and earth recoil. For neither heaven nor earth, nor any one of us, has truly measured the terrifying scale of children’s misfortune or the weight of the powers that crush them.”
Even if it is impossible to quantify the pain, the avoidable death and agony of the world’s children is just as unacceptable as the crimes committed during the Second World War. We said “never again”. If we were then talking about atrocious man-made crimes, it is difficult to understand the incoherence of this world, where the morality of our view of history and our actions applies differently to certain people, at certain times. If refusing the intolerable is idealism, then we certainly fall into that category. Those who claim to be pragmatic in preventing the necessary advances in human rights around the world often claim short-term structural or economic reasons. Every action taken to uphold the dignity of humanity as a whole must look beyond its own village, beyond the preconceptions of its own time. There are millions of us who want to see the wheel turn in the other direction, whether we come from Africa or Europe, whether we are men or women, black, yellow or green with rage. Charles Péguy once said: “The man who wishes to remain faithful to justice must be incessantly unfaithful to the inexhaustibly triumphant injustices.

When we talk to our fellow citizens about injustices, many of them blame others: politicians, dictators or the world of finance. There is certainly some truth in this. But it is also up to us to influence this state of affairs so that, in the words of Fatou Diome, “In the scales of globalisation, the head of a child from the Third World weighs less than a hamburger”. The way we consume can make a difference, with means of action such as fair trade products. The way we vote, too, on issues such as the export of Swiss arms abroad, or speculation in food commodities.
Many organisations are also trying to alleviate the suffering of people in the South or to promote development within their communities. The efforts of Omoana, its committee, its president Mathilde Jordan, its partners and donors, all with the collaboration of the children’s families, to offer them prospects for a sustainable future remain essential. It’s true that many injustices take place in faraway places thousands of miles away. But they are happening now. That makes us responsible for making this world a place where living is more than a privilege. The stories of children supported by Omoana mentioned in this speech testify to the fact that in this world anything is possible. A sincere thank you to all those involved in Omoana’s work who simply don’t give in to fatalism.