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Sunday August 13, 2006

The countess of concern


The world's population of AIDS orphans is expected to grow to more than a 100 million by 2010.  

Their lives will be threatened by hunger, disease, neglect, sexual abuse, prostitution and war, which will often occur in remote places, away from media attention. 

One woman – French Countess Albina du Boisvrouvray – has made it her calling to reach out to these children and offer them a chance of leading safe and meaningful lives. 

Countess Albina du Boisvrouvray is the leading champion of AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children.
The Paris-based cousin of Prince Albert of Monaco is the world's leading voice in calling for world attention to the plight of AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children. 

There have been many such champions before her but few have dramatised the issue as a global problem. And none has done it so successfully. 

The cause, however, was thrust upon her rather tragically. Her only child, Francois-Xavier Bagnoud, who was actively involved in helping children with AIDS, died in a flying accident during a rescue mission over Mali in 1986. He was only 24. 

Shattered by her loss, du Boisvrouvray could not continue living the life of luxury that she was used to. After selling her film production company and most of her personal assets, she went away on a Medicins du Monde humanitarian mission to Lebanon. 

“I sold three-quarters of my family inheritance, jewels, paintings and property. The proceeds came close to US$100mil,” she says in a recent interview in Bangkok. 

Half the proceeds was donated to charitable causes that her late son was passionate about and the remaining half, close to US$60mil, was used to found the Association Francois Xavier Bagnoud (AFXB), to support programmes dedicated to AIDS orphans around the world. 

“ From 1989 onwards she has been devoting all her energy, credibility and talents as an entrepreneur to humanitarian service, for women, children and orphans ravaged by the AIDS crisis, throughout the world. 

“AFXB has, so far, developed 87 programmes in 17 countries throughout Africa, Latin America, Europe, the United States and Asia, to control the effects of the disease,” explains Supattra Kattiya-Aree, the Bangkok-based regional AFXB representative. 

du Boisvrouvray extended her reach into South-East Asia in 1990, starting with shelter and support activities for abandoned HIV/AIDS infected babies in northern Thailand, hardest hit by the AIDS epidemic when it began in the 1980s. 

Today, there are three rehabilitation homes offering programmes of social, psychological and professional re-integration for young women rescued from the sex trade in Thailand.  

Among the women and children rescued from Thai brothels, 95 were from Myanmar. They were sent back to their country in 1993.  

“A comprehensive programme was put in place to re-integrate the former commercial sex workers into society and equip them with marketable skills through vocational training,” said Supattra. 

du Boisvrouvray visited Thailand in late 1992 and set up four FXB Houses in Chiang Mai in collaboration with the locally-based Support the Children Foundation. The homes are now fully self-supporting.  

Countess Albina surrounded by some of the AIDs orphans in India who receive help from her organisation, along with millions of other children around the world.
The countess is now looking at other areas in the region were AIDS orphans need urgent assistance. 

Even in her early days the blue-blooded du Boisrouvray was a maverick of sorts. She was reputedly a rather militant, liberated woman of the world who evolved into writer and film producer. 

As a journalist for the Nouvel Observateur, she scored a scoop with a story on the circumstances surrounding the death of legendary revolutionary hero Che Guevara. Her story was published by L’ Express and broadcast by French and Scandinavian television channels.  

In 1970, she co-founded Libre, a literary magazine that published the works of many famous Latin American writers who subsequently became literary icons, including Plinio Mendoza, Carlos Franqui, Octavio Paz, Claribel Allegria, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Carlos Fuentes. 

Between 1969 and 1986, she founded a film company, Albina Productions and produced 22 movies in 17 years, notably – Les Zozos (1972), Pascal Thomas’ first movie, Police Python (1975) by Alain Corneau, L’important c’est d’aimer (1975) by Andrzei Zulawski and Fort Saganne (1984) by Alain Corneau. 

In 1985, she was made Chevalier des Arts et Lettres and became the first film producer to be awarded France’s coveted L’ Ordre National du Merite

It was not be an exaggeration to say that the last United Nations Special Session (UNGASS – May 31 to June 2, 2006) in New York, met, thanks to her pressure on governments of the world to keep the promise they made during the United Nations Declaration on HIV/AIDS, in New York in June 2001. 

UNGASS' main agenda was to review the commitments made in 2001 to fund programmes to deal with the AIDS crisis. 

The countess who had repeatedly warned that national action and the donations received may not be enough to respond to the global AIDS crisis and the crisis of orphans and children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS was proven right. 

The UN Special Session failed miserably to meet the benchmarks set five years earlier. But on her part, du Boisvrouvray has been true to the ideals of the landmark UN Special Session in 2001. 

A prime mover behind the launch of the World AIDS Orphans Day (WAOD) on May 7, 2002, the Countess has so far persuaded 271 cities – New York and Washington DC included – in 38 countries to officially proclaim May 7 World AIDS Orphans Day. 

The idea behind WAOD is to demonstrate the need for a global solution to the problem of AIDS orphans and vulnerable children. The adoption of WAOD as an annual event helps to focus world attention on distressed orphans and vulnerable children. 

Her impassioned plea to people who matter in making a difference has been simple and consistent:  

“We exhort political, religious and cultural leaders to mobilise all necessary resources to urgently, grant special assistance needed by orphans and children made vulnerable by AIDS.”  

  • To learn more about Albina du Boisvrouvray's work, visit: http://albina.org/indexeng.html  

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