The Christian-Liebig-Foundation e.V. is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. In this interview, founder Beatrice von Keyserlingk talks about how this voluntary project changed her life.
April 7, 2020, marks the anniversary of the death of Focus editor Christian Liebig. It has been 17 years since he travelled to Baghdad as a foreign correspondent to report on the Iraq war. He is at the immediate scene of action to report as truthfully as possible about what he hears and sees with his own eyes. Christian Liebig keeps an online war diary and informs his colleagues from the Focus editorial office several times a day by satellite phone about what is happening.
Supposedly for safety
He is not an adventurer who recklessly puts his life on the line and seeks out danger but is not afraid of it in his search for the truth. “No story is worth dying for,” he wrote in his online diary just a few weeks ago and therefore made a conscious decision against that story on the morning of April 7, 2003. As a precaution, he refrained from accompanying the commandos and stayed at the headquarters 15 kilometers outside the city. “I think I have made the most important decision of my life,” he says the evening before on the phone to his editor-in-chief Helmut Markwort.
Suddenly, an Iraqi ground missile hits not even 5 meters away from Christian Liebig. He is dead immediately. His colleagues, who accompanied the dangerous advance of the American command that day while Christian remained at headquarters for security reasons, all return home safely.
The sympathy that follows the news of the death of the reporter, who has just turned 35 years old, is enormous. Hundreds of letters and e-mails reach the Focus editorial office. Readers, politicians, colleagues, friends, and acquaintances express their condolences in touching words, pay tribute to Christian’s work and humanity, and try to give his family and companion at least a little comfort in their grief. And Helmut Markwort announces: “We want to make his work unforgettable.”
After just three days
However, can such a loss really bring comfort and make Christian Liebig’s work truly unforgettable? Yes, says Beatrice von Keyserlingk, Christian’s former partner, when she talks about the time after Christian’s death and takes stock. Together with Christian’s parents, friends and colleagues, she founded the Christian-Liebig-Foundation e.V., an association to support educational projects in Africa.
“The feeling that the energy drawn from the collective grief and sympathy had to be bundled and not allowed to fizzle out came very quickly – after three days, the idea for the foundation was already born,” says Beatrice von Keyserlingk. “Christian has always seen education and enlightenment as the only real development aid – as the possibility of helping people to help themselves. He has often expressed this to me in many conversations.”
Education for Africa at eye level
The association has achieved a lot since then. It has now built 25 primary and secondary schools for around 24,000 pupils who are taught in them, launched many educational projects and awarded scholarships. Mainly in Malawi, but also in the neighbouring country Mozambique for a few years, starting in 2007. Orphanages were financed and two residential houses for 130 schoolgirls were built, so that they have a safe place to live and learn. A bakery for the education of disadvantaged children is also one of the commitments of the association.
“Education is and remains our main concern. It is not alms, we meet at eye level, give guidance for self-help, preserve the national culture and strengthen self-confidence. Do not create dependencies. My work at the foundation, which I have been pursuing part-time for 17 years now in my free time and on vacation in Christian’s name, continues to fulfill me to this day. It was and is the best means of opposing the emptiness and senselessness that Christian’s death has left behind with something good. I consider my commitment to be the best recipe for not melting into self-pity. It doesn’t get you anywhere and it ruins any chance to think outside the box – it means stagnation.”
Beatrice von Keyserlingk, Christian’s former partner