A trip to the world's poorest children

Every trip that takes me around the world as a reporter brings unforgettable moments. Whether in the slums of Nairobi, in war-torn Mostar or at Ground Zero in New York. There are always encounters that leave a deep and lasting impression on me.

This October I had the opportunity to travel to Malawi. Together with Beatrice von Keyserlingk (chairwoman of CLS) and Carolin Nagler (CLS secretary), I went to visit some of the schools and homes that the Christian Liebig Foundation has been helping to build over the past twenty years.

This trip was one of great personal importance to me.  Christian was my colleague at Focus magazine. He worked as a foreign correspondentt, while I wrote about issues in Germany. We would meet at conferences, in the hallway, in the cafeteria.

On April 7, 2003, he was hit by a missile while working as a reporter in Iraq. The news of his death hit us all very hard.

20 years later, I walk into a classroom in southern Malawi with his then fiancée, Beatrice von Keyserlingk.  I look at the blackboard. The chalk notes from the last lesson are still there. It makes me catch my breath. I see a photo of Christian: "1967-2003".

1967, the year I was born. I swallow hard, feeling pain and sadness.

Over the next few days, I see Christian everywhere. His name lights up on the side of the road and at school entrances. His portrait adorns classrooms and dormitories.

Just how much he means to the people here is evident at a ceremony in Liwiro, where the first school bearing the Focus journalist's name was built 20 years ago. "Christian Liebig is here!" a speaker shouts into the microphone. "He continues to live among us!"

I'm not the only one touched by this, Beatrice von Keyserlingk is moved as well. She says, "Christian would be so happy if he could see how things are developing here."

She and her team have accomplished so much. Thousands of children who were living in abject poverty with their families and had no prospects now have a future. They are learning to read and write to study and to build a better Malawi.

I speak with former students who are now working as midwives, mining engineers, or welders. They are proud of what they have accomplished. And they are grateful. They still affectionately call Beatrice "mum".

I was particularly struck by the story of Esther Chikupira. Even as a child, she was determined to pull herself and her family out of the poverty trap. Barefoot, often on an empty stomach, Esther walked for miles to primary school, where she studied in miserable conditions. Her greatest blessing, she tells me, was being accepted into the Christian Liebig Secondary School.

"If I hadn't had this opportunity, all of the doors for my future would have remained closed," says Esther. Today, she has a bachelor's degree in sustainability and hopes to make her own living soon.

But it's not only Esther's story that shows me that the work of the Christian Liebig Foundation is both relevant and important, even if it is a fromidable task. Beatrice von Keyserlingk and her team are doing an "admirable job". This is confimed by Ute König, the German ambassador in Malawi.

Many images have stayed with me. For example, the scene where Beatrice von Keyserlingk and the headmistress of a government primary school walk hand in hand through dilapidated classrooms with broken desks and chairs.

Or the speech by Chief Kunthembwe of the Nkuyu community. He praises the construction of the school in his region, which is cut off from civilization, as a "true gift". No other aid organisation has dared to take on this task. Only the Christian Liebig Foundation.

At the end of my trip, it is clear to me that the Munich-based association will only be able to solve a fraction of the problems that Malawi suffers from. But every single child who goes to school with the help of the well-invested donations is a success. Another ray of hope.


That's exactly what my colleague Christian wanted.


Göran Schattauer
Chefreporter Focus online



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