The first activities of Terre des hommes
By the end of 1960, Edmond Kaiser’s vision to save children’s lives became a reality: Terre des hommes brought seven children from Sicily and, two months later, 20 children from so-called regroupment camps in war-torn Algeria to Switzerland to be cared for. What started with the intention of saving hungry, sick, injured or abandoned children turned into a programme that we now call specialised care. A look back in the mirror.
After having created Terre des hommes in 1960, Edmond Kaiser used his network and connections to save “those suffering the most amongst all those suffering.” Seven children from Sicily, with health problems such as tuberculosis, were the first to be brought to Switzerland for treatment.
Being particularly aware of the misery of children in Algerian camps during the war, he called on the services of a friend living in Algeria to bring, on 28th February 1961, a first convoy with 20 Algerian children from the regroupment camps to Switzerland. Others followed.
From this moment, Tdh began to register all arrivals in a document known as “The Bible.” It is still used today to register the names, country of origin as well as date of arrival of all children brought to Switzerland. In the beginning, most of them were taken into care because of malnutrition or illnesses such as polio and tuberculosis. In the years that followed, Tdh expanded its activities and network to other countries to include heart and orthopaedic surgery to correct physical deformations.
The so-called "bible" with the first registered children's names and dates of arrival.
All this was made possible thanks to the generosity of the general public who, thanks to the media, were made aware of the deplorable conditions in which these children found themselves, and through the personal network of Edmond Kaiser that included hospitals and airlines who offered their services free of charge.
In 1970, a group of volunteers inaugurated the newly created recovery home, “La Maison”, in Massongex. Today, it allows children with complex heart defects, who cannot be treated in their home country and are brought to Switzerland for surgery to be accompanied until they recover.
This is all made possible thanks the following solidarity chain:
Since 2011, the Swiss University Hospitals we work with do not only carry out complex heart surgery on children brought to Switzerland, but also go on surgical missions to countries in West Africa with the aim of training local staff in more complex medical operations.
In 2019, 242 children, most of them with complex heart defects, were successfully operated on in Europe and 86 children were operated on in their home country during the surgical missions. Our long-term goal is for children to be cared for locally.
A look into the past: this is the second article of 12 about the history of Terre des hommes on the occasion of our 60th anniversary.
Join our “Child Fund” campaign
In an interview with RTS on 13th February 1968, on his return from Vietnam, Edmond Kaiser declared: “[...] we would no longer have the right to call ourselves humans or responsible adults if we allow ourselves to become complicit and deliberately decide to do nothing, despite being aware of this infinite pain.”
While an increasing number of children now live in better conditions, several million of them still need support and protection. To mark our 60th anniversary, we launched a campaign on MyTdh, our online fundraising platform. The aim is to collect 60,000 francs in one year. We can do it together, thanks to your generosity and loyal commitment!
Join our “Child Fund” campaign now by using your network and support our programmes for helping children around the world. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts!
Photo source: the originals are held by the Archives cantonales vaudoises, Fonds ACV PP 1053, Terre des hommes Foundation.