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During our 'MEET's' we meet up with inspiring people and we talk to them about issues that play a role in the world of MARIE-STELLA-MARIS. Our last interview was with Pieter van Twisk, Director of Africa Interactive. This week we meet up with Maaike de Vette, program officer at Aqua for All.

What is your connection with MARIE-STELLA-MARIS?
\"Through my work at Aqua for All I have been involved with MARIE-STELLA-MARIS from the very beginning, particularly with the implementation of their social claim. Right from the start it was a good match: MARIE-STELLA-MARIS’ approach and the concept of \"sharing\" appealed to me, as well as the three pillars in their projects (local ownership, sharing knowledge and increasing self-reliance). At Aqua for All, I am responsible for programs aimed at improving access to safe drinking water and sanitation in schools. In addition, we develop innovative learning methods for monitoring and evaluation of programs for sustainability. Thus, the connection with MARIE-STELLA-MARIS was easily made.\"

How did you end up where you are now?
\"During my childhood I developed an interest in people and society, always concerned about inequalities in the world. Oddly enough I decided to study at the international hotel school, focussing on sustainable hotel development. After my studies I ended up in the commercial sector, but it didn’t make me happy. During that time I gained a lot of experience in developing countries and several international social issues came across my path. Eventually I decided to completely re-educate myself and started studying International Development Sociology. I have been working in this sector now for five years now.\"

What kind of girl were you?
\"As a child and especially as a teenager I was pretty activist, vegetarian, against pig factory farming, against wearing fur and was always very sensitive to injustice and suffering. I protested in The Hague against animal cruelty, even extinguishing cigarettes on fur coats in the street. In those days that was still possible! I was a very idealistic girl, seeking justice but had no clue about how the world really worked.\"

What characterizes you now?
\"What typifies me, I believe, is that I never stop thinking independently. I’m not inclined to think along with the majority, but I always check how I feel about anything first. I have no qualms about going against the current. Sometimes it’s just for the fun of it! For example with the ‘skinnie’ jeans ... but I ended up wearing one anyway. Haha.

But that's how things often go with me. I notice that people sometimes find it confronting, but most of them eventually appreciate that I follow my own path.\"

The very best part of your job?
\"That you can truly contribute to the lives of others, and at the same time gain your own experience. By doing so, you stand in the middle of society, you have to deal with real problems and you can really make a difference in  other peoples lifes.\"

Learning to listen
\"Development programs are still based on the notion that we ‘western people’ know everything better. This has to change; development programs must work both ways. I think we have to believe in the strength of people, not in their limitations.

I think we could learn to listen more. Especially as the so called ‘poor’ people have a lot of inner strength and the ability to come up with their own solutions.  If you allow people to develop themselves, and thus let them ‘own’ their growth, then you can truly achieve sustainability.\"

\"I think it's great to see how other people - and certainly other cultures – deal with their problems. Where we ‘westerners’ are often triggered to fight against things, Africans for example are much more inclined to accept. I can personally learn so much from that. I’ve seen how happy people can be, despite all the problems they have. Change the things you can change, but accept what you cannot change.

Speak the right language
\"It is important to talk about social problems in developing countries through channels that also reach people. Less top down, but more from society itself. A good example is our ‘football for water program‘.

One of the main goals of this project is to inform school children and their parents about the importance of washing hands for their health. Lots of children in developing countries become ill or die from lack of hygiene. It is a huge problem, but no matter how dangerous it is child, mortality is not always seen as the biggest problem by the local community. They often have different priorities, such as working a job.

In the football for water program, famous football players were used to denounce health problems. Everyone loves football, everyone respects it. When football heroes participate, the message really came across. Therefore, in order to come across, you have to speak the language of the people with whom you want to achieve something. Then you can really make a difference.\"

Connecting through water
\"Water is extremely important for us, simply in terms of survival. Without water, nothing and nobody can grow. No water means no food. Water also establishes connections. Providing water to a community can bring people together, which means people can start improving their own livelihoods. And it also works the other way around. When people work together to attain water in their community, it's the water that brings people together and improves their lives.\"

Author: Marie-Stella-Maris Foundation - February 14 2014, 10:00