To Franck W., Sunday, August 21, 2011
1st People tell me to take what you say seriously, because you have been in Africa enough to know whaat you're talking about. And, the bad news: I think they are right. It would be easier for me, if you were somebody who has never left his arrondissement. So I do take seriously, what you say. But then, I have my thoughts and impressions as well and at the end of the day I have to decide what to do and what not to do. If you are telling me "just get out of there! Forget it", I say no. Your intervention has stered up quite a bit of distrust annd doubts in myself, but I have no solid reason to quit and drop the project.
2nd I am less sure than you or Cathrin seem to be about the religious agenda Robert and / or Flory are following (or not following). There is religion in both of their lives, that's clear. With Flory I have had several talks about religious tolerance and dialogue, dogmatism etc.. He knows, that and why I have left church long ago and what I feel about the place religion can play in a school and which place it cannot play. We have not talked about homosexuality, neither in general nor in particular. So there's something left to do. My feeling was, that we agree on the basic principals of tolerance and dialogue etc. like we agree on the principals of PPU's education. Flory has studied theology and social work and he wants to be a missionary and has done missionary work before. So religion is important to him. When he asked me to become the refteur of PPU it was me, who asked him to stay and be the vice-recteur. He kind of hoped (and I assume he still hopes), that he could leave the daily worries about the university to others and go back to his missionary work. He agreed to stay until his help was not needed any more. What he preaches as a missionary and whether his preaching is in line with our discussions about tolerance and dialogue etc. I do not know. There might be two Florys, the one I got to know and another one, who might crusade against gays and all that. He might do that, but I don't really believe it. I do have some questions around his religious involvement, but they don't concern the character of his teaching but rather the question of the time he devotes to his religious organisation (Remac). There could be some things, he didn't tell me, when I asked him. I remember a touchy reaction of his, when I asked a question about his role in a big gathering of Remac in bujumbura. There was also a touchy reaction when I asked Flory annd Robert about the cross and the bible in the Logo of PPU. We dropped the issue, but that is certainly something we have to get back to, if I continue to work with them, and the attempt to clarify this issue might be the end of our collaboration, because, as I said: you might be right, with all your assumptions, but I am just not sure, and I do not want to abbandan the ship to easily.
Robert is a member of the new apostolic church, whose headquarters are in germany. he is much more formal and conformist than Flory. He is also not very strong mentally or intellectually. I think he is really just naive. He is ready to follow whoever - Monsieur Martin or Monsieur Franck or some nice smiling fashist Pasteur kill them all. But in daily life I experience him as kind and open and willing to learn. Maybe it's just facade. I can't know with 100% certainty, like I cannot know with 100% certainty how much I can and should trust Flory in what he says about PPU and religion etc..
3rd As I said, I do not want to abandan the ship like that. So I decided that I will go back on the 18th of september to see how things develop. I don't know, whether you have decided for yourself, what to do with PPU. Are you still willing and interested to come as planned or is the story over for you? And if you come, how would we aproach the subject of religious fashism, code de conduite etc. It's certainly a big "Störung" on your side - and it's echoing in me as a Störung as well. Shall we put the question on the table in the first meeting or start to work and just be observant? So that's the question to you: Are you still willing to come, and do you have an idea how to start the process?
4th In general I am not so worried aboutt the religious aspects of the whole situation. Maybe it's my naiveté, maybe it's because I know them and the people around them better and have developped more trust. Assume, that we can clarify this issue, the question which worries me, is the (technical and human) qualification of my vice-recteurs. I wrote about this in my last mail in which I also considered the possibility of finding better qualified people for their jobs. You warned me, that they would never step down just like that and that killing someone is only 150 dollars in the Congo. I am sure, that this is a tricky question and that the "love and respect" they (and others) hold or pretend to hold for me over there can easily turn into hate and utter distrust. I know, how little it takes in uvira to be lynched for whatever immaginary offense! But there might be more "organic" solutions to the problem: with the number of students increasing We may soon need another guy in our team of leaders. Hopefully we find some good teachers in the Congo or the neighbouring countries who have a feeling for the kind of "education" we (I?) want to offer in PPU, so that Roberts role will change from "academic coach" to more administrative tasks. Flory might come one day and propose that we let him go .... I don't know. I cannot and do not want to solve the question with brutal force, just replacing Robert or Flory and finding me flote in the lake the night after. But there must be ways to discuss the question of the efficiency and development of the administration of the university which do not end in my killing. If I am too impatient or radical about it, it may, but to be patient is one of the big mantras I take with me, when I go back to uvira.
5th As far as the situation of swiss and other donors and my credibility are concerned, I think we have been cautious enough: There is a way to donate directly to PPU in Uvira. The university has an account in Bujumbura which is published on PPU's website. I am not quite sure, but I think, that Flory and Robert can draw money from it (with single signature or only with the signature of both of them I do not remember). It is possible that Robert and Flory have created some sort of money flow to this account by finding some donors; it's possible that they use this money for PPU or foor something else ... But I don't think that Robert and Flory are cheeting that way, I don't think so and I do not want to think so. I think it's pretty safe to assume that there's only a few dollars left on PPUs Bujumbura account
All donations which I am helping to find since April go to the account of PPU Switzerland, which supports PPU in its fundraising and networking efforts. The account is in Switzerland and only two members of the board of PPU Switzerland (Johanna, Marti and thomas)have access to the money.
PPU Switzerland is an association ("Verein") according to Swiss law with internal regulations concerning the transfer of money, the connection to PPU in Uvira, the further use of the donations in case PPU fails or the Swiss group decides not to support the project any more. In their statute PPU-Switzerland empfasizes explicitly that it does not support any religious activity and that PPU is a non-religious institution.
At first PpU Switzerland was very much a family enterprise - with my brother, me and my father in the board of directors. In the meantime I have left PPU Switzerland to make clear, that this body is working as an independant entity and that it is just one of many potential partners the university in Uvira hopes to find over the next years. PPU Switzerland is still searching for a couple of new board members plus (external) experts like Martin menzi, Lucy Koechlin or Jean Claude Peterschmitt who are interested and willing to serve on a "borad of advisors" to PPU giving it more credibility by having their names associated with it but also helping in certain situations with their advise or connections etc..
When I am talking to people about PPU and the Swiss support efforts, I am quite open about the riscs and uncertainties involved in the project and about my reoccuring doubts. If they give their name or some money or if they go around and talk about this project, they have to know that this is not just fun and easy and they have to decide themselves, whether they want to invest their time, name or money in this project. The question of its religious background is one of these uncertainties. There are many others besides.
In the course of our presentation on wednesday night I said that I would be very happy, if PPU Switzerland becomes a strong partner of the university in uvira, but that this was not just about money. Of course it would be very conforting for me to know, that there's somebody out there who can help financially in case of real need, but that it was just as important to have a partner who says: "wait, slow down. No, money is not the issue nor the solution here."
You say, it seems to be easy for me to raise money. That's not quite so. it's easy to get media attention because of the special blindness factor. It's just such a great story, the blind guy travelling with his cane tack tack tack down into Africa andd coming back as Recteur of a University ... But eventually people will be bored with the story and the media will turn to the 14 year old in the wheel chair who became director of a dance company in Hamburg or something else of that sort. With the money the process may be just the other way around: the start is not so easy. My father has asked some friends and he has given a couple of thousdand francs himself. But for all big donations we are still to small a project, too small and too unprofessional. Since March PPU has recieved about 8000 dollars from "la famille UPP en Suisse". At the moment PPU Switzerland is just about strong enough to keep PPU floting. There is no money for anything big like establishing solar power etc.. and in September or October PPU Switzerland may not be able (or willing!) to pay even basic needs like salaries and the bill for our internet access etc. However, the networking efforts of my father, Thomas, Gilbert and me do show results.
For official agreements with any big NGO or government agency or with some european university we are not yet stable and developped enough. However, the response to PPU Switzerland and the project in Uvira is usually quite positive - even among experts -, and PPU Switzerland is slowly getting stronger and more capable to find bigger chunks of money: We got 15 4 to 5 year old computers from the swiss government and some other sponsors, which are being prepared for shipment by my friend Gilbert, and it looks like Swiss cooperation is ready to sponsor the transport of the material down to Uvira as a friendly gesture, not as part of any official agreement. In addition we have prospects to benefit from a newly established fundation who is intterested in the educational aproach of PPU, and we have a direct line to the committee on development and cooperation of the city of Basel, who might fund even bigger projects ... So things are starting to move and become sustainable beyond the first excitement raised by the blind guy who with his cane ... tack tack tack
When I go back to Uvira I will focus very much on the work down there. Part of this work - if the ship doesn't crash on the rock of religious fanatism or some other unexpected riff - will be to awaken the spirit of fund raising and money making within the members of the university. We should not and cannot assume that PPU Switzerlaand will do it all. It's not realistic for one and it's not "healthy". So we may just be poor for another year... It also depends on the way we define our needs, on the solidity of our planning and thinking and - of course - on the trust I have in my partners and the project. I am not going to talk much about money and about the possibilities PPU Switzerland may soon have. In the next months we will probably get just enough to keep going. the money will be sennt through western union in chunks of a few hundred to one thousand dollars every four or six weeks. It's a procedure where I have pretty good control over the use of the money even if I am not checking every single transaction. Once it gets to bigger spending the question will be, do I trust the project to sign that kind of demand and are the people, whom we ask, able and willing to help.
So I feel, that my name and the name and money of others is pretty well protected. After all, when you take a risc, you can fail and people may laugh about you after the fact. But may they do so, if they can't help it. I feel like I am honest and we have designed a system, which is relatively stable and serves as a good filter.
You have asked me about my motives to do all this, about the discussions I will have or miss, when I go back, about the fun and good times I have or don't have with the people down there.
I will write about that later. for now time is up. I am invited at Urs's and Pina's to celebrate there 100th anniversary. Here it's hot like hell - after a rather rainy and cold July and August. I sit in my room and drip drip drip! - Big hug and thanks for careful reading - Martin