AMSTELVEEN – It’s the basis of the real AMSTELVEEN, EcoTrust. The institution was founded in 2008 by Hans de Bie with his wife Louisa and has grown into an institution providing education to over 100 children in India. This gives them the opportunity to escape their poverty and build a better future. “If you were born there for a dime, you would never become a quarter,” says Dion D.B., daughter of Hans and Louisa and president of the foundation.
In 1997, Hans and Luisa traveled to southern India, where they reached out to Girish Nambothiri, founder of the Children’s Project in India and active since 1992. “Girish picked some children from the gutter and took care of them,” says Dion. “He really went to the less fortunate children, the Dalits, or the untouchables, to give them more opportunities in society. The caste system was abolished in India long ago, but it still plays a major role. You simply get fewer opportunities in the lower castes, while the Children have a lot of potential.” Since their first meeting with Girish, Hans and Luisa have returned to Tiruvannamalai every year to visit the children.
At the time, another Dutch woman was also involved in the Girish project, and she was adept at “collecting” the money for the Girish project. But Hans and Luisa felt the whole thing had to be more formal, so they could get serious about raising money. This also made it clear to donors how money flows and they can deduct donations from their taxes. This led Hans and Luisa to decide to found the foundation.
However, it was not easy at first to get the cooperation of the parents of the Indian children. “The village was viewed with suspicion in the project. When the boy turned twelve, he had to work in the fields after school. Girish went to talk to the village elders and by packing food for the families, if we wanted to educate the children. We bought free time with these packages” Hilma explains.
“Children who come to the eco-clubs reflect on what they have learned about the village in which they live”
Louise D.B. – Co-founder of the Eco-Trust Foundation
Girish himself is from the Brahmin sect, the highest priestly caste. He has a job and a family and does this work entirely voluntarily. “He makes sure she works there. Kids go to public schools and come to one of our sites for after-school education. There they take extra lessons, English lessons and they have a computer lab. On weekends there are dance lessons and sports activities like cricket. Then they can be kids and play sports,” explains Hilma Burgmayer, daughter-in-law of Hans and Luisa.
Children are also taught how to handle things in an environmentally responsible manner. Luisa (80): “People in the villages needed firewood to burn for cooking, so it was completely empty. The children who come to the eco-clubs reflect what they have learned about the village they live in. The child is in a better position in the community, and as a result you also help the whole system around him.”
One of the Eco-Trust success stories is Rajamani. He was three years old when he joined the Children’s Project and had no parents. So he took shelter in the institution, something which is no longer allowed in India with new rules. “He was sitting on Louisa’s lap,” Dion laughs. “He was really picked off rock bottom or else he wouldn’t have a good future. He was part of Ecoclub and then went on to study English. He has been our English teacher since last year. This completes the cycle again. He is now married with a child.”
In the Netherlands, the Foundation works with volunteers only. “Of course we are just a small project, but it means you know that every euro is put to good use. We just have to pay the accountant. In fact we don’t have any costs. If we go to India, we will pay for it ourselves. Every euro goes to the children. Then you see After that an entire village cut off on the road,” says Hilma. In India itself, salaried employees are used to stimulate local employment.
“You can make a big difference with just a few resources.”
Dyone de Bie – Chairman of the Board of the Eco-Trust
Hans and Luisa went to India for the last time in 2016. Hans suffered from Alzheimer’s at that time and the journey became more and more difficult. When Louisa also had a serious car accident that year and suffered congenital brain damage, Dion took over as president of the foundation in 2017. “I’ve heard stories and seen pictures of my parents. But you won’t feel it until you’re there. You can make a big difference with just a few resources. The impact is huge. very much on the lives of these children.” Hilma has been a member of the Board of Directors as Treasurer since 2011. Hans passed away in January 2020 at the age of 83.
“We don’t have the ambition to become a big project,” says Dion. “We want to stay young. Then we can manage it well from India and Holland.” Hilma adds: “Otherwise, another arc will be added. Then you are no longer in control. Girish must turn everything on at once. That way it is clear and it will remain that way.”
According to Dyone, the impact is much greater than the 100 children now associated with the project. “If we bring a child into the world like this, what will he achieve in the people around him. The impact of our efforts is spreading like wildfire.”