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A Count to the rescue

by Virginie Miranda

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere, humanitarian workers risk their lives on a daily basis. It was this self-sacrifice that a generous benefactor, Count Maurice de Madre, sought to reward.

Count Maurice de Madre

In the heart of the tropical forest, more than 400 kilometres from the city of Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the town of Opala is witnessing an unusual activity for the beginning of this rainy season. A canoe has just drawn up alongside the banks of the Lomami River. It is loaded with bicycles, petrol cans and four tonnes of medicines — a precious cargo destined for the inhabitants of the remote regions of the Ikela territory (Equateur province), east of the former front line. Following the 2002 peace accords, the soldiers have left the forest, making way for the police force, but the pre-war supply network is still disrupted and the roads reduced to muddy paths.

In fact, the whole region has been cut off. In such a context, you need to be inventive and use any means available to distribute humanitarian assistance. The motorbike is a must to transport vaccines. Other medicines are delivered by bicycle, two days over impassable roads, the only way to reach the six health centres in need of medical assistance.

Lives at risk

"To be a volunteer nowadays is to knowingly and willingly take risks," emphasizes Jacques Moreillon, president of the French Fund Maurice de Madre (FFMM). "In anarchic conflicts, where confusion between combatants and civilians reigns, the task of volunteers has become more complicated. They have to be very familiar with their environment without playing into the hands of one or other of the parties."

Sadly, Henry Dunant's followers can also become victims themselves. It is for their benefit that the FFMM was established. "Who deserves it more than those who have risked their lives in the service of the Red Cross and Red Crescent?" continues Moreillon.

In 1999, in the Uvira region in central DRC, six Red Cross first-aid workers were shot dead. These men and women left behind partners and children, completely destitute. The same year, Akhmed and a colleague were killed in Chechnya when their vehicle, clearly marked with the Red Cross emblem, came under attack. Akhmed's widow, who was pregnant at the time of the incident, had four other children in her care.

Thanks to the generosity of Count Maurice de Madre, these people have not been forgotten. In May 2002, Akhmed's widow was given a grant to find a new place to live after her home was destroyed during military operations, as well as money to buy two cows to help feed her children. The families of the Uvira volunteers received financial assistance for their orphaned children's schooling. It is a small helping hand such as this that can change lives.

Volunteers and staff regularly put their lives in danger as they travel to remote areas in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
©Virginie Miranda / ICRC

A generous bequest

As a close friend of the ICRC and its then president, Paul Ruegger, Count de Madre became familiar with the work of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. Impressed by the bravery and courage of its volunteers, he bequeathed a part of his fortune, 700,000 Swiss francs, to the ICRC, as well as a mansion on the shores of Lake Geneva to serve as a convalescence and rest home for humanitarian workers returning from mission. However, the upkeep of the mansion rapidly became too costly. In 1973, three years after the Count's death, the decision was taken, with his family's consent, to sell the villa. The following year, the FFMM was created.

The board of the FFMM, comprising members of the Count's family, a Swiss lawyer and representatives of the International Federation and ICRC, was anxious that any adaptation of the rules governing the conditions for awarding grants should be in the spirit of Maurice de Madre's last wishes. These wishes are set out in Article 2 of the FFMM regulations, whereby the fund comes to the aid of "permanent or temporary staff of the components of the Movement, such as first-aid workers, delegates or nurses who, in the course of their work or during war operations or natural disasters, have suffered injury and have thereby found themselves in straitened circumstances or in reduced health." In cases where people have lost their lives and left families in need behind, the fund can also assist close relatives.

Reviewing the requests is a delicate exercise. Gathering details of volunteers' accidents or illnesses and the consequences for their loved ones can prove to be a lengthy and difficult process. In such cases, the staff of ICRC or International Federation delegations can act as vital intermediaries for the FFMM secretariat. They can make contact with the families and supply the necessary details for the files, enabling the secretariat to check that the conditions for allocating a grant are fulfilled. They can also help to assess needs based on the geographic context and family situation and, where appropriate, suggest the best form of payment.

The challenge for the fund's manager, Jacqueline Hugentobler, is to ensure that grants are distributed in a fair and consistent manner. For resources are not bottomless. "The grants made by the FFMM can very often make a difference at the individual level," adds Jacques Moreillon. "This fund is at the heart of the Movement's mandate: to assist the most vulnerable. The problem is that it is not replenished. We are therefore limited and cannot pay out more than the income generated from the base capital."

Since its creation, the FFMM has given out more than 2 million Swiss francs worldwide and has built up a capital of 4 million thanks to its strict management. In 2003, 48 files involving more than 100 individual cases were handled, nine of which were concluded favourably. The FFMM has received 24 new requests from components of the Movement in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Colombia, Côte d'Ivoire, Indonesia, Kenya, Kosovo, Liberia, Nepal, Philippines, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda and Ukraine. Some National Societies, however, have never applied for benefits. The FFMM exists and the members of the board encourage National Societies to make use of it. These grants enable families who have endured terrible ordeals to look forward to a better future.


Virginie Miranda
Virginie Miranda is responsible for audiovisual production at the ICRC in Geneva.



How to apply to the French Fund Maurice de Madre

The FFMM grants financial assistance in the event of an accident or illness affecting staff of the Movement who are not otherwise covered by social welfare benefits. The injury or illness must be related to their work in the service of the Movement.

The grant can fund medical expenses, physical rehabilitation or professional reintegration. In the case of the death of the staff member while carrying out humanitarian tasks, the FFMM can award financial or material assistance to the family of the deceased. Application forms for benefits can be downloaded from the web site,, and returned to the FFMM secretariat through an ICRC or International Federation delegation. For more information,
e-mail: or call +41 22 730 26 96.

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