<%-- Page Title--%> Interview <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 132 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

December 21, 2003

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Promoting peace means promoting basic rights for everyone

The Duchess of Luxembourg says in an interview.

The Grand Duchess of Luxembourg and UNESCO's goodwill ambassador for education Maria Teresa recently came to Bangladesh. The Daily Star's Editor and Publisher MAHFUZ ANAM and Assistant Editor KAuSHIK SHANKAR DAS talked to her about the impressions she gathered and the changes she witnessed on her second visit to the country.

Maria Teresa, The Grand Duchess of Luxembourg.

The Daily Star: How has the trip been to Bangladesh?

Duchess of Luxemberg: It was very nice. The kindness and warmth of the people, very welcoming words and attitudes, colours and beautiful countryside - all these made the trip very fulfilling. It was extraordinary. I am getting more and more attached to this country.

Would you like to tell us some interesting experiences during the trip?

I was very impressed with some of the young girls I met in Madhupur villlage in Tangail. I loved sitting with them on the floor, making them feel comfortable so that they would talk to me, ask questions. It was very touching and sweet -- they asked me where I came from, about my family, how many children I have etc. And then I asked them if they were happy not to get married until they were eighteen and carry on with education. They said definitely. I was so impressed with their maturity, their straightforwardness. I asked them whether this would cause any problem at home with the expectations from other family members and they were certain that there wouldn't be any problem. Whatever hesitations there were in the beginning but now there is an acceptance and recognition for our education in society.

Then I also asked them what would be the ideal husband for you. They said someone who would be good, faithful doesn't drink and smoke. Isn't that wise?

This is your second visit in Bangladesh. Is there any contrasting visions or changes since the last time you visited five years ago?

I have seen many changes. I have had the opportunity to go outside Dhaka in the last two days. I was impressed with the road communication in the countryside. Also access to the small, remote areas have improved. And of course the houses in the countryside. You see more houses, people living under their own roofs, which signals a positive sign of the country's economy.

What are the major impressions that you are going back with after this visit to Bangladesh?

I am absolutely convinced that micro-credit is definitely the answer, the only solution to end misery of under privileged people. However different people apply it in different forms, but it is the viable solution undoubtedly. I am very impressed by the general attitude of the people -- the openness, tolerance and of course the decisions taken toward women. They were very courageous decisions, there was no hesitation on your part and you are clearly betting on a better future thanks to what you are doing now. Mainly the free education for girls is something that is so uncommon. I believe that education is the most important for the girls, but the boys should also be educated about the needs, strengths, limits of the girls.

Is there anything that you decided to get personally involved with in Bangladesh as the UNESCO Ambassador?

I will keep on working with the UNESCO projects in Bangladesh. That's the reason I will keep coming back to see how the projects are evolving. I have a personal friendship with Professor Yunus and also Bibi Russell.

What do you plan to accomplish as an ambassador of UNESCO?

I think the most important thing is to be a messenger of peace. To do everything you can to promote peace. Promoting peace means promoting basic rights for everyone, better future for all, diminishing the negative aspects of human beings, either socially, economically, ideologically whatever. This is our main task as goodwill ambassadors.

UNESCO's goodwill ambassador acclimatizes herself by taking a conventional 'bhan gari' ride around the countryside.

We in this part of the world have an impression that there is a lot of prejudice in the West about us. Are you going to do anything to change that?

You can count on that. All the more, I really don't know whether our people would be able to react with as much courage in similar difficult situations. We don't have this happy attitude like you no matter what's happening around you. This is extremely extraordinary. You always have a smiling face and tremendous dignity even in the most difficult circumstances. It is already an example for us.

I would like to make a point here -- no matter what level of development you try to achieve for your people, please never imitate the west. You have such treasures. That's what I like about UNESCO. It respects people, their culture, their simplicity. We all have good traits and bad traits. For goodness sake, don't copy us because that's not you. You must remain true to your roots, your culture.


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