tells how she experienced the difference between the Thai and the Austrian school system.
worked as an English teacher and translator before he had to flee to Austria.
moved to Belgrade in the context of her geography studies and turned her hobby into a profession.
report how they perceived the great earthquake in 1988.
served as a soldier in the
Biafra civil war, went blind and was not discouraged.
Afterwards he worked at
the UN for more then 20 years.
lives in the far east of
Europe and gives us an
insight into economy,
culture and language.
Discover the diversity of people - a snapshot with Natascha
This is the personal story of Natascha, a 16-year-old teenager from Lower Austria with Thai roots.
She is currently attending tourism school in St. Pölten. Her greatest wish is to become a flight attendant and explore the world.
Natascha spent her first eight years in a small village in Lower Austria before moving to Thailand with her mother.
A big challenge was the move to a private Thai primary school. While she was used to learning reading, maths and writing with 15 other children in one class, there were now far more than 30 children. Months passed until Natascha became familiar with the new school system, and further months until she could also read and write the Thai language.
Natascha, how is the Thai school system is different from the Austrian one?
We have to wear a school uniform in Thailand. Girls are not allowed to wear their hair hanging down loose.
Primary school lasts six years, secondary school another six. Secondary school is divided into three years of middle school and three years of high school.
In Thailand, grades range from four to one. Four is the best grade, one is the worst.
The school year begins in May and ends in March of the following year.
The lessons are classical frontal teaching. Hardly any student asks the teacher a question during the lesson. Thai teachers are much stricter than their Austrian colleagues. There are only small projects from secondary school onwards. Project weeks, sports weeks or language trips are unusual in my school. Every now and then, the one or other day trip was arranged. Thai children learn English from the upper school onwards, young people choose from one of the many Asian foreign languages. Recently, European foreign languages have also become available.
The children sit in pairs at individual tables, which are pushed apart during tests.
Please tell us about a normal school day.
School starts at 8 a.m., but you are expected to be at school already at 7 a.m. Vocabulary tests are given every day before the lesson starts. There are two double lessons in the morning, one hour for lunch and another double lesson in the afternoon. School ends at around 3 p.m., after which it is customary to meet in a learning café to do homework and study. For primary school pupils there is the possibility to go to a paid support class from 18:00 to 20:00, for secondary school pupils until 22:00. Questions about homework are answered in the support class. There is a school bus, but the majority of the children at my school are brought and picked up by their parents.
Did you make friends quickly?
Yes, within a week. Because so many children attend a single class, there are friendship groups. I have not experienced a class community in Thailand as it is usual in Austria. Every school year we get different teachers and different classmates.
In 2019 you moved back to Austria, how was the change back?
It took me almost a year to settle in again.
Here it is common for teenagers to take their mobile phones to school, for example. In Thai public school, this wasn't allowed before this school year. My public school demanded much more performance from me than the Austrian tourism school does now. What I enjoy most is the class spirit, the helpfulness of the individual teachers and the free time after school.
What differences did you notice between the cultures?
I think Austrian people are friendlier and more open. Thai people are critical of new things. My true and best friends are Austria. In Thailand, as a girl, I am quickly criticised if my trousers or T-shirt are too tight. If I don't conform to a certain pattern, I get criticised and prejudiced.
What did you miss most about Austria in Thailand?
The snow and the different seasons. In Thailand it is often very hot.
What did you miss most about Thailand in Austria?
The sea and the beach.
Shops that are open around the clock.
No matter where I live, everywhere I miss my mother the most. She lost her battle against cancer in 2019 and passed away far too soon.
Discover the diversity of people - a snapshot with Serwer
Serwer (40) was born in Raʾs al-ʿAyn, close to the Turkish border. After graduating from high school, he studied English and literature and worked as an English teacher and translator in Damascus. In the Arab Spring of 2011, he actively demonstrated for more human rights and freedom. Later, he was arrested. He lost his father and brother in the war. These experiences were decisive for him to turn his back on his country. After 40 days on the run, he arrived at the Traiskirchen reception centre in 2015. From there, his journey took him to the idyllic Eichgraben, where he enriches life in the community with his uncomplicated and sociable manner. Together with the Mosaik association, many joint activities are planned and implemented. Mosaik stands for: Being open, acceptance, inclusion of refugees, intercultural acquaintance. Serwer is a teacher at a Viennese school. You can read the chronology of his flight in the project zbEichgraben.
What differences, especially in the education system, stand out to you?
In Syria, the weekend begins on Friday and ends on Saturday evening.
In my childhood (in the 80s and 90s), I shared a class with more than 40 children.
We had great respect and fear of our teachers. The teachers demonstrated their power and we feared punishment. The lessons were lectures, frontal lessons, where it was better not to ask questions. In my home town, 90 percent of the population were Kurds, just like me. It was strictly forbidden to speak Kurdish at school. The punishments varied according to age. There was a wide range of punishments, from a warning to a slap or an unjustified bad grade on a test.
The subjects of sports, drawing and music only existed on paper. During this time, we did our homework or went to play football. I really missed creativity in my childhood. I did not paint a single picture at school.
Since 1963, the Arab socialist Baath Party has ruled the country dictatorially. Education played a subordinate role until the 2000s. The first kindergartens were established around the turn of the millennium. After that, more and more attention was paid to education and public schools.
What characterised your childhood and teenage years?
School. Compulsory schooling in Syria starts at the age of 6, I even started school at the age of 5. After 6 years of primary school, 3 years of secondary school and 3 years of high school, I graduated.
I played a lot of football, the national sport in Syria. I played a lot of chess with my older brother, too. In my free time, my friends and family taught the Latin alphabet. At school, we only wrote in Arabic.
I had English lessons from secondary school onwards. After devouring books by Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky and studying Socrates and Aristotle, my greatest desire was to study philosophy. Since studying philosophy in a country like Syria offered little to no future career opportunities, I decided to study English and literature.
Which book captivated you the most?
Love in the Time of Cholera, written by the Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez. The novel was made into a film in 2007.
What are you most proud of?
After graduating, I taught as an English teacher in a secondary school and in high school. I gave private lessons and worked as an interpreter. During this time, I earned very well and was able to afford a flat in Damascus with my savings. I speak fluent English, German, Kurdish and Arabic and have a basic knowledge of Turkish. Education is very important to me! My flat was destroyed in the war, but no one can steal my education.
Tell me about a wonderful experience.
In summer 2018, I was able to fly to São Paulo with a Viennese colleague as part of the IPP project (international people project - building a global friendship) organised by CISV Austria. Twenty-four people scattered around the globe took part in this project. Together we worked with Downs Syndrome children for one month.
During this project, we took photos of their ear, eye, hand, etc. and then a photo of our ear, nose, mouth, etc. We then put the photos on a big screen. Then we put the photos together on a big wall to symbolise: We are all the same!
Together we played theatre, were creative with colours, went to the cinema and had a lot of fun.
This project was one of the best I have encountered in my life!
For me as a big football fan, the trip to Brazil was a dream come true. I finally got to see the country of Rivaldo, Neymar, Ronaldo and Co with my own eyes.
Where did you go on holiday in Syria?
I spent a few days by the sea and visited my family for a week. I like the feeling of doing nothing on holiday, meeting friends, living in the day.
Discovering the diversity of people - a snapshot with Beata
Beata (78) was born in Budapest. Her parents were born in the Habsburg Monarchy, her father in Vienna, her mother in Temesvár (today in Romania). Even in primary school she devoured books about expeditions by Fridtjof Nansen, Sven Hedin and Roald Amundsen. Late at night, hidden under her blanket, she immersed herself in the experiences of her role models and imagined what it would be like to be a polar explorer herself.
Beata has raised three children, has two adorable grandchildren and is married for the second time. In 1986, she was a founding member of Care Austria and managed many exciting projects on all continents until her retirement.
Why did you move from Budapest to Vienna?
In my childhood, Hungary was firmly in communist hands behind the Iron Curtain. Since both my parents had university degrees, I would not have been allowed to study at university in Budapest. Only children of workers were allowed to study at that time. So, I fled to Vienna with my mother at the tender age of 14. My father and grandmother were able to emigrate two years later. The sound of the German language was familiar to me because my parents often spoke German at home. I myself had refused to learn German. At school we learned Russian. I associated the German language with Nazis, expulsion and the murder of Jews. I was always very angry when my parents spoke German to each other.
Did you find your way into Viennese life quickly?
Despite the initial language barrier, I quickly settled into Viennese life and learned the language quickly. At first I attended the Akademisches Gymnasium in Vienna's First District. Founded in 1553, it is the oldest highschool in Vienna.
Did you always want to study ethnology?
No, because at first, I didn't even know it was offered as a subject. It was when I read Ethnology in the course catalogue that I enrolled in Ethnology, Psychology and Philosophy. Then I chose ethnology as my major subject to learn more about the diversity of lifestyles and cultures worldwide.
Where did your first travels take you?
With a Nansen passport, a passport for stateless refugees and emigrants, I went to the UK to learn English. From there, a year later, I went to Iceland to get to know its people and natural wonders. In 1964, I travelled to America to meet my relatives who had fled from the Nazi regime and to join a Viennese ethnologist researching at Yale University who was willing to take me to the Ojibva Indians in Canada. My relatives in the USA had to vouch for me so that entry into the United States was possible with my Nansen passport and my birthplace Budapest.
I spent three months with the Ojibva Indians and learned a lot of interesting facts about their habits and their life in harmony with nature.
I learned which trees and plants are suitable for what. I learned how to extract birch bark to make vessels, hunting horns or a canoe. I learned to canoe across the lakes.
Did anything about the First Nations irritate you?
I found it strange that the Canadian government provided the First Nations with prefabricated houses without taking their traditional way of life into account. And I was disconcerted when a truck full of relief supplies was once delivered with high heels and other inappropriate items to an area where there were only forests with sandy soil and seascapes. These experiences were very formative for my later tasks in the aid organisation CARE.
I was also saddened by the fate of the First Nations children. They were sent to boarding schools, so-called residential schools, and separated from their parents. Thousands of children were alienated from their traditions and from a life in harmony with nature. They have forgotten how to hunt in winter on their hunting grounds, which until then had been their most important economic basis. In the boarding schools, the children were not allowed to communicate with each other in their mother tongue but had to learn English or French. A short historical summary of this dark chapter of Canada can be seen here.
Which project was a great cultural challenge for you?
My time in Bolivia. From 1969 to 1971 I lived in Bolivia with my first husband and my daughter, who was one year old when I arrived. We did basic research for an adult education project among Quechua Indians. We spent the first 10 months in La Paz and a whole year in a village in the Cochabamba Valley southwest of La Paz. I remember too well that all doors in the village were open to my little daughter, who played with the children and learned Quechua faster than I did, and often acted as a little interpreter. Personally, I found the people in the village reserved and hostile, and I felt watched day and night. As if I had to live in a glass house in the middle of Kärntner Straße in Vienna. I often asked myself what the mistrust towards me could be attributed to. Perhaps the centuries of oppression of this people? Even my little daughter was not a door opener to the heart of the villagers. I endured countless fears as I called my daughter's name throughout the village and she did not answer. No one told me that Camilla was playing happily in this or that house. It was when I left Bolivia in 1971, pregnant, that I learned in a roundabout way that the villagers appreciated me.
Did you reintegrate into Viennese society as easily as you did when you were a teenager?
No, it took me almost two years before I was able to reintegrate into Viennese society and feel that I had arrived. I was too influenced by the simple life in Bolivia. For a long time, I felt misunderstood in Vienna, even by my friends. The consumer society, the affluence, the value system, even an opera performance seemed abnormal to me. And it was especially difficult to make my little daughter, who was used to freedom, understand what was forbidden in order to survive in a big city. Where did you go on holiday in your free time? I never went on holiday in the classical sense. I have a retreat in the country where I can process what I have experienced in nature. I spent my meagre free time in the mountains skiing, hiking and climbing, mostly with my children and my second husband.
In your opinion, what ingredients do people need to overcome prejudices against other cultures?
Openness and interest in the foreign alone are not enough. I find the way the community of Eichgraben dealt with the wave of refugees is a very good example. The newcomers were integrated into the life of the community. Many volunteers took care of the refugees, learned German with them, and local and refugee families cooked together. Some initiatives have given rise to lively associations. Refugee children played with local children. The churches, political parties and cultural associations in the village have also supported this togetherness. This has made it possible for people to get to know each other on an equal footing and for different cultures to interact with each other in an appreciative way.
Discover the diversity of people - a snapshot with Tatjana
Tatjana (41) grew up in Lunjevac, a tranquil village whose surroundings are agricultural, before moving to Belgrade in 1998 for her geography studies. She is neither married nor has children. From 2007 to 2018, Tatjana worked in a telecommunications company before turning her hobby into a profession: adventure travel!
Are you more of a city person or a nature fan?
Help, I can't decide.
I love the city I live in, the atmosphere, the feeling of people around me. I take in the energy and pulse of others and drift with them.
I love nature too, I am a passionate mountaineer and love tours especially above 2,000 metres above sea level. The Prokletije Mountains in the border region between Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo are among my absolute favourites. The craggy peaks of limestone, similar to the Dolomites, exert an enormous fascination on me. Nowhere else do I feel as free and unconstrained as in these mountains.
Your favourite place in Belgrade?
Zemun Quay, a promenade along the right bank of the Danube, is near my flat. I meet friends there to have a drink, but also to go cycling. On the Ada Ciganlija river island, a recreational area on the Sava River, I like to go for walks, laze around, cycling and swimming in the lake in summer.
Tell me about your childhood memories.
I was born in Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where my parents got married and earned their living. My Croatian mother lost her heart to a Serbian man. It was not unusual at that time, as we lived in a multi-national state. I was baptised Roman Catholic, and grew up according to Serbian Orthodox rituals.
When I was one year old, my father took a job as a teacher in Lunjevac. There we lived in a flat that was part of the school building.
I still remember my favourite book: The Count of Monte Cristo.
I have always been a sports fan. My first experiences in the mountains and my love for the mountains came during a research practica at university.
How do you think life has changed since your childhood?
Compared to the 90s, my lifestyle has changed absolutely.
I feel like the days used to be longer, I had more time. Nowadays I am bombarded with all kinds of information from all sides. People read less and we (including me) look much more into mini-screens, our constant companions.
I think we have become less focused, have less patience than we did back then.
I especially notice the difference in the seasons. The transitional seasons used to stand out more clearly, now we have winter one day, summer the next, and a week later we're digging out our winter shoes again. There is also much less snow than when I was a child. The children can't play in the snow like I did back then.
Do you think there is sustainable development in Serbia?
Yes. There are programmes on: recycling, eco-tourism, renewable energy. The population is developing an awareness of climate change.
You can buy organic products in the supermarket. I usually buy fruit and vegetables at the market, which come directly from the surrounding villages.
Discover the diversity of the people - a snapshot with Miskola
Miskola (37) is from Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, where she started a travel company. With all the tours cancelled due to the Corona pandemic, she took the chance and headed to London in September 2020 to join a postgraduate course in International Tourism and Hospitality Management. As a person, working in tourism, London was her first choice, this metropolis embodies in the smallest space the enormous diversity of our world where Miskola is gaining many experiences and there are the most diverse opportunities for her to discover.
What differences did you become aware of in a foreign country?
In London (Greenwich district) I share my accommodation with four very nice and friendly people. My room is very small compared to my flat in Dushanbe, just 9 m². Before I left, I would never have believed that in a city as wealthy as London, strangers would live together in such a small space. I found out the reason soon: Everything is very expensive here!
Over time, I got used to it. What I learned is that people can get used to anything.
In my home country we have around 365 sunny days a year, I took the sun for granted and never paid much attention to it. Now when the sun shines in London, holiday feelings come up in me. I feel the urge to go out and feel and enjoy the sun's rays on my skin.
I miss the intense taste of fruit in London. Whether it's strawberries, watermelons, peaches or apricots. The taste of the fruit I buy is not comparable to the fruit of my home country. I sometimes think that people from London don't know what they are missing out on in terms of taste.
I bought the book "The Cultural Map" by Erin Meyer. Now that I live in a multicultural city, I am very interested in understanding how people from other cultures live, act and feel.
Do you observe sustainable development in Tajikistan?
I live in a small, but also very diverse country with 143,100 km² (in comparison, Austria has 83,879 km²). 93 percent of it are mountains of breathtaking scenery.
But I also live in a country that is underdeveloped by western standards, where there are many other problems to be solved before people start thinking about sustainable development. There are international organisations that support different projects and educate people about environmental protection. It takes a lot of time to absorb the knowledge and implement it. But I think we are moving in the right direction.
All the fruits and vegetables I buy in Tajikistan are not "certified organic", they are organic by nature.
What do you miss most, what makes you happy, what makes you sad?
My two daughters Ariana (15) and Tomiris (14). As I am divorced, they live during my studies with my mother. The last time I saw them when I left in September. My younger daughter loves to play the guitar. Last year she played at a concert, we even uploaded it on YouTube.
Since my studies keep me very busy, I don't have much time to think. Despite the separation, it's the many little things in everyday life, like a chocolate cake, that make me a happy person. I am happy when I have achieved the goals I set myself, sad when I experience injustice.
Memories of your childhood?
I was a dreamer. I was always wishing for things that my family couldn't afford. A Barbie was at the top of my wish list. A wish that never came true, sometimes I think to myself, I should buy a Barbie now.
So I often made my own toys, like furniture or doll clothes. Throughout my childhood, books by Jules Verne accompanied me. "Around the World in 80 Days" was my favourite book.
As a teenager, I met up with my friends, read books in the library and took various courses such as baking, sewing or hair styling. My dream was to travel to the U.S. one day.
We spent the summers together with my cousins at my grandmother's house, sometimes going up in the northern part of the country.
Where do you go on holiday today?
As the owner of a company, I hardly go on holiday. I have the great fortune to accompany people through my country. These tours give me strength and energy. In February 2020, I was so burnt out that I went on holiday with my girls. It was a disaster, I was so disappointed. Together we went to the sea and I was horrified by the rubbish in the sea. While swimming, I felt one or the other plastic bag on my body, just disgusting.
What does discovering diversity mean in Tajik?
Гуногунии одамонро кашф намо
Discover the diversity of people - a snapshot with Olga and Andranik
Andranik (41) and Olga (35) settled down in Vienna five years ago. Problems with the National Security Service motivated them to take this step. Since then, the couple has been eagerly waiting for a residence permit. Their greatest wish and goal is to establish themselves in Austria, to find a place in society and to have a professional activity in which they feel needed, valuable and useful.
Both come from the city of Gyumri, the second largest city in Armenia. By the way, Gyumrians call the capital Yerevan their mother city and Gyumri their father city. Andranik studied French and law and was a judge's assistant in his home country, Olga studied Russian and law and was a clerk at the court.
How do you fill your gruelling time of waiting?
Olga: I love baking sweets like gata or baklava/baghlava for friends or my twin sister and her family, who also live in Vienna.
For the past two years, I have been volunteering on Fridays at the Wiener Bedarfshilfe association. I distribute food and clothes to families and pensioners.
The association helps people not with money, but with necessities. It helps to ensure that basic needs are met for socially disadvantaged people.
It gives me a good feeling to help others. I like the fact that I can use and improve my German in the conversations.
Andranik: I have started studying law, together we have attended German courses. We also go on many walks, along the Danube Canal or in the city park. Before Corona, we visited all kinds of museums in the city. Our favourite museums are the Natural History Museum and the Art History Museum.
Olga: Don't forget the National Library. When I enter the National Library, I get an indescribably wonderful feeling. It radiates a venerable, almost sacred atmosphere for me.
What were your daily tasks on the job?
Olga: I took on organisational and administrative tasks. As a clerk, for example, it was my job to collect the hearing dates set by the judges into one document, to send the invitation to the parties concerned, to copy documents, to manage and constantly update data in the system.
Andranik: I was an assistant judge in a civil court of first instance. My activities included preparing and checking the completeness of decisions and judgments so that they could be signed by the judge. Most recently, I dealt with insolvencies.
What differences did you notice between Armenian and Austrian law?
Andranik: I have not dealt with the matter that deeply. We generally have three instances in court, divided into criminal law, civil law and so on. If an appeal is filed, the party goes to the next instance. A separate administrative law was only established in 2008. Before that, the economic and administrative branches were mixed with civil law.
Our administrative law was derived from German law and Armenian judges were doing internships in Germany at the time.
The age of criminal responsibility is 14, with varying degrees of severity depending on the offence. The age of majority is 18.
What experience had a deep impact on you?
Olga: The big earthquake on 7 December 1988 just before 12:00 p.m. I was only in kindergarten at the time, but I remembered how my sister and I ran down the many steps into the open air. My mother (a native of Ukraine) later told me that she had not known it was an earthquake. When she felt the vibration, she wanted to hold on to a cupboard so that the valuables inside would not fall and break. My father had to convince her to leave the house as soon as possible.
Andranik: When it happened I was having Russian lessons. We also had to evacuate the building immediately. All the school buildings were destroyed and the houses of Gyumri collapsed like a house of cards. Over 25,000 people were killed in this earthquake. I lost my aunt together with my cousin. Everyone knows someone who has lost loved ones. This event is deeply embedded in our minds. Even today, we have every year on the 7th of December off to commemorate. The television programmes do not play entertainment films on this day. It is important for the Armenian mentality that such events are not forgotten.
The city has not been completely rebuilt until today. We lived in tents for a while. The school was also in a tent, only sparsely furnished and without heating. I attended grade 4 in 1988 and graduated years later still in a tent.
What do you appreciate about Armenia?
Andranik: Compared to Austria, Armenia is not very rich in sights. In Yerevan, the capital, there is a museum dedicated to the Armenian genocide. On 24 April 1915, the first genocide of the 20th century began, which, according to estimates, claimed the lives of about 1.5 million Armenians by 1916. The documentary Aghet tells the story of this dark chapter in Armenian history. In German, there is the two-part film Mayrig - Heimat in der Fremde and Mayrig Straße zum Glück. It describes the life of a family who fled the genocide to France. The music from this film is from a duduk, one of the oldest woodwind instrument.
There are many old churches and monasteries. The oldest church and the religious centre of the country is the Echmiadzin Church. Did you know? Armenia is the oldest Christian country in the world. According to the Guinness Book of Records, we also have the longest cable car in the world. Visitors can comfortably reach the Tatev Monastery in about 12 minutes.
Olga: I feel a strong inner-family bond. Most of the time, the children live as adults in the same house as their parents. Not only Armenian stories are passed down from generation to generation, but also the first names themselves. Children usually have the same first names as their grandparents or their in-laws.
What does "The Diversity of People" mean translated into Armenian?
Mardkants bazmazanutyun - Մարդկանց բազմազանություն
Discover the diversity of people - a snapshot with Smart
Dr Smart Nkemakolam Benson Chukwuemeka Josaiah Ezenyriume Azuru Nwa Ukwuoji or Smart Eze (76) for short is married and has two grown-up daughters. He lives in Eichgraben since 1989. At the age of 23, he served as a soldier in the civil war of Biafra, a comrad triggered a landmine. A large number of tiny flying metal splinters pierced his eyes and upper body. As part of a humanitarian relief operation, Smart was flown out to Europe with other wounded soldiers in May 1969. Doctors tried in vain to restore his eyesight at the Lainz hospital. Smart can only sense his new home. Despite the circumstances, he drew tremendous courage to face life. After training as a telephone operator, he attended an evening school, studied, and received his doctorate in 1979.
A year later, he started working at the UN. First, he was a special representative in the UN Decade of Persons with Disabilities, then a press officer and finally as a social affairs specialist in the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. He has been retired since 2005. In his book "My Four Worlds" he tells his personal story.
You told me your beautiful name in one second. It took me ten seconds and I still pronounced it incorrectly. Tell me the secret behind your name?
In Nigeria, the parents choose different names for the newborn. My father gave me the name Nkemakolam which translates means: Let me not need what I desire. For baptism at the age of 12 I was given the name Benson, my mother always called me Chukweumeka (God make it good). I took the name Josaiah Ezenyriume from my father, the name Azuru, from my grandfather and Nwa Ukwuoji means son of the great grandfather. So my name is a living family tree. My cousin called me Smart, because I was a very inquisitive and curious child.
What was your biggest success at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime?
Building a worldwide computer database of NGOs working in the field of drug abuse and rehabilitation. Over time, I collected a lot of information and by the time I retired in 2005, my department had electronically registered more than 1,200 non-profit organisations.
Which of your activities at the UN has satisfied you the most?
That I was able to contribute to promoting and improving the situation of people with disabilities worldwide. It has satisfied me to see that people, no matter what their handicap is, are becoming visible to the community. That they are given a life with more quality, mobility and new prospects for the future.
In 1981, the core team (consisting of about 20 people) and I sowed the seed as part of the International Year of Disabled People. A small plant sprouted from it, which slowly but surely grew into a stately tree.
Due to its success, it was decided in 1982 to extend the International Year of Disabled Persons to a UN Decade (1983 - 1992) of People with Disabilities.
Western developed countries have turned many of our projects into reality.
Lack of funding is one of the reasons why people with disabilities in many countries still face far too many barriers every day. I wish that one day these people will be able to live a dignified life as well.
According to the UN, two thirds of the 650 million people with disabilities live in underdeveloped countries.
Despite all the efforts, it took until 2006 when the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Disability Rights Convention, UN CPRD) was agreed. It became effective in 2008.
You are involved in the organisation Light for the World during your retirement. What is your activity?
Light for the World is an internationally active Austrian professional organisation that works for eye patients, blind people and people with other impairments in countries of the global South.
When I was still working, one of my goals for retirement was to get involved with this NGO. But not in an office as usual, but in the outside field. So, together with a co-worker, I visited educational institutions in Vienna, Lower Austria, Upper Austria and Styria. Starting from kindergarten up to upper secondary school. I told children and adolescents how people from Africa, Asia or Latin America handle their impairments in everyday life, how society deals with eye diseases and their prevention.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that more than 35 million people worldwide are blind.
How has the technology for blind people developed?
Over time, a number of aids for blind people have been launched.
In the 1980s, I started with an Optacon. It took me 15 minutes to read half a page. That was a huge challenge because some days I had to read up to 300 pages. I had to improve a lot during those years. My secretary helped me read confidential documents and volunteer readers read public reports to me.
My tape recorder and dictaphone were always next to me.
When the Optacon was replaced by a Versa Braille device, it was an incredible relief for me. The texts to be read were translated into Braille with computer software and enabled me to read and write texts myself. With a matrix printer, I was also able to print out what I had written.
Today, my smartphone reads my messages and emails to me. Louis Braille, the inventor of Braille, would have been happy with me that we have developed such advanced technology.
When was the last time you visited Nigeria and what is the current situation from your point of view?
The last time I visited my family was in 2005. At that time, I celebrated my 60th birthday with a great party.
Nigeria itself is sitting on a powder keg. Since the Biafra civil war, there has been deep mistrust between the individual ethnic groups.
In 1967, the oil-rich Christian south-east of Nigeria, where I also lived, declared its independence. The Republic of Biafra was born. "Land of the rising sun, land of brave heroes, we salute Biafra" was our national anthem.
By 1970, Nigeria had reconquered the territory in one of the cruellest wars Africa had ever seen. Many people, especially young people, still dream of an independent country due to a high unemployment rate and a lack of future prospects.
People are shot and kidnapped every day. At the beginning of June, I read that President Muhammadu Buhari had blocked Twitter for the whole nation because Twitter had deleted a tweet of him. If the people circumvent this block, individuals face prosecution. Critical opinions are taboo.
From personal experience, I know that in such cases, the police do not hesitate for long, and shoot people before arresting them.
The Igbo, an ethnic group into which I was also born, are the most disadvantaged in the state.
The Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram is wreaking havoc with massacres in northern Nigeria.
I also want to mention population growth: In the 1960s, I lived for a short time in Lagos, a city with less than 3 million inhabitants at that time. Today, it is estimated that over 20 million people live in Lagos.
I wonder what strategy my country will follow when the black gold of oil, our main source of income, dries up.
When were you conscripted into the Biafra war and how do you feel about weapons being played down and brutal computer games being played in peaceful countries?
I was called up in 1968 in Port Harcourt. In the last few years that I was blessed with my eyesight, I saw unimaginable suffering and was aware of a deafening noise around me every day.
We as soldiers had little to eat, but more than most of the population and especially more than the children, the poorest and most innocent people in this cruel war. Many parents were separated from their children and the children from Biafra suffered from kwashiorkor. The disease pattern shows the characteristic hunger belly.
I ask myself: How can we humans claim to be smart, resourceful, educated and talented? How can a peaceful country that condemns wars produce weapons itself? What is the point of commemorations such as D-Day if the root of the evil is not tackled?
Why do we live in two worlds, do we have two faces?
Humans are basically good, we want to live in harmony, we stand up for justice. Under certain circumstances, however, we turn into highly aggressive beings. As long as we don't get rid of these two faces, as long as we don't manage to solve conflicts without using weapons, we are anything but not intelligent, we behave like primitive and instinct-driven beings.
I expect more from people. I feel a great lack of understanding for the fact that apparently educated people find pleasure in weapons and brutal video games.
I ask myself why and think a lot without having found a solution. I am seriously considering sitting down again to write down my reflections for posterity. I still have not found the muse to do so, but perhaps it will come one day.
Are you still in touch with the other soldiers who were flown out with you at that time?
Yes. At that time, the flights were organised by the International Red Cross. Even in the darkness, the plane was shot at. I was very lucky: no more soldiers were flown out after that flight.
In total, 70 people were flown out in my plane to various European countries.
When I landed in Vienna, nine other people besides me left the plane with facial injuries. Of the ten people who arrived in Vienna in 1969, four are still alive.
Before Corona, we met once a month at the restaurant Mama's African Grill-Bar in Vienna's 10th district. An excellent restaurant that reminded us of how our mothers cooked.
What was your favourite festival as a child?
The New Yams Festival. Yams is a basic food in Nigeria. Already in the morning of the festival day, everybody was cooking. Various spices were finely ground with mortars. The smell and the continuous pounding in the individual households was like music to my ears. In the afternoon, we received guests from other villages. They brought gifts and in return we entertained them.
The music in the village square played until the early hours of the morning. What I liked most was the Ikoro dance.
Discover the diversity of people – a snapshot with Margarita
Margarita (28) has lived since her birth in the university town of Ufa, the capital of Bashkortostan, which is an autonomous republic in the eastern part of European Russia since 1919. The city was originally founded as a fortress in the 16th century and is located at the Ufa, Djoma and Belaya rivers. She studied at the Bashkir State Pedagogical University and has a bachelor's degree in linguistics. Currently, Margarita works as a librarian with foreign students at Bashkir State Medical University.
How can I imagine a day in your life?
In my apartment the alarm clock rings at 8:00. From Monday to Friday, I work at the university from 10:00 to 18:00. In the evening I spend time with my family or my boyfriend. I like to read or surf on the internet.
On the weekends I usually go to the countryside, to my grandma. At her place I can relax from a busy week and sometimes I help her with the gardening. On my vacations, I love to travel.
To keep up my standard of living, like many other people here, I have next to my major job, small part-time jobs. As I have a diploma as a German and English teacher, I tutor adults and children.
What do you like most about traveling?
Sightseeing. I like to visit cafes, shopping malls or museums. Russian workers have an average of 28 calendar days of vacation. During this time, I like to go to the south of Russia. I like cities like Moscow or St. Petersburg. Outside Russia I have been to Germany, Czech Republic, Scandinavia, Greece, and I plan to go to Turkey.
As a child I spent my vacations in the countryside or in summer camps. I also went to the sea with my mother. One of my dreams is to travel around the world.
Is Bashkortostan different from Russia?
Just as in any Russian republic (there are over 20 autonomous republics in Russia) there are two official languages: Russian and Bashkir.
Therefore, many streets are written in Russian, Bashkir, but also in English.
Three languages that have nothing in common. Russian is a Slavic language, Bashkir belongs to the family of Turkic languages and English is a Germanic language.
Bashkortostan is about as big as Austria and Bavaria together, and has over 4 million inhabitants. Bashkirs, Russians and Tatars are the largest group of over 100 nationalities who live peacefully together. I am a Russian descent with Ukrainian roots.
Since the majority of Bashkirs confess to Sunni Islam, we also have holidays such as Kurban Bayrami (Islamic Feast of Sacrifice), which takes place in 2021 in mid-July, or Uraza Bayrami (Feast of Breaking the Fast). Each ethnic group is living according to different rituals and customs. This is what I love about Russia and it makes my country to a complex and unique Potpourri of diversity.
What is the leading economic sector in Bashkortostan?
Bashkortostan is an economically strong and successful region compared to other Russian regions. The economy is focused on oil production and processing. For example, the largest petrochemical complex within Europe is located in the north of Ufa. Bashneft alone, a subsidiary of Rosneft, employs over 33,000 workers in my hometown.
Which status does music and food have for you?
I listen to a lot of music. Mainly psychodelic rock, folk, gothic and relaxing music. Zilia Bakhtiyeva is a famous singer from Ufa. Here she is singing a Bashkir folk song. A traditional musical instrument is the shepherd's flute Kurai, which is about 80 cm long. The four young men from the ethno group Yatagan, who are also from Ufa, are playing here a song in which a kurai is participating.
I like to eat fruits, vegetables, seafood, sometimes chicken and sweets. My favorite dishes are mushroom or lentil soup and bulgur.
For example, a traditional dish is Etchpotschmak. These are triangular fried dumplings filled with potatoes, meat, and onions. Bashkortostan is famous for its honey. The traditional art of forest beekeeping with wild bees is practiced by beekeepers.
What are the values that are important to you?
I value health and a respectful treatment of my fellow human beings. I am happy about any smile, and I feel close to the animals and our nature. We are only guests on this imperfect world for a short period of our lives. I am deeply shocked by the cruelty that humans inflict to the most diverse creatures on this earth.