Interview with Maria Jesus Alonso Lormand, Head of the International Solidarity Service
Maria Jesus Alonso Lormand has been Head of the International Solidarity Service of the canton of Geneva since 2006. As the leader of a six-person team, she talks to us here about her work, her Service’s priorities, and the projects it supports.
Could you give us some concrete examples of projects supported by your Service?
In 2011 we began a project to support victims of sexual violence in Rwanda. This project, set up in conjunction with the University Hospital Geneva (HUG) and Kigali’s psychiatric consultation service, includes psychological care for victims, the establishment of support groups, the development of revenue-producing agricultural activities, and an increase in the professional capacities of the Rwandan mental health services.
In Colombia, we supported a project – in the municipality of Inza, in the department of Cauca – aimed at preventing and combating violence and discrimination against women. This project is being carried out by the Protierradentro association.
In Afghanistan, the Service supported the International Assistance Mission project, which is developing an eyecare network aimed at eradicating curable blindness.
In 2011, humanitarian aid projects were supported in Haiti, to deal with the cholera epidemic, and in the Horn of Africa, following the major food crisis caused by drought.
These are a few examples from among the hundred or so projects supported by the International Solidarity Service in 2011: projects in the areas of education, health, human rights, environmental and humanitarian aid that also help to strengthen the Genevan network of associations. In this way, the canton of Geneva also demonstrates its commitment to fighting inequality and promoting its policy of international solidarity.
How do you monitor the implementation of the projects you support? Do you travel to the countries in question?
Once a year, the associations have to provide an activity report and a financial report detailing the project’s expenses. A work meeting is held on receipt of these reports. The payment is only made after the report has been approved so that activities can continue.
There are also on-site assessment missions conducted once a year. Some of these missions are given to external consultants, while some are carried out by our own staff.
I travelled to Haiti myself in 2011, in order to follow-up on projects financed by the canton in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. This remains the best way of seeing how the projects work, of checking their relevance and the associations’ ability to manage them.
Tell us about the priority you give to environmental issues: which projects have you supported and why?
The Geneva State Coucil has made the environment one of the strategic focuses of its 2010-2013 legislative programme. Each year, the canton allocates a specific sum to International Solidarity for projects relating to environmental protection - in response to the consequences of climate change - food safety, and reducing the risks of natural disasters.
To give a few examples, there are reforestation projects for fruit trees and forests in the north of Togo in order to combat famine and desertification; a project for recycling used cooking oils from Bali’s hotels and restaurants; and the establishment of a waste management network in four Bolivian cities.
What conditions must an association meet in order to be able to submit a funding request to your service?
Associations should be based in the canton of Geneva and be able to prove that they carry out a regular activity here, as well as offering guarantees relating to the management of the project and their transparency in terms of sources of funding and activity and accountancy reports.
For humanitarian aid and environmental projects, associations based in other Swiss cantons can apply for funding, as long as they meet the above-mentioned criteria.
Geneva is home to numerous international organizations. Can these bodies also make applications to you?
International organizations based in Geneva may also present projects in their respective areas. We work with various international organizations notably in relation to humanitarian aid. There is an agreement for a portion of International Solidarity’s funds to be given to the ICRC, an exemplary humanitarian organisation.
What kind of working relationships do you maintain with the various international organizations and NGOs based in Geneva? Do you have concrete examples you could share with us?
As I mentioned, we meet all the associations once a year. With major partners such as the Fédération Genevoise de Coopération, annual meetings with the donors offer an opportunity to consider cooperation strategies in the current framework.
Another type of collaboration involves activities aimed at raising awareness or spreading information. The presence of these organizations alongside our Service allows us to broaden our vision and to confront the reality on the ground in the presence of the donors.
Another good example of collaboration is the presence of the International Solidarity Service, alongside NGOs based in Geneva, at the Sustainable Development Festival.
The International Solidarity Service provides aid – in the form of contributions to the costs of renting offices – to the diplomatic missions of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) based in Geneva. Why is this important?
The political will of the Swiss Confederation and of the Geneva State Council is to enable the Least Developed Countries (LDC) to be represented in international organizations in Geneva.
It is important for these countries to have access to United Nations bodies and to be able to fully participate in the activities and discussions taking place in Geneva. It is worth noting that the grants awarded are for the rental costs of permanent missions to the UN in Geneva, and not for embassies or consulates.
There are currently 48 LDCs in the United Nations, 40 of whom have a presence in Geneva.
Tell us about your own career. What brought you to work on these issues?
I have been very aware of problems of inequality, in a wider sense, since I was very young. I was born in Spain; my family background was modest, but I was able to study at university. In 1985, I went to Guatemala for the first time with Médecins Sans Frontières, and that was when I realised I wanted to work in this area. For more than 20 years, I have worked for development and humanitarian aid projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America with various international organisations and NGOs.
I think I have given something to these people, but what I know for certain is that they have given me a great deal. I am continuing my involvement today, championing the idea that we in international and humanitarian Geneva must show that, even if we cannot always cope with the consequences of political and economic problems, our solidarity can contribute to improving the quality of life for many people living in tragic situations. It is our responsibility to help them.