The people behind Terre des hommes
Terre des hommes was created 60 years ago with a mission to rescue children in distress, no matter who they were or where they might be.
We have worked with families, communities and experts to save the lives of millions of children, and to improve their health and well-being. Over the last six decades, our growing expertise in child protection has enabled young people to reclaim their childhoods, even during crises when their whole lives were falling apart. Our volunteers and donors have supported us daily from the day we were founded.
What we are today, and what we fight for – the protection of the most disadvantaged children – we owe to your support. You, the hundreds of thousands of people who have contributed to the organisation’s history, who have fought with us and supported us, along with the children, families and their communities who have participated in and helped us improve our projects.
Meet the people behind Terre des hommes!
“I’ve spent my last penny rescuing these children, now it’s over to you.”
During the Algerian war, children found themselves in dire conditions in camps. “Edmond Kaiser was outraged at their misery and actively began to help them in the 1960s,” explains Gilbert Sigrand, member of the Tdh Foundation Council speaking in 1987.
“It is absolutely critical that we remove any children who are alive from this mass grave.”
In 1968, Edmond Kaiser returned from Vietnam, which was being ravaged by war, and gave an interview to the Swiss TV channel RTS to mobilise public support for the innocent children caught up in the crisis.
Healthcare for children: the first activities of Terre des hommes
Surgeon in a Swiss cantonal hospital operating on Tdh children for free, 1967
“We operate on a lot of children, they come from everywhere with all kinds of heart problems. It's our way of contributing to this movement, which we strongly support.”
Danielle Dubreucque, volunteer for Aviation Without Borders, our partner that flies children to Europe for surgery
“Everything began on the tarmac in 1968 during the Biafra crisis, when our pilot agreed to repatriate young Biafrans at Edmond Kaiser’s request. This first spontaneous mission, as hard as it was inspirational, was the start of a collaboration of more than 50 years. Tdh was really the catalyst for our mission to accompany children.”
Dr Issa Tall, herself treated for polio, now makes her own contribution to help children
“As a doctor, I have been committed to promoting independence for people with disabilities. You can see in me the fruit of your work in Africa, aiming to restore dignity to children with a disability and to allow them to be valued as active members of society.”
As a child, Issa Tall was cared for by Tdh in 1970. Now, she is a doctor and director of a Tdh partner hospital in Senegal.
Dr Herbert Bonstein, member of the Council of the Foundation, 1963–1988
“We took care of children with tuberculosis, but there were also many orthopaedic cases of children suffering from the after-effects of polio. Edmond’s diplomatic efforts ensured that the cantonal hospital of Lausanne received CHF 10 per child, per day regardless of the treatment provided. By 1963, a considerable number of children had already been treated.”
Nothing would have been possible without our supporters...
“I offered to sell oranges and that's how the annual orange sale started.”
In 1962, volunteer Claudine Planque was behind the idea of what has become the largest humanitarian street action in Switzerland: the Tdh orange sales.
“We will live in a more harmonious world if everyone gives a little to create a more beautiful world for others.”
Caroline Barbier-Mueller, a major donor and Tdh volunteer, explains what motivated her to get involved and help, 2015.
“It could have been me.”
Lorena, 11 years old, launched a Tdh fundraising campaign to support refugee children in 2016. She managed to raise almost CHF 5000.-, and even received the support of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan!
“Every child has the right to a childhood, one in which they can play, feel safe and don’t have to worry about anything else.”
Roman Bürki, goalkeeper for the Borussia Dortmund club, became a Tdh ambassador in 2018 and has advocated for the safeguarding of children during sports activities.
…and the unwavering commitment of our staff in the field
Mohammed, child protection team leader on the frontline to zones controlled by ISIS, 2017, Iraq.
“It is impossible to imagine a situation where you cannot reach a child in need of help because of security issues. We try to go as far as we can into the occupied zones to provide support for all the children and communities that need our help. Not all NGOs are willing to work in these sensitive areas situated close to the frontlines of the conflict between the army and so-called Islamic State.”
Nathalie Hobeika, lawyer and specialist in religious justice in Lebanon, 2018.
“I realised that emotional and physical punishment are very present in Lebanese society. I wanted to make a change and that is what made me reorient myself. I now work with religious judges, in a process of participation and support, to make them aware of the importance of a child-friendly justice system.”
João, animator in a Tdh centre in Brazil, used to live on the streets, 1990.
“The children respect me. They know that I have been through the same as them. Getting away from that life was worth it. It's hard to get these children off the street because they really have to want it. It has to be done little by little. I stay with them until they understand that a life on the street isn’t good for them. I feel it's my role to help these children.”
Today, children and young people are not only at the heart of our projects but they play a full role in them.
Alaa’, 17 years old, set up her project in our FabLab in Gaza, 2019.
“I created a gas leak detector that detects gas, carbon monoxide and smoke. In winter, people use coal inside and sleep. In many cases, children die because of intoxication. When the carbon monoxide level increases, the detector wakes them up to warn them to put the fire out. The device is not expensive, considering it saves a lot of lives.”
Dasha, 17 years old, set up her project as part of our YouCreate activities in Ukraine, 2020.
“I’m no longer afraid to express my opinion. Sometimes you have to make mistakes. The experience will empower you to make the right choice in the future. We decided to come up with a traditional Ukrainian show. The revival of traditions can strengthen social cohesion.”
A 60-year commitment to children
Terre des hommes is founded
Outraged by the tragedy of child victims of the Algerian war, Edmond Kaiser founds Terre des hommes in 1960 as a movement to rescue children that are hungry, sick, abandoned, in misery or in pain, whoever and wherever they may be.
The orange sale is launched
A Tdh volunteer has the idea to sell oranges to raise money to treat children in Switzerland. The first sale in Lausanne is a success. Little by little, the project grows and expands throughout Switzerland, thanks to the unfailing commitment of our volunteers.
The beginning of heart surgeries
An eleven-year-old Algerian girl is the first child to undergo heart surgery in Geneva. Since 1963, thanks to a huge volunteer network, underprivileged children suffering mainly from heart defects are transferred to Europe for operations that cannot be performed in their own countries. Today, we focus on strengthening the skills of local medical staff.
First emergency deployment to the field
During the Vietnam war, Tdh teams with emergency equipment are deployed for the first time to the field. They support the local health staff overwhelmed by the mass influx of wounded people to hospitals which are often poorly equipped.
Collaboration with local stakeholders
Tdh develops partnerships with local authorities and forges links with communities in Bangladesh to set up a nutrition centre for children during the hunger crisis. This method of working was is innovative at the time and is vital today.
Creation of the Child Rights Unit
With Switzerland yet to ratify the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Terre des hommes takes a strong stance on defending children's rights by creating a Child Rights Unit. In the 1990s, Tdh fights against child trafficking in eastern Europe, calling on countries to apply national and international law as a way of ensuring children are protected.
First World Congress on Justice for Children
Tdh organises the First World Congress on Restorative Juvenile Justice in Lima, Peru. One hundred state, religious or community justice professionals meet to debate and share best practices in protecting children in conflict with the law.
Tdh innovates with digital health
Tdh develops IeDA in Burkina Faso, a tablet-based tool that helps medical staff make more accurate diagnoses of children under the age of five. Thanks to a long-standing collaboration with the government and based on local health structures, our project has enabled more than three million children to receive quality care.
What’s next for Tdh?
Barbara Hintermann, Tdh Director General, talks about our future
“One of our main approaches is to reinforce child participation in listening to their ideas about how we can best respond to their needs. Tdh will continue to develop innovative approaches that offer adapted, effective and responsible responses to the needs of today's children. This includes, for example, digital health or the use of online platforms for child protection professionals.”