This newsletter is dedicated to Martine de Schutter who was on board of the MH 17 that crashed on July 17th, 2014 in Ukraine. From 2004 until the end of 2013 Martine was Executive Coordinator of Aids Action Europe. Under her leadership this network has become an important advocacy player in the European region.
On September 22nd, colleagues, friends and family of Martine came together in Amsterdam to pay tribute and share memories of her.
“I never met Martine in person. When I started to work as Executive Coordinator of AIDS Action Europe in August 2014, shortly after the crash of MH 17 happened, I would come across her name all the time, not only in the news but also at work, handling documents and files and reports. She had left AIDS Action Europe only at the end of 2013 and started working for Bridging the Gaps. I learnt that Martine was the heart of AIDS Action Europe and without her work, her passion and her commitment the network most likely would not exist.
Then I went to the memorial ceremony in Amsterdam on September 22 and the picture of Martine became more real. Meeting her colleagues and family, getting to know so much more about Martine, sensing the incredible and indescribable loss all those people felt and expressed; all this touched me deeply. If there is one message that I got out of this day, it is this: It would have been her wish to maintain the work of AIDS Action Europe that she started. Although we can never fill the gap that she left, we will try everything to keep up the work of AIDS Action Europe in her remembrance.”
Michael Krone, Executive Coordinator of Aids Action Europe
In this Newsletter colleagues and friends of Martine took the chance to share their moments with her.
"When I started working in the European and international field back in 2008, Martine was amongst the first ones to welcome and introduce me to the field. What a welcome introduction it was. Besides being very professional, Martine was also one of the kindest people I’d ever had the chance to work with. She was great in making you feel as part of the team. During these 5 years, we worked together in AIDS Action Europe; we shared several meetings, conferences and teleconferences; professional and private conversations. We started out as colleagues, but ended up becoming friends.
Martine was always there for you, whether you needed professional advice or someone who would listen to your personal problems. I remember our talks about our sons, the difficulties and joys of raising a boy as a single mother or a gay father. I remember her adventures due to lost luggage in Minsk, or the ash cloud from Iceland that stuck half of the Steering Committee and staff in Kiev. I remember the Ljubljana conference where Martine was handing out painkillers to the whole panel suffering from massive headaches caused by drinking out the previous night. I remember…
When Martine left AIDS Action Europe at the end of 2013, it was a bittersweet good-bye. We knew she would be missed from the team, but we knew it was just a professional good-bye. Now we have to say our final good-bye. R.I.P. Martine.”
Ferenc Bagyinszky, Hungarian Civil Liberties Union Hungary, AAE Steering Committee Member
"It was 2009, during my first Civil Society Forum meeting, when I met Martine for the first time. I was pretty much excited not to know what I could expect from the meeting and Martine seemed to be pretty reserved at that time. I was too shy to talk to her, but her laughter was so catching. By then, I got to know her as Executive Coordinator of AAE and by her engagement in the IQhiv initiative. Probably she had not heard of me before, and it took me some time to overcome my shyness. I remember the moment very well - I ran into her at the Amsterdam airport on the way to Luxembourg for another CSF meeting. While waiting for the flight we started chatting, as if we had always shared personal life details, ideas and funny stories with each other. It felt as if we had known each other for many years.
I remember her contagious laughter since that time. After hard work at the CSF meetings we had a couple of glasses of wine together with other colleagues. It was last December.
I will never forget those laughing and caring moments we spent together."
Silke Klumb, Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe, AAE Steering Committee Member
“Martine surely changed my professional and personal life a lot. I met her in 2009 during my first Civil Society Forum meeting. Shortly afterwards she encouraged me to apply as member of the AAE Steering Committee and then as co-chair of the CSF. I could not have succeeded in meeting these challenges without her. She was my mentor; she was always on my side and shared with me all her experience and insight.
Martine was one of the key people involved in the constitution of AIDS Action Europe and of the HIV/AIDS Civil Society Forum. She was the institutional memory of the past 10 years of advocacy at European level and we would not be where we are today without her continuous commitment. We will never recover from her loss but nevertheless, even if we are weaker without her, we need to keep on with our efforts to achieve a better world with no inequalities, no stigma and no discrimination; because I am sure she would have been very sad and disappointed if we give up.
Most of all, I miss Martine as a precious friend and I keep remembering the many good times we had together in so many different cities. I remember that she liked to pick small hotels with friendly management, the times when we had a good glass of wine after meetings, or when we went wandering in Washington, the city she knew so well. She was always there for me and for many other friends, and I wish I was able to give her back at least some of the affection, friendship and support she shared with me. I will always keep her in my heart and in my mind.”
Lella Cosmaro, LILA Milano ONLUS Italy, AAE Steering Committee Member
“It was my first CSF meeting in 2011. I am part of a big group of my future friends, perceived as the meeting participants at that moment, sitting at St Catherine's square in Brussels in a tavern eating (what else) mussels, talking about vacations and the economic crisis in Greece and in Europe and in which way it does influence people living with HIV.
Martine's testimony about the crisis helped me a lot to understand that the broadly raised idea about "Greeks being lazy according to the Europeans" was a fraud. Solidarity and care about how this whole thing of the economy and the proposed reforms would have a big impact on us filled the table. Her smile of confidence talked straight to my heart.”
Marianella Kloka, PRAKSIS Greece, AAE Steering Committee Member
“In 2012, as the Executive Coordinator of AIDS Action Europe, Martine organised the Steering Committee meeting in Minsk, Belarus. Martine was very eager to have the meeting in a country of Eastern Europe in order to promote the network and to assist the chair of the steering committee in raising awareness of the needs of people living with HIV in Belarus. In 2012 there were serious problems in the supplies of ARVs in Belarus. The trip to Belarus didn’t start fortunately, Martine’s luggage didn’t arrive. She was very upset that the gifts for the host organization were in her suitcase and that she was not able to thank people right away. Every day she contacted the airport for information. At the end, she got it back after she had left the country.
The meeting got a lot of attention in the country, and not just from the local civil society. We were watched by the national security service; everyday two men were stood in the corridor of the venue, the first day behind pillars, but soon after in the open space watching us and our activities. We had the impression that we were followed on our way to restaurants or other trips into town. It made us feel uncomfortable, but we all started a bit giggling about it. Martine in particular was aware of the implications for AAE and for our host. So when she was asked for an interview by the local media, she was concerned to do so. However, she also realised that the Belarusian people living with HIV and the local NGOs needed the support of AAE. So there she stood, in front of the camera, telling the audience that it is so important to give people treatment and to avoid stock outs! She cared more for the people in need than for her own safety.”
Anke van Dam, AIDS Foundation East-West (AFEW) Netherlands, AAE Steering Committee member, chair since 2014
“Martine was for me a colleague, a friend and in more than one way, a mentor, especially during my first steps at the European level of HIV work, many years ago. She was there from the start of AIDS Action Europe and influenced its development, its strategies and its work from the centre stage. Her perseverance, her commitment, and - no doubt at some times - her stubbornness helped move forward our agenda in AIDS Action Europe and on the European level, a statement to which many colleagues will concur.
But apart from her professional skills, she became a friend. In countless staff meetings and in many meetings apart from work, we could laugh together and reminisce about things past. She is already dearly missed. And I hope that many of us can take her attitude as an example. She truly showed us that commitment and passion can change things on a personal level. At least that is one thing I will take with me from Martine. I would like to thank her for all that.”
Harry Witzthum, Schweizerischer Gehörlosenbund, former AAE Steering Committee member
We mourn over the loss of our dear Martine de Schutter.