Adele Duttweiler Prize 2009: Two women – one labour of love

Barbara Gautschi and Prapapone Khotsanlee have, for the past 15 years, devoted themselves to looking after deprived children in northern Thailand. In 2009, they were awarded the CHF 50,000 Adele Duttweiler Prize for their successful humanitarian aid project.

In the “Golden Triangle”, where the borders of Laos, Burma and Thailand meet, drug dealing and child prostitution are a sad fact of everyday life. The inaccessible mountain region is an area of terrible poverty, and for most children, the idea of regularly attending school is just a pipe dream. Yet school education is a really effective route out of misery. Barbara Gautschi from Geneva and Prapapone Khotsanlee from Thailand have made it their aim to put a smile back on the faces of children beset by poverty and hopelessness. For them, it’s a labour of love.

In 1998, they set up an association called Le Sourire de Chiang Khong : a ray of light in the darkness of human trafficking and opium smoking. They rented a house and gave 24 children somewhere to live and receive schooling for a better future. Sponsors, mainly from Switzerland, provided funds for the project. Today, they have an extended family of 125 boys and girls, a number that will some day rise to 200. That will be the limit, as otherwise the project will become unmanageable for these two extraordinary women.

The Adele Duttweiler Prize Foundation was created in 1972. That was the year when the wife, life companion and partner of Migros founder Gottlieb Duttweiler celebrated her 80th birthday. The prize that bears her name also honours her as the strong woman at the side of Migros’ founder – for the energy she devoted to helping set up Migros. Since then, the prize has been awarded to people and organisations for work they have done in the social field. The prize is awarded jointly by the ten cooperatives. Among the previous prize winners are well-known figures such as Revd. Ernst Sieber (1976), Dr. Beat “Beatocello” Richner (1994) and Lotti Latrous (2002), and extraordinary people such as Elisa Mapély for her work with blind people like herself (1974).

The award of the 33rd Adele Duttweiler Prize to Barbara Gautschi and Prapapone Khotsanlee is not only a reward for their work, but will also, let us hope, ensure that there will be many more smiles in Chiang Khong.