WHO WE ARE
A Better Life Foundation grew out of the experiences of its founder, Hans Hoegh (1926-2010) during a trip to Burkina Faso, one of the ten poorest countries in the world. His response to the suffering he encountered there and his unique plan to alleviate it were informed by a lifetime’s work for humanitarian causes. Mr. Hoegh’s lengthy career working in the international relief community began in 1957, when he first chaired humanitarian projects for the Oslo Red Cross. His labors on behalf of the dispossessed expanded, eventually leading to the creation of international relief programs for the Norwegian Red Cross, of which he was elected the President in 1975. He was elected Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in 1982, coordinating the collaborations of these worldwide humanitarian organizations from their headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. In 1988 he was appointed Secretary General Emeritus of the Societies. He served in turn as the Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations as the Special Representative of the Secretary General for the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons.
He had an enduring belief that those who needed help should have a central role in determining what sort of assistance they required and how they could best put it to use. So when traveling in Burkina Faso, he did not begin by consulting with the aid community, or government representatives. He went out on the streets of the country’s capital, Ouagadougou, and sought out the poor and the homeless to talk to them about their lives, to see for himself how they lived, and to ask them what they most needed.
Based on their responses, he created the goals and programs of A Better Life Foundation, which he founded in the year 2000 in Geneva, Switzerland. Unlike many nonprofits created to deal with poverty in the developing world, ABLF focused all of its efforts on one nation, Burkina Faso. It began and has remained a grass roots organization: all of the staff in Burkina Faso are native Burkinabe. Both the evolving programs of the nonprofit and its goals have remained closely tied to the expressed needs of its clients. ABLF created a medical center in the capital, offering a variety of free medical and social services to the poor. It co-sponsored a number of sight-related projects with other nonprofits, offering free cataract surgery, free eye exams, and free glasses to rural populations. It sponsored tours of rural areas by volunteer surgeons and support staffs, providing free corrective surgeries for children with cleft palates and cleft lips, and for children suffering from clubfoot. And because Mr. Hoegh was profoundly moved by the struggles of the disabled in Burkina Faso—one of the poorest and most isolated elements of Burkinabe society—ABLF began in 2005 to pay all educational costs for disabled children, or the children of poor disabled parents, in a number of villages. Because the disabled have so few opportunities to work, and are often close to being outcasts in Burkinabe society, they frequently have no access to education, the most certain route of escaping from a lifetime of deprivation and suffering.
Many of the children first enrolled in the program were supported by it throughout their school years, concluding with their graduation from secondary school. Other children, for whom family situations or other factors made traditional education impossible, were placed by ABLF in apprenticeships, and by learning a trade were able to become self-sufficient. During the 2016/2017 school year 505 children were participants in the program.
Through its decade and a half in Burkina Faso, ABLF was supported by several partner nonprofits, including ABLF Norway and ABLF, Inc., with its offices in Coral Gables, Florida. Both groups raised money to fund ABLF’s work and to make ABLF’s programs better known. Nonprofits, created to deal with often fluid situations, themselves change over time. In 2014, the board of A Better Life Foundation, feeling that many of ABLF’s goals had been recognized and adopted by other nonprofits now working in Burkina Faso, and that Hans Hoegh’s principle of treating the dispossessed not as clients but as partners had gained wide acceptance, voted to dissolve the Geneva-based organization and encourage energetic young nonprofits to step forward. Its various programs were absorbed by some of its partners.
ABLF, Inc., the U.S.-based offshoot of ABLF, stepped up to assume full responsibility for the school program, beginning with the 2014/2015 school year. It also charted an ambitious plan to expand the program, opening it to an additional 200 students, and to lobby for government recognition in Burkina Faso of the rights and special needs of the disabled. Building on the success of a longstanding program, ABLF, Inc. intends to preserve its successful formula, to expand it and to circulate news of its efficacy more widely. It remains devoted to the central principle at the heart of ABLF’s mission: to focus all of its energies on creating a better life for those who, when given support, guidance and respect can achieve independence and a productive self-sufficiency. Please join us in this vital work.