Long Read

Simavi – 95 years towards a healthy life for all

July 31st, 2020, marks the 95th anniversary of Simavi. For almost a century we have been working for a healthy and equal world. Our mission has never changed, but through the years our focus shifted, and as an organisation we have developed. Now we work towards a healthy life for women and girls in Africa and Asia.

Our years of experience have made us who we are today: an organisation with extensive knowledge and expertise, yet we also know that there is still much more to learn.

Important milestones in Simavi’s history…

A medical aid organisation

Simavi was founded in 1925 by two Dutch doctors, J. van der Spek and H. Bervoets, who, in that time, worked in Indonesia (then known as the Dutch East Indies). In Indonesia, there was a shortage of tools, medicine and bandages for doctors. For which, aid was provided under the principle that faith, skin colour and political convictions do not play any role.

“You only really help people, when you learn to prevent diseases”

These were the words from Dr. Royer, the first president of Simavi, after the association was recognised in 1926. Years later, this philosophy still prevails within Simavi; although sharpened. A healthy life for all is not only the absence of diseases, but also an overall physical, mental and social well-being.

Patronesses of Simavi

In 1930, Queen Mother Emma, Queen Wilhelmina and Princess Juliana made a significant donation to Simavi. Not much later, Queen Wilhelmina became the patroness of the organisation. Her daughter Princess Juliana later takes over from her and to this day, Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrix is Simavi’s patroness.

Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrix, Simavi’s patroness, with Managing Director Ariette Brouwer at Simavi’s 90th anniversary

Attention to mothers and children

More and more, attention is paid to mothers and children. In the Dutch East Indies, new-born mortality rate is high and government subsidies for medical work are crumbling. Therefore, in 1936, Simavi launches the big “Mother and Child” campaign to raise money for hospital care for mothers.

Crossing borders

After four years of military and political struggle for the independence of the Dutch East Indies, Dutch colonial rule comes to an end on December 27, 1949. However, the country remains a source of conflict and in 1962, all medical workers are forced to leave the Indonesia. For this reason, the doctors and nurses decide to continue their work in other countries, such as India, Pakistan and even in another continent: Africa. In these countries, Simavi provides ambulances and boats to facilitate medical care and transport to-and-from remote areas.

Emphasis on prevention

From 1979, Simavi decides to be preventive and not just curative. At the time much of Simavi’s help is through the supply of medicine, but now activities, such as the construction of wells, hygiene information sessions and trainings for the local population are organised as well.

National campaigns

To expand Simavi’s activities to work towards a healthy life for all and to engage the Dutch audience, the organisation decides in 1992 to put more effort in raising funds. This is done by increasing its brand awareness among the wider public. For the first time, Simavi organises national fundraising campaigns and public media campaigns, and collaborates with famous Dutch people (for example with writer Jan Wolkers and Prince Claus).

Focus on water and sanitation

Through the years, focus shifts towards supporting health and hygiene projects, such as the construction of water and sanitation facilities. In 2003, the national event “Walking for Water” is set up in which school children walk six kilometres with six litres of water on their back, as many young people in developing countries must do every day. Since 2003, Dutch children have collected nearly twelve million euros for three hundred projects worldwide!

Policital influence

In 2008, the International Year of Sanitation, Simavi placed 500 plastic toilets on the square in front of the House of Representatives in The Hague. This was a symbol for the five thousand children who die every day due to a lack of safe drinking water and toilets. The Minister of Development Cooperation, Koenders, receives a petition, offered by two pediatricians, and a hand-painted toilet bowl. The Minister promised to put the topic of sanitation high on the agenda.

Focus on women and girls: a new approach

While women are often the engine of change, they are also vulnerable. In many countries, women have a low social and economic status and are at high risk during pregnancy, childbirth and unsafe sex. That is why, from 2008 onwards, Simavi focuses on women and girls and strives to empower them.

Simavi today…

As an organisation with a long history, we must constantly ask ourselves how we can continue to make a relevant contribution to a rapidly changing world.
We continuously ask ourselves: How do we really make a difference? We are concerned with impact: the lasting, sustainable change in the health, well-being and lives of women and girls.

In 2020, all our programmes revolve around themes that are linked to clean water, hygiene and sexual rights and health. Without clean water, for example, as a woman you cannot give birth safely, wash your hands or take care of yourself hygienically during your period. As long as women have no right to make their own choices about their bodies, they will continue to be at a disadvantage and oppressed in society. That is why their voice needs to be heard and we strive to make them feel strong, confident and safe, and to have the knowledge and resources to make informed choices.

That is impact for us. That is why we have been doing this work for 95 years. And that is what we will continue to work for.

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