Story 1. Suwatland – how it began

The home of Suwat is the place where JL wrote “What Makes Us Human?”. In a way it’s very fitting because Suwat really helped JL to understand the AIDS situation in Thailand in the beginning of 2000s. For some reason, it was important for me to see that place. Maybe out of curiosity, maybe to understand better, I didn’t analyse it much. And so it happened that at the end of November 2017, I travelled with JL to Northern Thailand to visit Suwatland. The place is exactly like the man himself – so far away that even the background noise gets quiet, yet so familiar like it’s always been part of you.


During the next couple of weeks we will share some stories about this phenomenal place. Looking forward of hearing your thoughts about it!


Text  by Anu Sieberk

Just Love


Dear Friends of the Constellation,

As certain as every morning’s sunrise

is our capacity to Love.

When Love knocks on our door,

are we letting it in?

Are we taking enough care of ourselves

to let Love work through us?

Over 2018, let us further explore how SALT enables Love in Action.

Happy 2018!



Chers Amis de la Constellation, 

Aussi certaine que le lever du soleil chaque matin

est notre capacité d’aimer.

Quand l’Amour frappe à notre porte

le laissons-nous entrer?

Prenons-nous suffisamment soin de nous

pour permettre à l’Amour d’oeuvrer à travers nous?

Explorons en 2018 comment SALT permet de traduire l’Amour en actes.

Bonne Année 2018

I am retired, but I am not tired!

I am retired, but I am not tired! This is how Christine introduces herself during a SALT visit to the Bugonga community of older persons, near Entebbe in Uganda. The Constellation and HENU have organized this SALT visit in the context of the Global Learning Festival. For five days of the festival, visitors and hosts learn from each other, as they connect and share from their life experiences. Christine’s statement resonates with me, as at seventy, I don’t think of myself as being retired. Her introduction made me want to connect with Christine.

Christine is very busy while we sit idle as we wait for more older persons to join the meeting. One after the other, older persons come and sit next to her. She then checks the members’ blood pressure (BP), and enters data in a big notebook. I join the older persons and request Christine to measure my BP. She carefully opens her notebook and writes down my personal data. I ask: “What do you do when someone has high BP?” Christine refers the person to the hospital with a special form that gives the person priority access to the doctor’s consultation.  She then follows up to check the person’s BP at home. We connected during this conversation, but I wanted to learn more from Christine. I wanted to explore what was driving her to continue to work at her old age.


I followed Christine at her home with a small team of visitors. We talk while we visit her garden.  She shares about the loss of her husband who disappeared on his return from Kenya several years ago, about her father, her children and grandchildren. We then return to our conversation on her activity in the community. How did she start taking BPs in the community? From the outset in 2012, the Bugonga community of older persons identified the members’ health as an area of concern, together with sanitation, exercise and nutrition. She would give advice on healthy living. Then, end 2016 Health Nest Uganda asked from the older persons’ community about who would measure BP regularly to detect hypertension. They selected Christine. HENU gave a BP meter to Christine for use in the community. Christine has worked as a nurse for 61 years and she has no intention to stop. “Chosen to serve” is our nurses’ motto, and serve I will until I die!

When I worked as a District Medical Officer in Zaire, and later as a health specialist, I worked primarily at the improvement of the health of mothers and children. Health of older persons were not on my “radar screen”. I knew how older persons could actively care for each other and for the community at large, but so far, I had not experienced it.  My encounter with Christine and with her community changes this perspective forever.

But my learning goes further. Christine connected with her deep purpose in life. She did not need any financial incentives to do what she considers as her normal course of action. So here is what I take home: “If we reconnect with our deep purpose, then infinite sources of energy are available for action.” I’ll try to apply this together with older persons of my community.

For more info about the Learning Festival, visit

I Trust You

This happened in 1977 in Kisantu health district headquarters in Lower Zaïre. Our medical team had decided to decentralize the diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis (TB). As soon as the health center nurse would detect a TB positive sputum on his solar-lit microscope, the patient would receive treatment on the same day. That treatment would include streptomycin, a potent antibiotic drug. Our 50 health centers were scattered over a large district. As a result, patients would not need to travel to the hospital but get diagnosed and treated on the spot.


Figure 1: Visiting Kimayulu Health Center

As the key was trust in the nurses’ compliance with a standard protocol, we organized a refresher course on TB for all our head nurses. At the end of the nurses’ training, Makitu Samba, a veteran nurse took the floor: “Doctor, I practice nursing since 1947, which I think is the year you were born. Never until now did anyone entrust me with streptomycin, by fear that I would use it not to treat TB but to sell it to patients who suffer from gonorrhea. You are the first one to trust me and to trust my colleagues. I pledge here as the older of all of us, that not one gram of streptomycin will disappear”. Makitu and his colleagues held on to their promise. No streptomycin vanished to treat gonorrhea…

Last week, as I cycle with Claude on his tandem from Dover to Maidstone, I am reminded of Makitu’s story. I am leading the tandem, as Claude is blind.


Figure 2:  My friend Claude

Over the 100 km I am making mistake after mistake, tired already of the first leg (124Km) that took us from Kortrijk, Belgium to Calais and Dover. I take an innumerable amount of wrong turns which cost us a lot of effort to get us back on track. We had to walk up several of the hills, as I failed to shift gears in due time. I even had a brush with an embankment of one of the narrow rural roads, causing my companion to get hurt. Frankly, if it was not for the unstinting trust Claude had in me, I would have given up. As we neared Maidstone, we had the good fortune to get a puncture just in front of a pub. A great opportunity to stop and have a British ale to celebrate our friendship!

On the front cover of “What makes us human?” Frederic Laloux states: “Trust makes ordinary people do extraordinary things”. This time around I was on the receiving end. Thanks Claude.

Cycling to support

The Bike Tour, organized by Doctors of the World Belgium, is coming soon! From 21st to 23rd September I will again take up the challenge, this time to connect the 340km from Kortrijk to London via Calais. In our “2gether4vision” group we will pedal with a blind friend, a way to remind ourselves that together we can live our dream of a full and happy life.


We will cycle to support Doctors of the World, one of the few voices that still supports migrants in their quest for a dignified life. During these three days, we will remind ourselves that many migrants died because they wanted to join their family or simply to pursue their dream. It will be our way to say no to the unworthy measures taken by European governments, which are so quick to denounce human rights violations when it comes to others!

Faced with this situation, our three days’ trip seems very derisory. But at least we express our support to our fellow human beings, who like us, just follow their dream. In “What makes us human?” I recount how Fatou, a Malian immigration officer paid from her own money my visa to her country. I also tell how Hakim, the dean of the Faculty of Biology of the Hassan II University in Casablanca, proposes to write a universal declaration on the right to dream. This is my way to say thank you to all of the immigration officers in Africa and Asia, who welcomed me with grace, and to support those, who just follow their purpose in life. Please send your support via this link or to the account BE26 0000 0000 2929 Médecins du Monde mentioning “Bike Tour 2017 2gether4vision JLL”. Please help me to exceed the minimum contribution of 1000 € per rider.

A little story to celebrate Saint George!

Picture1On Tuesday, March 20, Father Robin and Sebastian from the Marian College gave me a wonderful chance to learn from the people of Tekkemela and Palurkava, two communities situated in the beautiful hills of Kerala. The views were stunning and nature luxuriant. The setting would hardly make me think of my own Grez-Doiceau. Yet, I was determined to learn from my visit to offer back home whatever strengths I would discover. Besides that, I had no preset agenda.

2Along the road, Saint George gave me a little wink as he happens to be the saint patron of both Tekkemela and of my village, Grez-Doiceau.






Soon Jose welcomes us to a small shop along the road. This is a shop of the local cooperative of 15 farmers. All of them commit to produce organic food only and
3contribute a monthly fee of less than one euro. Their priority is to sell their produce to each other. The remainder goes to the shop for sale. That shop is selling 500 to 800 eggs per day, many items such as gourds, ginger, ladies finger, ivy gourd, yams, mangoes, papayas as well as honey, coconut oil and various spices. Jose invites us to visit the nursery situated on the shop’s roof. There, all sorts of seedlings are available to the co-operators who wish toreplant chili, egg plants, papaya, all sorts of tubers, mango, drum sticks, Cambodge or Malabar tamarind, orchids….  Does the scheme work? Well, every Sunday a truck used to come from the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu. It does not come any more…


4We left the shop to visit Varkey’s farm. Varkey used to dedicate all his land to the monoculture of rubber trees. Now he has turned about one hectare into an integrated farm that combines poultry, fish, and Stingless Honey Bees also known as Dwarf Honey Bees, along with the richest combination of fruits, spices and vegetables I have ever seen. Everything is organic.

Does it work? “Before we used to rely on the rubber market for revenue and had to buy our food, he says. Now my family is fully autonomous for food and we have the revenues from the sales of our produce for other expenditures”.

Time to hop on a jeep and climb to a house higher up where we meet a women’s group led by the former Panchayat, the village leader. We explore the women’s dreams. Employment, water, energy, roads: all areas where local action could be stimulated…

5The women radiate good health and self-confidence. What do they do when a family member is sick? Oh, we have our plants here. But most of all we are in good health. We eat well, the air is clean! You don’t go to the local clinic? Only when our local medicine does not work! It reminds me that before the visit of the cooperative shop, we had met another women’s group in Tekkemela. There, among other products they showed us the baby food and medicines they produce from the ubiquitous jackfruit.

On our way back to Marion college, Jose asked my friend Rafique what we were up to. We came to stimulate local action, not as donors or as promotors of a specific project, Rafique explained. Is that so? Jose replied. When we started our cooperative, we didn’t ask anything from government but government came to us to offer support 5 years later! He then shared a dream of his own: organize farm tourism in the region where visitors would appreciate farmers’ way of life.  We left each other in great spirits. The ground is fertile for further local action. The School of Social Work is just a few miles away. With the appropriate mindset, its students might encourage the communities to formulate their dreams and to act to reach it. As for me, I’ll share my visit with my friends in Grez-Doiceau at an upcoming Agora Café, where we freely exchange ideas to progress to our shared dream. I don’t know what will come out of our discussions. But somehow, I am sure that the story will resonate with our experience in Grez-Doiceau. No doubt, something good will come out of it….

Jean-Louis Lamboray

SALT and the unexpected

When Arthur and Edward from Health Nest Uganda (HENU) picked me up at my hotel the day after our SALT visit to Katabi (see Ubuntu on the bus) they had exciting news. Both had independently started their day with the yoga exercises I had shared with the Katabi group! This was so encouraging that we repeated these exercises during the next SALT visit to the Kitubulu community. The exercises were met with the same enthusiasm as on the previous day.  That enthusiasm became euphoria when we started some laughter therapy: we were making so much noise that people crossed the busy highway to Kampala to see what was going on!


Here, I should express my deep gratitude to Laurence, a pioneer of the Constellation Global Support team, who later fulfilled her dream to become a teacher of yoga teachers. I am thankful to her for two reasons.  First, Laurence had offered me two yoga sessions in November 2016 when I was in Chiang Mai. Since then, I practice my daily routine with a few exceptions due to my intensive travel – try yoga on an Indian Rail sleeper coach! I am far from doing the exercises with perfection. But I felt compelled to share my routine with the community which for at least a few moments had become mine.

There is a second reason for my gratitude to Laurence: she created a powerful illustration of how life competence spreads. In Mbuji-Mayi, the capital of Kasai Oriental, a support team of three people trained 44 facilitators from 20 communities to facilitate the development of AIDS competence. Determined to share the approach with more communities beyond their own, they did not stop there.  Six months later, these communities in turn were sharing the approach with a third set of communities, leading to a total of 120 communities influenced by the approach, rather than the 20 originally planned. We had not expected that result. Laurence took the time to document it. When I saw the practice of yoga spread unexpectedly in communities I thought of this illustration.


Later during our reflections with the HENU team, we hatched a dream. What if HENU offered a basic training to health volunteers so that they could offer daily yoga exercises to the old and young? No doubt, the practice would go viral!

When we practice SALT to connect with people in the present moment, expectations melt away and the unexpected can happen!

Jean-Louis Lambory

Before the Frog Boils

Text by Jean-Louis Lamboray

Do we, Europeans, behave like the legendary frog? You know the story: the frog was living in a pond whose water was heating so slowly that it noticed nothing until it died in the boiling water. Is our fixation on “the economy” so strong that we pay no attention to the fate of the fellow human beings? Are we so mesmerised by the current US excesses that we leave unnoticed the gradual abandonment of our own values? Not long ago, I was proud to belong to Europe, a beacon of human rights. Now, I am ashamed: we let people die while they knock on our door as they flee the bombs we throw on them. Where did the fundamental values of Europe go? Not long ago, I was a proud Belgian, not just because of our beer and football, but because Belgium was a free and a safe country. Now I feel betrayed by a government that disrespects court orders. I feel insecure when an administrative official can decide without court judgement to deport foreign citizens born in Belgium if they break the law. Who will be next? Where will this dangerous skidding stop?

Is there anything else to do but to vent my anger? Should I shout at politicians who slowly but surely chip away at our basic rights? With this question in the back of my mind, I left for East Africa to launch “What makes us human?” as part of our  #letsreconnect campaign,  feeling angry and powerless.

Nairobi. Wangu Kanja has every reason to be angry. After she was raped some years ago, she decided to turn her experience for the good: she founded the Wangu Kanja Foundation dedicated to a society that is safe and free from all forms of violence. I asked Wangu how she saw the advocacy role of her foundation. Would it consist in shouting outrage about rapists? Or about disparaging politicians, who ignore the rights of victims and survivors of sexual violence? The key sentence in her response was: “You have to understand the process.” There was no trace of anger in her response. Just the determination to build shared understanding.

Entebbe. Hosted by Health Nest Uganda (HENU), the book launch exemplified the remarkable collaboration between civil society, government and HENU. I asked my host Arthur Namara from HENU how such collaboration came about. “True, older persons’ rights are not yet a priority in Uganda. Many older persons are abandoned as traditional family ties loosen. Health services designed to serve children and primarily deal with infectious diseases, are not equipped to take care of older persons’ needs. But when they met with the President, they did not shout for their rights. They adopted as starting point that the President cared. And when he understood their plight, he gave immediate instructions for government to help older persons to address their challenges.”



Kigali. Father Aloys Guillaume teaches dogmatics at the Grand Séminaire in Butare. We met when I checked in at the Centre Saint Paul. “Your book is relevant for us in Rwanda. How can we fully recover our humanity after having reached the bottom of inhumanity during the 1994 genocide? ” He went ahead and contributed greatly to the organization of the Kigali book launch which took place at the Sainte Famille church. More than 700 people perished in that church during the 1994. The shoah, the Balkans, Rwanda, …. What shall we do to stop the seemingly unavoidable tailspin towards the next round of horrors? During our breakfast conversation Father Aloys mentions umudugudu and tuseme. In Rwanda, the government stimulates local discussion and  reflection for collective action by umudugudus, the country’s  basic administrative structure. In some umudugudus, victims and actors of the genocide reconstruct their lives together. Some schools organize “Tuseme“ or Let us Speak Out clubs, an Africa-wide initiative by FAWE, the forum of African Women Educationists, which improve gender relations.

Now in Mauritius, after stops in Nairobi, Entebbe and Kigali, my anger is subsiding. It is being replaced by a determination to act. The practice of SALT is putting me on the right path. Appreciation without judgment is at the core of SALT practice. Because with SALT we do not separate people into categories of sinners and saints, we open our minds to understand ourselves and others. Because we seek strengths without preconceived ideas, we leverage the positive energy that is harbored in each person. That energy is available for local action. What will I do differently when I return to Belgium? When politicians act to reduce our human rights, I will not let anger take hold of me. Rather I will seek to let them know my point of view with the basic belief that they care. I’ll work with even more determination at weaving local links for action starting in my own village. That may be a modest start in view of the daunting challenge in front of us in Europe. But that I can do, and I am not alone on that path.

I have always used happiness as my inner compass, and I conclude this note peaceful and happy.