Mag. Claudia Vilanek

Claudia, who was born in 1964 in Innsbruck, Austria, is a psychologist and communication trainer and has three sons, who accompany her on her trips abroad. Since her first longer visit when she was 18 years old, she has returned regularly to Little Flower and supported the project with donations from Austria.

In 1985 she received the Eduard Wallnöfer Award for “the most courageous initiative for the good of Tirol” and in 1988 she was granted the Bruno Kreisky Award for her work and dedication to and furthering of human rights.

“The address I had in my pocket was that of Mother Teresa in Calcutta, and the motivation for my trip was, on the one hand, to see how far I could extend myself and, on the other, to explore life by getting to know people who had none of the things that I took for granted where I had grown up: safety and security, enough to eat and drink, and being surrounded by nice and pleasant things. I wanted to know what kept people going when they didn’t have any of this. I thought to myself that this is what the essence of life must be about. What motivation do the people in the streets of Calcutta still have? What is the essence of life?

The answer is simple: above all it is the longing for relationship and a sense of belonging. This became very clear to me in the months that I spent in Sunderpur at the border between India and Nepal.

Here in this small community of crippled people I found such strength and a love of life despite the cruelty of this disease because these people were embedded in a close-knit, caring relationship system and through Brother Christdas’ support were able to lead a life free of humiliation and discrimmination.

After I returned from these six months in the leprocy village Little Flower, I started studying psychology in Salzburg. At the same time I tried to find ways of integrating this experience in my life in Austria – this was not an easy time for me. In the process of founding a charitable organization to support Little Flower financially by means of lectures, circulars, interviews, articles and further trips to the project, I found a way of staying in touch with the people there and accompanying them in their development. It is still our goal to help them become financially independent through their production of raw silk.

When I think about Sunderpur and Little Flower, the first pictures in my mind’s eye are not pictures of suffering and tragedy even though there is plenty of this in the village. No, they are pictures of hope and optimism, of the potential there is when a handful of people no longer see themselves as victims but rather as creators of their lives, regardless of how little they have left, and pursue a vision together.
In my profession as business trainer and coach today, I often think of these people because they are the best and most moving example of how much can be accomplished when people set out on a path together!

My son Lukas, who was 10 years old at the time, gave a lot of thought to life in this village and even pictured himself having leprocy and living there: “You know what I would do if I lived here? I would buy a rickshaw and take people back and forth between Raxaul and Nepal every day. And when I am 18 I will come and work here for half a year! When I return to Austria I will write to people everywhere and get them to donate money to Little Flower. You can give me the addresses and tell me how you have done this all along!”

In the fullness of my life, with my children who are growing up and my profession, it is still very important for me to continue thinking of the people of Little Flower, who have made such an impression on me, and pass on the depth of all my experience to my children. More and more people are joining in on spinning the beautiful silk thread, a vision come true. I never want to stop exploring and absorbing the fullness and diversity of life!”

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