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Histoires vécues

Wilma Donker, the ‘UNICEF mother’

Image de l'UNICEF
© UNICEF the Netherlands
Wilma Donker (46), UNICEF volunteer, pictured here dressed as `mother UNICEF' during a guest lesson.

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UNICEF the Netherlands is fortunate to have more than 4000 enthusiastic volunteers to draw on for its activities. Who are they, and what drives them to give their time for the sake of children all over the world? Here is the story of one of them: Wilma Donker, the ‘UNICEF mother.’

Working for children as `mother UNICEF'
Whenever the children in Assen (a city in the north of the Netherlands)  see Wilma Donker, they shout, “Hey, there’s the UNICEF mother!”. Wilma (46) is like a mother for every child in the world. She is a mother and a foster mother, a supply teacher in primary schools and, as a UNICEF volunteer, she gives dozens of lessons about children for children.

She was ‘discovered’ 17 years ago when she bought a UNICEF diary. “I’ve always loved UNICEF gifts, and while I was looking for a diary, I was told that UNICEF needed salespeople. So I started selling cards and other products from my own home.” This is how Wilma Donker’s story begins.

At the same time, Wilma was caring for seven children, of whom one was her own, three were from India, one was from Haiti and two were Dutch foster children. “After a while, selling from home wasn’t really working any more,” she says. Wilma gradually reduced the amount she was selling, and devoted herself to giving `guest lessons', as a visiting teacher.

“I arranged a babysitter and gave lessons on behalf of UNICEF. To start with, I mainly concentrated on pre-school age children. Back then, it wasn’t usual to give guest lessons for pre-schoolers. People thought they were too young for UNICEF-related topics, but really the younger kids are the ones who are most interested in other children,” explains Wilma.

A lesson from a street kid

Wilma’s lessons are no ordinary ones. “We always perform a little skit, and then tell a story about it. I dress up for instance as a Vietnamese person with a hat, a few mats and a couple of sticks.” A whole class of children once shrieked in disgust when Wilma picked up a sandwich from a waste bin and ate it.

“One minute you could be Li the street kid, the next minute you’re a kid from Somalia. We perform at many different schools every year. After a while, the children all started to call me the `UNICEF mother'. The idea for the plays actually came from a time when I saw a UNICEF video about vaccinations. The women in the film were singing and performed little skits. That’s when I thought, ‘Why don’t we do that too?’

“I’ve been on the charity run committee [organizing charitable athletic events] for the last four years, and there are six of us involved in giving guest lessons,” Wilma continues enthusiastically. “In the weeks leading up to the run, we go and talk to children in the classrooms. In total, we go to about forty schools and meet 3200 children. The day of the run itself is always really special, with all those people traipsing through the woods. It’s really great.”

With children at heart

Where does someone like Wilma get all her motivation and energy? “The nice thing about UNICEF’s work is that UNICEF doesn’t make a distinction between children. UNICEF helps all children, whatever their religion, and I really support that,” says Wilma. “Children are both vulnerable and fantastic at the same time. If I had a bigger house, I know what I’d want to do,” adds Wilma.

Her house may not be big enough for more children, but her heart certainly is.