It started with one woman and one girl
The Liliane Foundation originated from a private initiative of Liliane and Ignaas Brekelmans-Gronert. The first seed for the foundation was sown on Sumatra, the Indonesian Island where Liliane Brekelmans (1929 – 2009) was born. Liliane contracted polio at two years old, which left her legs permanently paralyzed. From that moment on, she became known as ‘the girl with the handicap’. She felt like an outsider because people in the community pitied her. However, she refused to accept the limitations imposed on her by her legs and surroundings. Liliane fought to live her life independently. In 1939, Liliane and her family returned to the Netherlands. Almost forty years later, Liliane and her husband Ignaas (1925 – 2004) returned to the country where she was born one last time.
© Photo: Liliane Fonds
During their visit to Sumatra in 1976, Liliane met Agnes, an Indonesian girl who, like herself, had a leg disability following a polio infection. Liliane was amazed by the similarities between herself and Agnes. She was even more so saddened and disturbed by the differences between them. As a highly educated and socially active woman with a disability, the contrast with Agnes, who never went to school, was stark. Agnes’ family left her at an orphanage, where she then spent her days dependent on others, with no perspective for an independent future. Liliane was determined to help Agnes become more independent. In 1980, her initiative resulted in a foundation: the Liliane Foundation.
Customized individual support for children.
Liliane fought hard to find support for Agnes. Back in the Netherlands, she knocked on the door of many development organisations. Her goal was to ask for help for Agnes by, for example, donating her a sewing machine so she could become more independent and make a living by herself.
Liliane hit a brick wall everywhere she went. She was told over and over that individual support is ‘not structural’ and ‘does not fit within the objectives’ of the organisations. That is when Liliane and Ignaas, together with family and friends, decided to raise money for Agnes themselves. They transferred the money to the orphanage’s manager, who bought a sewing machine for it. Agnes and other girls at the orphanage quickly learned how to use the sewing machine. Meanwhile, the word about the machine spread, and Liliane received new requests for support for other children.
What started as a spontaneous action and raising money for one child with a disability, grew into the Liliane Foundation: an organisation that offers individual, tailor-made support to an increasing number of children with disabilities in the poorest countries of the world.