Georgian president’s wife Sandra E. Roelofs: I want to be the eyes and ears of the President

Georgian president’s wife Sandra E. Roelofs: I want to be the eyes and ears of the President
# 26 November 2007 09:59 (UTC +04:00)
Dossier. Sandra E. Roelofs was born on December 23, 1968 in Terneuzen, the Netherlands. In 1991 she graduated with honors from the State Economic Institute for Translators and Interpreters, Brussels, majoring in French and German languages.
In 1998 the First Lady founded the SOCO Foundation, a charitable non-governmental organization that conducts humanitarian projects for the most vulnerable groups sponsored by both Western-European and Georgian companies and individuals. The SOCO Foundation as of 2007 is mainly focusing on reproductive health and care for newborns.
Besides her native language Mrs. Roelofs is proficient in French, English, German, Russian and Georgian languages, she is learning a regional language in Georgia - Mingrelian. The First Lady of Georgia takes pride in working on a daily basis on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals with a special focus on reduction of maternal and child mortality, extreme poverty and infectious diseases. Since October 2004 Mrs. Roelofs is the chairperson of the Country Coordinating Mechanism for projects of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in Georgia. Recently she was appointed Stop TB Partnership Ambassador.
She is also chairing the Reproductive Health National Council under the Georgian Ministry of Health and Social Affairs. She supports this Ministry in issues like the promotion of immunization and healthy life style (including fight against drug abuse).
At present Mrs. Roelofs is a student at Nursing School in Tbilisi and hopes to get her diploma in mid 2008.

- What are the main problems of Georgian women today?
- The problem of Georgian women today is to raise their children in a healthy and safe environment and to give them as much prospective as they can and make them responsible citizens. There exist a lot of healthy issues at this moment; mother should make sure that her child is getting enough food, right nutrition including iodine, also sun rays and fresh air. The special interest should be given to youngsters, 12-18 year old boys and girls should know how to protect themselves form illnesses and infections.
Another problem for women is a regular income. Now salaries are not sufficiently high, they are growing but it is not enough to fully support the family. It is one of the main problems for women. They do not have the same income every month and it is difficult to put money aside for holidays and leisure.
- How active are they in social and political life of the country?
- Georgian women are not so active in politics, but they are active in social, cultural, educational and medical fields. I am trying to promote the United Nations Millennium Development Goals that aims to fight poverty, curb the spread of infections, like tuberculoses, AIDS. Another Millennium Development Goals is to make sure that fewer mothers and newborns are dying because of improper care or improper knowledge. That is what I am focusing on. I am working on this through the chairmanship of two councils, the National Council of Reproductive Health and the Council of Infectious Diseases. We coordinate our efforts to improve fighting against infections, reduce maternal and infant mortality rate and reduce extreme poverty. So my main challenges are health and social welfare at the same time.
- What were the main reasons you founded the charitable organization SOCO?
- In 1998 I founded the organization; it was the same year when I left Red Cross where I used to work. But I wanted to maintain the link with the humanitarian field. That is why I have established my own foundation. I had contact with Dutch people who wanted to do some charity in Georgia. Even today some Dutch people are the sponsors of the SOCO foundation, but also the people of other nationalities are making their contributions.
- In 1998 the goals of SOCO were very large, but as of 2007 you changed the direction. What happened?
- Yes, at the beginning, our priorities were very large, like to help lonely pensioners, elderly people, poor children and IDPs’ school children etc. But when my second son was born in Georgia in 2005, I witnessed what was going on in the health sector. That is why I decided to shift my priority on to safe motherhood, improving the conditions, knowledge of women, especially in the regions, explain them what kind of help they can expect from the state. In one word, I focused on the issues connected with mothers and children.
- You gave start packages to the Azery women in Kvemo-Kartli. Could you say what are the main problems of the Azery women in this region?
- Problems of the Azery women are lack of information, lack of family planning, as we know they start family life in early age, but do not have enough information about contraception and spacing between the pregnancies is very short. The World Health Organization says that approximately three years is the best time between two children. Lack of money is also a problem in this region. If they need operation they do not have money. That is why we added free consultancy for women to our mobile team. We are informing them, giving them booklets that are also printed in the Azery language. In the booklets we advise women what to do during pregnancy, delivery and we also give them iodine supplements, pregnancy tests, start packages with clothes for babies and health care products.
- What about your future plans in Kvemo –Kartli?
- Women are waiting for doctors few hours in the hospital. I want to use this time to show small videos in the Azery and Georgian languages. I will do it by myself and I will speak to women and say to be aware of the issues like abortions, contraception, immunization of children and healthy lifestyle. I will also speak about the breast cancer and its prevention.
- Does your organization have any relationship with Heydar Aliyev foundation?
- Yes, we have relations; few weeks ago we corresponded about genetic problems of pregnant women. It means that pregnant women of 35 or older run a higher risk of having a child with genetic disorder. That is why women should be checked during pregnancy. Mehriban Aliyeva was very interested in this project. I have a contact with a geneticist in Rotterdam. This person is ready to come to Baku and help Azerbaijan to set up such a center. Meriban Aliyeva is also interested in blood diseases, one of which is more widely spread in Azerbaijan than in Georgia. There is a new tuberculosis laboratory being built in Baku and I will go to the opening ceremony, because I am the ambassador for tuberculosis in Eastern Europe. There are many things we can work on together. We have approached the British Petroleum (BP) Company to assist us in financing the mobile team on the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline route; the consultations that we provide to the people in the villages are free of charge. I know that similar projects exist in Azerbaijan. It is our common idea to help the population, but it is not only for women, but for men and children as well. Heydar Aliyev Foundation will have a branch office in Tbilisi. I would also like to work together in the cultural field, inviting orchestras to Georgia to play classical music together during summer camps and festivals.
- It is very interesting to me why First Lady of Georgia decided to study nursing?
- Being a mother also means being a nurse. So I have a lot of experience that is why I decided to learn the theory also. I have finished the second year of the nurse-training course; last week it was my last exam and I got high grades in all the five exams. Now I am at the third year of my study and then I will have a practice. I do not know yet which specialization I will take as a nurse but I want to work as a nurse, not every day but two days a week. I also want to add that I set up the first classic music radio station in Georgia and I am proud of that.
- It is not difficult to be the First Lady?
- Does it seem difficult from outside?
- Yes, you are extremely active.
- Yes, too active sometimes. It is difficult, because it is a big responsibility; everything is related to you. Whatever people ask you should answer somehow, but I like it, I can use my creativity and experience, my reputation for the benefit of Georgia. So I try to find answers to the questions the Georgian people ask me. As a First Lady you have easier access to sponsors, easier access to companies who can help you and you can be a bridge to the government. I want to be the eyes and ears of the President. /APA/