Ambassador of peace

Bangkok Post - Friday, November 21, 2003

Liechtenstein princess has a long history of working for change
The life of HSH Princess Raffaella of Liechtenstein is a Cinderella story with a difference. With her privileged position, she has dedicated herself to creating a new world order of culture, peace, love, dignity and compassion.

Born in Algeria of Italian parentage, her father, Tino Sangiorgi, was an agro-engineer. Raffaella, one of four children , knew from a very early age that her life was slated to be different from many others.

'Even at a young age, I had a dream, fostered by my family's dedication to working selflessly for others. So it is no surprise, even to myself, that I chose to follow the route I did.

Princess Raffaella of Liechtenstein. 'You see, we Sangiorgis are from a long line of Italians based in Bologna. Each generation, in one way or another, contributed their efforts to the general good, without any expectation of compensation. It was all done selflessly, and this was the tradition my mother Bruna, who believed in the value of alternative medicine, instilled in all of us as we grew up.'

It wasn't surprising that her life and those of her siblings all took a similar route, which was completely outside the norm of what was expected of a well-endowed and -educated professional family. This was helped by the fact that they never lived in the same place for very long. Her father's work eventually took the family to Canada and then Mexico before they returned to their home in Bologna.

'The Italian schools were very old-fashioned compared to what I experienced in Canada, so I was in a way already an outsider, forced to find my own way in life.

'Growing up, still in my teens, I became a tour operator after completing four years of study at one of the state schools. Why? Because I wanted to show tourists the local life of the people living in the south of Italy.

'But after four years, I was ready for a change and wanted more experience in marketing, so I joined SIDIS, the second largest supermarket chain in Italy, as director of their logistics department.

'And then, believe it or not, I returned to my roots. Life, I told myself, was not to be just centred on a career and making money. There had to be more to it than that. Also, maybe as a leftover from my earlier days, I longed to see more of the world and do what I could, contributing my management and organisational experiences to a worthy humanitarian cause.

'So in 1993, because I wanted to explore a way of life and culture that was different and outside our Western vision of what it should be, I left for India. It was in Trichy, in the south of India, in the state of Tamil Nadu, that I joined others in setting up an orphanage, boarding school and first-aid hospital for 700 children. 'It was hard, backbreaking work: Up at 4am and not to bed until midnight, seven days a week. It was a far cry from what I had known before, but I was very happy doing that for the three years I was there.'

Family responsibilities beckoned, and she returned to Bologna. With her mother, she worked on a project of hers for an alternative health centre. Her still-inquisitive spirit searched for new challenges.

In November 1999, she went a conference on 'Peace and Healing' in the Philippines, and this was to add a new and unexpected dimension to her life.

'HSH Prince Alfred of Liechtenstein was the guest of honour and delivered the opening address on 'peace, personal growth, self-realisation and finding your own identity'. We met, talked, exchanged ideas, and then one week later left separately, each going our own direction.

'But then, in February 2000, we met again, this time, in Vienna, where we worked together for one year on the Peace in Motion project.

'Our relationship slowly matured; we asked each other what we expected from the relationship. We wanted it to be a very constructive one; without competition, with respect for each other's ideas and personalities, espousing a unity in differences.'

The prince was third in the line of succession, with seven brothers and sisters, and was used to following all the rules. When he proposed to her, Raffaella immediately accepted, and the couple were married on April 6, 2001.

'We both realised that we had to work continuously, with compassion and commitment, to maintain our relationship. And this, I believe, is true of any two beings who come together with love and compassion, and have the opportunity to achieve.'

Over five years ago, Prince Alfred was appointed chairman of the international advisory board of the International Peace Foundation that was established at the conclusion of the Vienna Peace Summit. Through the Foundation's founder and president, Uwe Morawetz, they arrived in Thailand in March this year to prepare for the launch of the 'Bridges: Dialogue Towards a Cultural of Peace' scheme.

'My 'vision' for the future, what I hope for, is that all the people living on this planet _ which is not our planet _ can live together, respect each other and empower each other, for the common good of all.

'People should realise that it is imperative for our future and the future of our children and our children's children and everyone that comes after us that they must join together in peace and mutual respect, if we are not to destroy our own existence.

'In this, women have a major part to play, because they have the wisdom, knowledge and energy to make this a better world for all of us. This they can do by promoting parenthood workshops and education, and most importantly, promoting children's education. Women must come out and show their beauty, knowledge and wisdom. In doing so, they will be able to develop their own personal talents and contribute to the world and our life on this planet.'

Joyce Rainat