Queen Mathilde hopes that her children will get the chance to explore the world, she said during an interview with the Belgian media during her working visit to Laos in her role as patron of the Belgian branch of UNICEF. Long before becoming a royal, Queen Mathilde once worked in the slums, and she said, “It is my dream that Elisabeth follows in my footsteps, but first she has to finish school.”
Queen Mathilde visited projects started by the government and UNICEF in the province of Saravan, in the south of Laos. She visited a health project that does checkups and vaccinations for children and a food programme in an elementary school in Sannon. “I never forget visits like this. Children struggling to survive, who keep smiling despite the extreme circumstances,” Queen Mathilde said.
She admitted that she never gets used to seeing suffering. She visited Haiti after the earthquake and Japan after the tsunami. “Never, not even after all these years. The image that will remain with me from this visit, is that of a malnourished baby. She appeared to be one-month-old, while she really was nine-months-old. Will that child ever catch up on the growth she missed? Yes, I saw a lot of suffering, but no, I have not become indifferent to it. To the contrary, it makes me more sensitive. I don’t have a heart of stone.”
She plans to give her children a full report of all she has seen in Laos, to make them realise how good they have it in Belgium. “I have already shared some experiences with my husband over the phone. When I get home, I will also tell my children. I think I will need more than a day. They need to realise what the problems are here in Laos but also in Belgium. I can happily say that at their young age, they are already socially engaged and are doing volunteer work. They are distributing meals to the homeless and are helping children with a handicap.”
During the last day of the visit, Queen Mathilde stopped her convoy on the way to the airport to help victims of a traffic accident. Luckily, there were only minor injuries.