In February, Prince Amyn visited Lisbon, Portugal, in connection with important developments that will affect the future activities of the Aga Khan Development Net-work (AKDN) and of the Jamat in Portugal.
In his capacity as a Director of the Aga Khan Foundation, Prince Amyn hosted a gala dinner organized by AKF (Portugal) to highlight the Foundation's work in the country, at which then-President Mario Soares was the chief guest. Also attending the function, held in the XVIth century Convento do Beato outside Lisbon, were President Jorge Sampaio, senior cabinet ministers, representatives of the Diplomatic Corps, as well as of various international and local non-governmental organisations and numerous donors.
President Soares, who prior to the dinner, toured an exhibition of photographic panels depicting the work of the Foundation worldwide, paid warm tribute to Mawlana Hazar Imam for his and the Jamat's support of such worthy causes.
Speaking to the nearly 700 guests at the function, Prince Amyn conveyed his deep gratitude to the Government and to the people of Portugal for their generous support of the Jamat and the Foundation and explained the distinctive features of the Foundation's work. "The Foundation acts as a catalyst to encourage innovative approaches to carefully selected generic problems of development," he said. He went on to describe how, in common with other institutions of the AKDN, the Foundation draws on volunteers and professionals to "seek to reach people without access to basic services by supplementing the efforts of governments and other providers, without, however, substituting these governmental or other efforts."
Prince Amyn added: "AKF is not just a funding agency. Its staff are actively involved in the genesis, evolution and perhaps, most interestingly, in the systematic evaluation of its projects."
Prince Amyn took the opportunity to profile briefly the Jamat, which by estimate totaled up to 15 million people spread across 25 countries on five continents. "This far flung community is characterized," he said, "despite geographical distances, by its coherence and organization, by its unwavering progressiveness, and by its universal commitment to the welfare of the less fortunate."
"The Ismaili community is noteworthy also for its long tradition, deeply embedded in its values and in its very ethos, of the individual voluntarily donating his or her time, effort, intellect, and material resources in the service of others. A religious minority in virtually every country where it finds itself, the community has always been apolitical, with a history of loyalty to each country in which it resides and enviable reputation of active engagement - as good citizens - in constructively promoting the well-being of its neighbours, irrespective of their faith, race, or origin."
Nurturing the child - the theme of the gala dinner - represented the main thrust of the Foundation's activities in Portugal since its establishment there in 1983. Illustrating AKF's underlying goal "to promote culturally appropriate early childhood education programs that are both high quality and cost-effective," Prince Amyn explained how "over 600 previously isolated, disadvantaged children and their families in barrios in Porto and another 450 in and around Agueda currently benefit from the impact of pioneering grass-roots work undertaken with partners such as the Gulbenkian Foundation, the University of Minho, the Polytechnic in Porto, and Bela Vista in Agueda.
Computer applications in primary health care was another example cited by Prince Amyn of AKF (Portugal)'s valuable contribution to a two-way "international flow of ideas." An AKF-supported conference in Lisbon 10 years ago has given rise to a comprehensive set of management tools, the Primary Health Care Management Advancement Program (MAP), now in use in 60 countries and presented by AKF (Portugal) at a workshop in Lisbon 1995.
"The Foundation in Portugal stands on the threshold of an exciting new era," declared Prince Amyn, referring to the impending change in AKF (Portugal)'s legal status. AKF (Portugal) has changed its status from being the Portuguese branch of a Swiss foundation to becoming, by decree law, a Portuguese foundation, now eligible for direct funding support from the European Commission.
The evening's event, which sought to recognize AKF's donors, supporters, partners, and volunteers, included, as a contribution to the Foundation's cause, a varied cultural entertainment program featuring the work and performance of leading Portuguese artists, musicians, and designers.
While in Lisbon, Prince Amyn also announced the imminent commencement of construction of the Centro Ismaili, Lisboa (the Ismaili Centre, Lisbon). The centre will include a jamatkhana, spaces for exhibitions, meetings, seminars, and educational activities, as well as a social hall for longer gatherings and conferences and an outdoor terraced courtyard for use as a "mini-amphitheatre." It will also house the offices of AKF (Portugal).
Designed by internationally known Indian architect Raj Rewal, who has been associated with the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, the centre will integrate Portuguese and Iberian Muslim architectural traditions in an environmentally sensitive project respectful of Lisbon's indigenous building and landscape materials.
Prince Amyn, accompanied by the architect and site engineers, also made a technical visit of the site during which he discussed aspects of the ground plan and site layout.
Source: Canadian Ismaili (July 1996)