Friday afternoon: Onna

July 10, 2009

Arriving back on the G8 Summit compound I find Gordon back in our accommodation in a final meeting with Australian PM Kevin Rudd. Both have been very committed to the climate change agenda here and are talking about next steps.

As the summit has now finally ended we are all packed up and ready to go. First Gordon wants to visit a local village that suffered terrible damage and casualties in the April earthquake, and to hear first hand from a British resident of her experience. We travel just half an hour to the small village of Onna with a population of only 350 people of whom 40 lives were lost that terrible night.

With Joanna outside her temporary accommodationJoanna Griffith-Jones is welcoming and friendly and keen to share her story and explain how everyone is coping. She is a violinist with the local Abruzzo Symphony Orchestra (which Bocelli now sings with when he is in Italy). We meet her Italian musician husband and his many neighbours and close friends including the chair of the Onna Restoration Committee.

The scenes we witness are of utter devastation in what was once a beautiful, quiet, historic village of stone buildings, little squares and peaceful parks. What we see now are piles of rubble which were once people’s homes.

Joanna shares with us the moment she and her husband woke to the tremors and made their escape from an upper storey using bed sheets in the dark as both the stairs and the electricity were gone. They met their closest friends and immediate neighbours also unharmed, and from there the rescue of others began.

The village of Onna, PA copyrightToday, they are all living close by in a caravan and will stay to see the village rebuilt and eventually move back. The villagers have all been courageous and resilient. They share great camaraderie and talk with each other about their experiences and feelings. Gordon and Joanna talk of what happens next as more stable temporary accommodation is being built ready for the autumn, and plans are in hand for restoring the village in the years ahead.

After we leave, Gordon and I both agree that we share nothing but admiration for the stoicism of the Onna community and their love for their village and belief in its future. We are now on our way back home and all the more grateful after our visit to see and cherish our own family.

The G8 in Italy has proved a positive visit developing stronger relationships with other countries and making steps forward on the economy, global health and climate change. All the Italians we have met during our stay were as warm and generous as ever.

This is my final blog for this trip. Thank you for following – Ciao


Friday morning: Rome

July 10, 2009

Am out early to head back to Rome to the Headquarters of the World Food Programme for a G8 spouses event on Women Saving Lives. We are met by the Executive Director Josette Sheeran who presents each of us with a red plastic feeding cup – the cup filled with food on their emergency feeding programmes at the cost of just over ₤1 a week. Many spouses are here: from Canada, EU, Japan, India, and South Africa – and today we are joined by those from Nigeria and South Korea. A group of school children from Ghana sing and talk about their experience of WFP feeding programmes, and we hear more about the links to local agriculture and building up community sustainability. Still one in six people woke up this morning not knowing if they will eat today. It must be possible – indeed it feels necessary – to right this wrong in our generation.
Saving Lives
Joining the World Food Programme event is Rose Mlai, a midwife from Tanzania and Head of the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood there. The most vulnerable in any community are the youngest children, and the nutrition of pregnant and breastfeeding mothers is absolutely key to their survival and wellbeing during those critical early years. Her message is straightforward; that the health – and safety – of pregnant mothers and newborns is best served by good nutrition and a qualified healthcare provider to assist with antenatal care, safe delivery and attending to mother and baby after birth. My work with the Maternal Mortality Campaign convinces me that saving the lives of a mother is at the heart of saving her children, her community and her environment – and at the heart of achieving all of the Millennium Development Goals.

The Italian G8 leaders have successfully delivered a maternal health consensus that builds the momentum to save lives, and support for a financing taskforce that will allow money to be raised for employing more healthcare professionals where they are most needed. Today’s $20bn agreement on food security is also very welcome to everyone I meet.

At the World Food Programme Event we are able to serve out a cup of food and see firsthand the simple equipment needed for safe delivery that, along with treated malaria bed nets also on display, will save more lives. At the end of this event it is time for me to say goodbye to the hosts and all the First Ladies and Prime Ministers’ wives. I am now heading back to L’Aquila to join Gordon at the close of the G8 Summit.

Thursday afternoon: San Demetrio

July 9, 2009

At lunch I talk to Laureen Harper from Canada who will host the next G8 programme and it turns out her planning is already underway. The unusual treat today is green pea (yes pea!) ice cream as a starter – everyone agreed it was delicious!

The spouses group was invited to an exhibition on Italian cultural and technological achievements with the Tourism Minister as our guide. As well as looking at some fantastic old treasures on display, we also had a taste of why Italy is amongst the leaders in fashion design – with a dress that belonged to 16th Century fashion icon Eleanor of Toledo from the Medici family to a video of Milan’s recent catwalk shows.

Some other highlights were seeing Galileo’s telescope and the original score of Puccini’s Tosca symphony, signed by Puccini himself in 1899 with all his original notes.

While it’s been nice walking everywhere, I did catch a ride back to the hotel in one of the many electric cars dotted around the summit venue.

San Demetrio campAfter a short break we were on the road again heading towards San Demetrio to visit a camp where many of the earthquake victims are still living under canvas. I met up with the wife of the European Commission President, Margarida Barroso, Hollywood superstars George Clooney and Bill Murray, and Northern Ireland peace campaigner Betty Williams. We joined a large gathering to open the Nobel for Peace Hall at the camp where a short film was shown to great applause from the local residents. Everyone there wanted to ensure that as time passes those who were displaced by the earthquake are not forgotten.

I saw Carla Bruni-Sarkozy at dinner in a local restaurant who has just arrived from France and will herself visit the areas affected by the earthquake in L’Aquila tomorrow. We both get messages at the same time to alert us when our husbands’ dinner has ended which is my cue to get back as there is an early start tomorrow.

Thursday morning: L’Aquila

July 9, 2009

Gordon is off for his first breakfast meeting early, but I get an extra hour as we wait for the other spouses to arrive at the earthquake-hit town of L’Aquila.

I did not know what to expect from the police barracks allocated for our accommodation but actually it is all very comfortable and all mod cons in full working order. All apart from one incident with a stuck lift for the events team (and a rapid response from the super-efficient Italian staff), which has motivated us to be super-healthy and use the stairs.

Emergency service staff in L'AquilaOnce the rest of the spouses have arrived we are treated to coffee and pastries. Everyone looks well-rested after a good night’s sleep. We are all assigned to buses for our journey to the area worst hit by the earthquake in April – I’m with my good friend Margarita Zavala from Mexico who remembers her country’s own devastating earthquake of 1985

We travel to the Piazza Duomo in the old town of L’Aquila. The full scale of the devastation really hits you when you see such beautiful buildings full of cracks and surrounded by crumbling stones. A glimpse inside a church revealed nothing but piles of rubble waiting to be sifted through during the coming months, to enable the restoration.

We are then taken to the centre of the devastation where so many lost their lives and everybody lost their homes. The emptiness of all the buildings was striking and you wonder how everyone is coping now with their displaced lives. The Director in charge of L’Aquila’s restoration explained that rebuilding the town will take many years.

Michelle Obama and I are taken across to meet the emergency service team who have all been working so hard on the restoration. I know this is true of emergency services everywhere, especially in Britain

We are taken back to the G8 compound and run into Gordon and his team walking between meetings. We take the chance to make a call home and speak to our youngest son. Gordon goes off to his next session and now I head off to rejoin the spouses for a nice Italian lunch.

Wednesday evening: Rome

July 8, 2009

I visit the Sant’ Egidio Community, situated in a beautiful old monastery in the heart of Rome. A poignant moment on arrival to see a tiny little iron turnstile in the wall, where poor and desperate unmarried women in years long past had to tragically abandon babies without disclosing their own identity.

Community of Sant' Egidio in Rome

Community of Sant' Egidio in Rome

Today the 120,000 strong Sant’ Egidio community across the world address new crises. With their hugely dedicated staff we talked about the work they are doing to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa aiming to offer a treatment in Mozambique and Malawi that matches the treatment you can find in Italy or the UK. In many of the poor countries I’ve visited, AIDS often has a female face. Pacem from Malawi has come to share with us her journey from her own HIV positive diagnosis to treatment and life now as an activist for Sant’Egidio, sharing the message of life after testing.

HIV is spreading fastest amongst women and young girls, and elderly women are often the ones left holding families and communities together in the epidemics wake. I am concerned that HIV-positive women are often denied health care, information and services. This can mean they pass the infection onto their baby during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding even though there are effective ways of preventing mother to child transmission. The DREAM programme created by Sant’Egidio works in partnership with communities to overcome these barriers to treatment and care and offers hope and dignity to thousands of vulnerable people across Africa.

I am with Margarita Zavala from Mexico and Margarida Barroso whose husband is the Presidient of the EU and has herself just returned from a visit to Mozambique. We all know that we will follow up on today’s meeting to learn more, and I hope to engage them in the maternal mortality campaign I support.

After the visit, I returned to the British Embassy for a short break and then back out to the final visit of the day with the spouse group. We are hosted by the Italian President’s wife at the Quirinale Palace with a fascinating tour and a drink at the end. We all left ready to meet in L’Aquila in the morning to visit the town and witness the effects of the terrible earthquake here. I have made my way to L’Aquila tonight to find Gordon after his meetings and hear how his day has gone.

More from me tomorrow.

Wednesday morning: Vatican visit

July 8, 2009
Meeting His Holiness the Pope

Meeting His Holiness the Pope

Landed in Italy, and Gordon is whisked off to the summit. I spend the first day in Rome and join the programme for the First Ladies and PM’s wives. 

I have the privilege of a second meeting with His Holiness the Pope in Vatican City with the rest of my group (good to see the spouses from Mexico, India and the EU who are all friends from the G20). In February, Gordon took me and our boys to a private audience with the Holy Father where we were touched by his kindness and concern for the developing world.

Today, His Holiness greeted 50,000 people for his weekly audience before granting me and the other spouses to our own smaller audience. We then were treated to a tour of the beautiful basilica gardens before heading off for a wonderful lunch hosted by the Mayor of Rome’s wife at the Campidoglio: extraordinary antiquities and the Chef’s signature Ravioli Carbonara.

Here I catch up with Michelle Obama and next year’s host Laureen Harper of Canada. Thanks to the good food and good company, I have to skip the museum tour as I am now running a bit late for the next event.

Italy beckons

July 6, 2009

Up at the crack of dawn to set off for the G8 in Italy! There’s a busy few days ahead for me as part of the spouses programme while Gordon is at the summit. But I’m really looking forward to meeting up with the ‘other halves’ – some of them I have met before from last year’s G8 and the G20 in London. They are all very interesting people and I’m hoping to get to know them better and to discuss some of the issues that we all feel strongly about

It looks like we have some interesting visits lined up. There is some time planned in L’Aquila, the venue for the G8, to meet people affected by the devastating earthquake there in April, as well as visits to some great organisations and historical sites in Rome

Hopefully I can give you a flavour of what we have been doing through this blog – and I’m planning to post plenty of pictures from the trip, so make sure you check back regularly.