René Hartzner: Mission East is becoming more and more effective
On November 18, 2021, it will be exactly 30 years since René Hartzner founded Mission East. Here he thinks back - and forward - to an organization that has the simple purpose: to help people. "We are moving in the right direction, the organization is becoming more and more well-founded, and the employees are becoming more skilled," he says.
"We just wanted to help."
The words are repeated during the interview with Mission East founder René Hartzner. The eyes sparkle, the voice becomes clear and the concentration sharp, while the soon-to-be 86-year-old pioneer tells of 30 years of adventure.
From St. Petersburg to the whole of Eastern Europe
First he tells us about a mayor of St. Petersburg, who, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, begged and asked for diabetes medicine. And how they managed to get two million kroner worth of insulin.
Secondly, about the collection of food, clothes, medicine and hospital equipment that first filled the family's garage in Birkerød and later a large warehouse, and how he and his son Kim Hartzner drove truck after truck with emergency aid to the east.
And further on, we hear about five large emergency hospitals that were flown with three large Russian transport planes to Moscow and Armenia during the war over Nagorno Karabakh. During the war, Mission East also sent eight transport planes carrying food to displaced Armenian people. The hospital was later supplemented with a dental clinic and other medical equipment and still operates under the name "Denmark".
Relief work is being extended to more countries
History repeats itself in country after country.
"We just wanted to help," explains René Hartzner about meeting the poor in Poland, Ukraine, Romania, Albania, Armenia and as far away as the Philippines. And on to Nepal, Tajikistan and Afghanistan and up to today, where Mission East also works Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Myanmar and North Korea.
It's that simple. And the help first consisted of food, clothing, medicine and hospital equipment. Since then, the help has been expanded with the supply of water and sanitation, information and equipment for good hygiene, help for self-sufficiency, inclusion of people with disabilities and psychosocial support after war and disaster.
‘We saw and met the needs’
The common thread is the inner "drive" that made René Hartzner and later Kim Hartzner embark on the extensive relief work. They could not just watch while people suffered hardship.
René Hartzner talks about the situation after the collapse of the Soviet Union:
"It simply came to our notice then. The needs were enormous. When schools and kindergartens ask for food, you know it's bad. And at people's homes, we saw poverty that was absolutely awful. ”
How did the work grow so enormously?
"It's not that hard. We saw the need and did what we could to meet the needs. ”
Need skilled employees
What drives you?
"I just wanted to help. We were just trying to meet the needs. Sometimes the needs were not as acute as we had been told. Then I traveled on to areas where the needs were greater. ”
"It's basically about finding out what the need is and whether we are able to meet it. We quickly realized that we also needed professional assistance, ie. skilled employees. In the beginning it was just Kim and I, and Kim had his job as a doctor far away from Copenhagen. And my only help in the office was an answering machine! The work overwhelmed me. ”
Will not delimit the work areas
Why did you call it Mission East?
“Because we had a mission and we were working to the east. The word mission signals our Christian values, and we are proud of them. We also get respect for them - even from Muslim countries. But I have since regretted the word "east". Because it limits us. We do not know where in the world the needs arise. Today, I would never set a limit to where we help. I want to tell what we do, but do not define where we do it. ”
Same wish: To help people
Which results are most in line with what you had in mind from the start?
“My only thought was to help people. That's how I still feel. Looking back, I am delighted to see how the work has evolved. I had not imagined that at all. If I had known 30 years ago that there would be over 200 employees and that we would have to provide between 60 and 100 million kroner a year, I would not have dared to go into it! But it has succeeded quietly - and sometimes in quick jerks. And the desire has always been to help people. ”
Always new needs to respond to
When you follow Mission East today - can you recognize the same spirit?
"Yes I do. We are going in the right direction. And in my view, the organization is becoming more and more effective. Employees are becoming more skilled. But an organization with our size should have a financial buffer of 10 million kroner. It is hard. Every time we have had a small surplus, a new need has suddenly arisen that we had to respond to. ”
Where do you see Mission East in 10 years?
"I hope we are still working to help people. But I do not know what the world will look like in 10 years. The world can change, and then Mission East must change. We must always meet current needs. ”
Mission East was established as an association on November 18, 1991. René Hartzner was general secretary until 2001, after which his son Kim Hartzner took over the post until 2020. On January 1, 2021, Betina Gollander-Jensen became general secretary.
Over the 30 years, Mission East has developed into an international development organization with offices in Hellerup, Brussels and Berlin and projects in nine countries to the east: Afghanistan, Armenia, Iraq, Lebanon, Myanmar, Nepal, North Korea, Syria and Tajikistan.