1926 October 29 : Born in Ixelles (Brussels), Belgium, in the family house. Claire has often said she was a “spoiled child”, being the youngest of six children, her younger brothers (twins) already 13 years old and her elder sister only 18 years old.
1944 At age 18, Claire becomes a member of the Lay Auxiliaries for the Missions (ALM). By joining this young association, initially reserved for girls, Claire wants to follow the example of Father Lebbe which put himself at the service of the young Catholic Church in China. She made the triple vow “to serve the Church in non-Christian countries, to assist the local bishops in training local young women, and to consider the place of her work as her own country”. Today the association has become AFI-ICA International Cultural Association, and also accepts men and couples.
1945 Claire begins her medical studies at the Catholic University of Louvain (Leuven) in Belgium. She graduates as MD in 1952. Meanwhile, China’s borders were closed, and Claire was gradually planning to go to India. She went to UK for a course in tropical medicine and also for learning English.
1954 In March, Claire takes off to India. She has found a job as a pathologist at Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Institute, University of Delhi, with the support of Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, the then Minister of Health of the Central Government of India. However the laboratory work is not what Claire prefers…
1955 In July, it is with enthusiasm that she joins Dr. Frans Hemerijckx at Polambakkam, a small village in Tamil Nadu, to initiate a new mobile unit for the treatment of leprosy. Two trained nurses are accompanying the two doctors : Simonne Liégeois (Belgian) and Hélène Eenberg (French).
1960 As originally planned, in July the Centre is taken over by the Government of Madras. Dr. Hemerijckx becomes WHO consultant for the whole of India, while the government asks Claire to continue to manage the Centre. Exceptional case of a state-funded institution managed by a private person, moreover a foreign lady ! In February 1964, King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola of Belgium visit the Centre of Polambakkam.
1979 Claire finally gets Indian citizenship after much efforts and procedures and after proving a “sufficient” knowledge of an Indian language! And she fulfills thereby one of her dearest wishes, which would allow her to live in India for the rest of her life.
1980 Claire leaves Polambakkam and begins a “nomadic” life across India : organization of two new centers for the treatment of leprosy in Dehri-on-Sone (Bihar) and Kanpur (Uttar Pradesh, until 1986), on behalf of the Damien Foundation; participation in the evaluation of the leprosy program in several States, participating in the development of the “Swaminathan Report” defining the new National Policy to eradicate leprosy in India; participating in the WHO study-group on the new multidrug-therapy in leprosy (1981), and working out the protocol for a controlled study of multidrug-therapy trials that begin at Polambakkam (1982); consultant for WHO and SIDA (Sweden) in the hyper-endemic district of Purulia (West Bengal, 1982 to 1986) ; consultancy assignments in the Maldives (1984), Bangladesh (1986 ) and China (1986).
1986 In September, the Government of Tamil Nadu asks Claire to take over again the management of the Centre in Polambakkam. She has been appointed as Secretary General of the Damien Foundation in India from 1984 to 1992, when she participated in the creation of the “Damien Foundation India Trust” which becomes an association of Indian law. (data still to be developed)
2009 After much hesitation, in October, Claire decides to return to Belgium and to move to the St Joseph Home, a residence in the center of Brussels run by the Little Sisters of the Poors, where already two of her AFI sisters live. For three years , she was still very active, participating in various tasks within the home, participating in AFI activities AFI , meeting her nieces and nephews and even making several trips (India and Mauritius ). It is in July 2012 she felt down in her shower, and she will have very difficult to recover. She died 20 September 2013 in Brussels.
Honours and Awards :
- Chevalier of the Order of the Crown, received in 1960 from the hands of H.M. King Leopold III
- Officer of the Order of the Crown, received in 1964 from the hands of H.M. King Baudouin
- Padma Shri Award (social work section), received from the President of India in 1981 (the fourth highest civilian honour in India)
- Commander of the Order of Leopold II (1983)
- Fellow of the National Academy of Medical Sciences, India (FAMS), 1984
- Doctor Honoris Causa (Public Health) of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (1989)
- Follereau Prize, awarded by the Italian Association “Amici di Raoul Follereau” (1999)
- Grand-Cross of the Order of the Crown, received in 2009 from H.M. King Albert II
- Gandhi International Award for leprosy in 2011, awarded at Delhi on May 31, 2012 by Vice-President of India, Hamid Ansari.