Anthony, you're one of a few people who has been to all the countries in the world. What motivated you to do it?
Since I was very young, I wanted to cross borders and oceans. When I was 5, I went on my first solo travel, on an inflatable boat, willing to cruise the Mediterranean Sea. I was on holidays in Italy and my parents still sleeping in their room when I took off. The Italian navy found me back drifting some 15km away with a big smile some good hours later. To which my mother reacts by telling me stories from my grand-father, and his passion for photography, hoping to slow down my precocious interest for exploration. Quickly, I was hooked and at 7 years old, I started developing my own photographs in a darkroom. 3 years later, I read my first Jules Verne novel, and bought a first world map. I spend my second decade between his dreams, photographs and homework. After 10 years working as a manager in the corporate world and living in 8 different countries, I decided that it is time to realize my dreams. I founded the charity Art in All of Us with another world traveler and partner Stephanie Rabemiafara. We set up programs to stimulate the curiosity and creativity of children. More than 3000 schools in 193 countries have participated in those programs today.
What difficulties did you encounter in your effort?
When you travel to 193 countries, it can’t be that you are not in difficult situations. Prisons, hunger, earthquake, flooding, warzones, etc are all the list. However, for me the most tiresome is to get visas. Also important to consider that I was not asking to enter each country as a tourist but also be able to work “freely” in a school - a public institution. It took me 2,5 years to convince the North Korean government to let me in. Only 2 countries barred me officially the route to do our work. It was Sudan and Myanmar. But, I still manage to get it and work with schools over there.
Which was your last UN country and how did you feel when you got there?
Surprisingly it was my neighboring native country…. Luxembourg. Even if went there as a child, I didn't count it really before coming back because I did not have any souvenir of it. Just before Luxembourg, I was in the Maldives being the real last visited country. No particular feeling at that time, as it was only a milestone in my work. Many new schools got on my list and my world tour just continued.
What have your world travels taught you? Have you changed because of them?
I thought a lot about this question as several people do ask me this. I am still unsure how to respond. I think travel is part of life since very young, at least in my dreams. It is just me. There is no me before and after travelling.
You are the founder of Art in All of Us, a unique charity project. Tell us about its purpose, its successes and your current projects.
Art in All of Us promotes tolerance and cultural exchanges in schools using Art as a communication method. Today more than 500,000 children have participated in our projects in each one of the 193 countries of the world. Every day we have more schools willing to participate in our activities. All this would not have been possible without our strong network of volunteers (AiA works only with volunteers) and partners like the Unicef. In the last 6 months, I have put most of efforts in 2 new projects that I cherish. First with our new partner Red Pencil and the Red Cross, we worked on several Art Therapy activities in Ormoc, Philippines that was severely struck by a typhoon last year: a natural disaster long forgotten by most media. Secondly, in collaboration with the UNICEF in Syria, we are setting up an art exchange between local children and children from 31 European countries, giving some hope to Syrian children and building bridges of communication. I am leaving to Syria at the end of November to set up this program and train also some local teachers.
You also published a unique photo album with photos from children from every country in the world. Tell us about the challenges of doing this. Is the book still available for those who may want to purchase a copy?
You have to be fast to get one. There are only about 20 left out of 30,000 copies. It is a luxury coffee table book that showcases the 192 countries (there were 192 countries at time of publishing) through the eyes and rhymes of children. Each country is presented by a photograph, a drawing and a poem written by a local child. The book is very big and weighs over 5kg. We needed that challenging size in order to really blow up magnificent images. But the biggest challenge was to scan professionally and translate each one of the 25000 drawings and poems that we gathered. Furthermore, we had no budget for that. For example, we had 100 poems from a dialect of eastern Mauritania. We had to find 10 volunteers talking that language and willing each to translate 10 poems for free… Internet was not really developed at that time and I guess still not in that region of the world...
Are you optimistic about the future of the world?
I am optimistic by heart, so i can only reply yes. Like most world travelers, I am stunned by the beauty of people and saddened by very large majority of negative news in media. There are so many beautiful stories to be told...
So, where exactly is 'home' for you?
I never had one and don’t think I will ever have one. I am happy with this. My father is from Italian origin, my mother is Turkish and my grandmother born in Cuba and me raised in Belgium.
If you could invite any 4 people to dinner (from any period of history) who would they be?
Gandhi, Hitler (so that me and Gandhi can trash him peacefully and understand how human kind can go that low), my grand grand grand grand grand grand grand grand grand grand grand father and the love of his life (not necessarily his wife). If my grand grand grand grand grand grand grand grand grand grand grand father is not available for dinner, I would take his wife and her lover.
So tell us about your travel plans for the next few months and what you hope to achieve with them.
I am now in Madagascar, and I have planned a small trip to Cuba 10 years after my last visit. And then it will Syria until the end of the year. My only travel plan for 2015 is Brazil for the moment ...
Thanks for all this. Please be careful in Syria, I hope you're only going to government areas. No IS please!
No worry, I will keep safe. I will be also escorted by a UN armed convoy all the time.
For those in a playful mood, Art in All of Us has launched a geo-game app. available for download... Have a look here.