Words by Amy Packham
What matters most to you in the world?
“Love, peace, family and friendship, time and learning,” Francien Giraudi tells us.
In 1997, Francien, who was born in London but has lived in Monaco for 45 years, set up Les enfants de Frankie – ‘Frankie’s Children’ – to help support sick, disabled or disadvantaged children in Monaco and France.
The association has now helped more than 180,000 children. “I have been a full-time volunteer, president and founder for 25 years,” says Francien. “In 2008, the Association obtained recognition from the United Nations by becoming a Member of the Economic and Social Council.
"And in 2018, I decided to help sick and disabled children in England, with the creation of the "Frankie Foundation for Children" in London.”
Francien says this adventure began as a result of her own experience and her many stays in children's hospitals. “When young, my child had to be hospitalised several times,” she explains, “first in France, in Holland, then in the United States. Each time, I stayed by the bedside, living at the rhythm and sharing the hospital daily life.
“This is how I discovered the world of hospitalised children, their aseptic white rooms, no joy and fun, with the medical austerity to which the children are forced ‘for their own good’.”
She continues: “For several months, I was able to sleep in the same room as my child, on a mattress on the floor. This hospital was as big as a city and all day long there were volunteers, in and out, who came to entertain the children with their comforting smiles.
“In the huge hall, a real theatre had been set up, with a small stage, a curtain, and chairs for the young audience. Every afternoon, a performance was given, and it was a ritual around the clock.”
When Francien left the hospital on her final stay… but soon felt the need to go back. “I was convinced I had to finish something off,” she says.
“I went back dressed as a clown. I felt that something important was happening. The costume suddenly gave me great strength. It changed my life, and I finally found my vocation.
One moment that has made her incredibly proud over the past 24 years has been the "Noël de Frankie" which she describes as a “magical day” in Monaco offered every year to 2,000 sick and needy children.
Each child receives from Frankie (clown mascot of the Association), after having attended a tailor-made show, a Christmas present and “all the happiness and hugs and love they deserve”.
“Helping children smile again remains my priority, it is important to continue the association helping as many children as possible...they are our future,” adds Francien.