Influencer Stella Pieters Kwiers
Interview January 2023 (1/2)
Could you share with us some information about your family life?
I was born in Curaçao out of a family with 6 siblings. My parents played a very important role in helping me become who I am today. My father was a very serious but not strict man. He considered education as something very important and although we were raised with rules, we were not afraid of my father to discuss whatever we wanted to discuss with him. I am unmarried and have no children as I always love traveling, I love meeting people, debating with them, and getting to know the different cultural backgrounds they come from. I firmly believe in collaboration, as this adds many different perspectives to whatever you are dealing with. In Africa there is a word called ‘diboundou’ meaning collaborating: to build a house together, working together in agriculture, and raising a child by the extended family ( parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles) and the whole village. A famous African proverb is: “It takes a village to raise a child”.
When there is a wedding, the villagers sit together and it is agreed upon who brings what to the wedding celebration. They firmly believe that living alone is against human nature. They cannot imagine a person living alone, whilst I believe that living alone is a perfect way to discover oneself and to connect with God. This is also something I have noticed in Asia. In Japan, I noticed that the tradition of after marriage going and living with the family of the husband is getting less and less, as a way to free couples from the dominant influence of the mother-in-law. I combine both, I like living alone but I also love connecting with other people.
In the past, the barrio was very important, there was a lot of social control. My father, Hendrik Pieters Kwiers, used to be a leader in the barrio and he was always an advocate of the best for Curaçao. He was also known as a politician. Over the years things have changed so much. I have written a book ‘E Kòrsou di mi Tata’ which, apart from being a biography of my father’s life, also describes how Curaçao used to be.
Could you share something about your educational background and your experience?
I graduated as a social worker in Holland and upon return to Curaçao, I worked at the Department of Social Affairs and the Stichting ‘Buurtcentra Curaçao’. I always wanted to become a Geography teacher though. My father used to be a Commissioner (when I was considering what to study) and almost every morning someone would be waiting outside and wanted to talk to him confidentially about family/marriage and youth problems, financial and social problems. This was in 1955 and this led to my father suggesting me that there was a need for local people that know our culture, to become a professional social worker able to address these people their needs. So I decided to follow his advice and went to study Social Work in 1957 and became of the first ones who became a social worker. It was a good decision.
I also got involved in the barrio as a community worker when I started to work at Stichting ‘Buurtcentra Curaçao’. Brother Max had this vision that there are two types of children. The ones where the parents had the means to send their children to scouting and those children playing on the street, where the parents couldn’t afford to send them to scouting. This group needed to be reached via educational work and community development work, getting also the parents of these children involved in one of the 12 centers scattered over the island. Involving the parents in one of the different committees that existed like keeping the barrio neat and clean or a committee in charge of daycare for children or a committee involved in the improvement of the quality of life. This would be the new Curaçao.
How did you get involved in the United Nations?
That is a long story. In 1966, I was invited to attend an international conference on “International Development” in Washington (1966), which resulted in an eye-opener for me, as I met many people from Africa, Latin America, and Asia, and this triggered me to subscribe to Fordham University, New York, to study International Development in 1970. As I was finalizing my studies to become a Master’s in International Development, one afternoon (as I live in Broadway) I heard some people taking Spanish and English. I connected with them and they invited me to sit and have a chat and they were impressed by the fact that coming from such a small island Curaçao, I could speak so many languages, so they suggested me to apply for a job at the United Nations even though I still had 2 months to go before graduating. Back in Curaçao, we were planning to start a School for Social Work but was told that I could not become the Director of this school as my Master’s Degree was not equal to the Dutch Academic equivalent. This triggered me to apply to go and work at the UN. I had invested my own time and money in this Master’s Study. This was a discouraging moment, so I applied and got a job at the United Nations. My father was a great inspiration for me in this decision, as he taught me that I had to show Curaçao that there is a world that much bigger than Curaçao and that women can also achieve great things in life.
At the UN, on my first post in 1972 – 1974, I was involved with many African countries and I concluded that western sociology was not appropriate to connect and deal with the countries I was dealing with. So I decided to study Cultural Anthropology in 1974 at Columbia University so that I was better able to understand the developing countries that I was dealing with. I graduated in 1976.
How did you end up doing your P.H.D. in Lausanne?
I was sent to Congo Brazzaville for a Women’s Development Project, that lasted 2 years and decided to stay another 3 years longer to work on my P.H.D. thesis on the Balari (a tribe of Congo-Brazzaville). I got my P.H.D. in 1983.
My thesis title was: ‘The Balari on their way to development’.
I lived with them to be able to connect and do my research. As I had worked for some years at the ILO in Geneve I knew the city and country. I spoke French and as Switzerland never had any colonies compared to France, they wanted to become more cosmopolitan. I looked for a Swiss mentor and they liked the idea that someone from Curaçao and the Caribbean would work on their P.H.D. thesis at their University. This in a way opened the door for other students from developing countries to also study at Lausanne University.
In 1979 I went to Columbia, South Amerika for the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) a sort of the UN from Canada. I arrived a week after the Narcos’ killed 25 magistrates, so the place was very tense. Because of the guerilla activities in rural Columbia people were killed and some choose to flee and ended up in the periphery of Bogota in Cuidad Kennedy, where we set up a project. Because I could speak Spanish I was approached to start a project aimed at the integration of these people into society.
After Latin America, I went to Tunesia in North Africa a Muslim country of the Maghreb. This society had a different culture, Later on I worked in another muslim country: Pakistan.
What books have you written?
I wrote ‘A Woman alone’, in 1996 after my retirement, which became a bestseller. I was even invited once to give a presentation at Moscow University.
Another book title is: ‘Kreensianan Afrikano’ (African beliefs). Another book about ‘Testimonionan I and II,’. ‘E Kòrsou di mi Tata’, ‘Afrika: Un kontinente sorprendente’. ‘Nos Kultura’, in 2022. ‘Dr. Da Costa Gomez, un politiko i estadista prominente di siglo 20’. There are more to come, I am not done yet.
We know you to be a community leader and author of two books now. Can you tell us more about how this all started?
I have learned that from my father. He used to write and document a lot.
What is your BIG WHY or driving motivation to be who you are right now?
To discover the unknown and break away from our island with its limited beliefs. I never lacked courage and the unknown up top now weighs much more than fear of doing something. I am not afraid to confront people, as by doing this I learn more about myself and from the limits people put on themselves as we are capable of doing great things.
The first time I arrived in the USA at the airport, I saw this slogan: ‘Think big and Act big’. My Professor told me that I was much bigger than my American peers, as I was willing to take risks and confront challenges. I have given 45 presentations in the USA by then, and he told me: “You are a real emancipated woman”. They don’t have a tenth of what you have, coming from Curaçao a small island in the Caribbean.
I was influenced unconsciously by my father and Doctor DaCosta Gomez who said: “We have to compete with the whole world. Because we come from a small island doesn’t mean we can’t confront the whole world”. The limited beliefs I meet so often on the island, is what I am against.
On my own, I have visited 126 countries in the world. This year I want to start traveling again and I am planning to visit Australia. I am a cultural anthropologist and I am not afraid to take some risks in a positive sense. I guess that in that sense I am unique, coming from Curaçao.
What are your plans for the coming years let us say 5 years from now?
I want to write more books in English, I am translating my last book ‘Nos Kultura’ into Dutch because of the high demand for it.
Btw: Two things that are typically African that I want to mention in this context. There could be inter tribes rivalries and if something threatens the tribe just like the people from Aruba, they unite, Africans also have this. I would hope this also becomes the case in Curaçao.
What are the challenges that you are dealing with? And how are you dealing with these different challenges you confront?
I don’t feel limited. I want to go beyond where we think we can. In Curaçao, we are very limited in our thinking. Someone once told me: You are the Polyglots (knowing and speaking many languages) of the Caribbean, and you are not even aware of that.
Do you use your inner voice to evaluate when dilemmas show up? How does that work for you?
In the morning, I always listen to my inner voice and I know for sure what to do, before I take a shower to start my day.
How are you trying also to keep up with your knowledge and skill levels?
I read a lot and when something catches my attention I would explore and dig deeper into the subject matter. I regularly watch the international news.
What are your strengths?
Courage, persistence, and going all the way, genuinely interested in other human beings, and curious since I was a child.
Do you have hobbies or interests that you are also passionate about?
I love playing the organ, I love hiking, there was a time that I use to hike from where I live in Marchena to Brionplein every single Saturday for 1,5 hours. I love decorating my house.
If you as Stella would meet a stranger on the bus (let’s say in New York or Bogota Columbia) and they would ask you to introduce yourself, what would you answer?
I will tell them who I am and that I am from Curaçao. That I am happy to meet them and I want to get to know their country.
How would you describe Stella in one word or one sentence?
Stella a woman with great courage. I was one the first woman that entered the UN and in my career, I had to deal with men only. You can’t imagine how many battles, we women, had to fight.
Who are the persons that have inspired you the most in your career?
• My father has done so a lot
• Rose Kenedy, the strong mother of John and Robert Kenedy
• Golda Meijer, the first Prime Minister of the state of Isreal.
• The women who had also fought against “Apartheid” in South Africa.
I was planning to meet those who still are alive in 2019 as I left to come back, but due to Covid this never happened. In South Africa, there were 234 prisons built during ‘Apartheid’.
• Professor Perlstein, who encouraged me to do my P.H.D., as he told me: “Because you are without limitation”
• Juffrouw Dymphna Van Groenland, my Geography teacher (Maria College, Curaçao).
What is a trait that is still a work in progress?
Letting go off bygones. I still have some, like I still want to become a Geography teacher. I am learning to carry with my baggage of things that I can’t solve. My father always used to say: “Look ahead and don’t look back.”
What was a defining moment in your life?
The moment I arrived in the USA for the first time and saw at the airport the slogan: “Think big and Act big.”
Another one is: “You woman can do anything, the sky is the limit.”
I was in Jerusalem in 1968 during a Linguistic conference and by then we were the only country in the world where we were taught 4 languages at school. I was asked to write a paper on this and overnight I wrote the article and presented it the next day. I received a standing ovation for this. And someone told me: “You are the Polyglots of the Caribbean but you don’t even know it”.
What do you regret?
That we don’t use these 4 languages more. That we don’t recognize and/or put our people more on the forefront if they have done something exceptional. We don’t teach our people to believe in themselves. We need our people to believe in themselves and have more courage to develop their potential.
What would you want your Loved Ones, family, friends, and others to say about you let’s say 20 years from now?
A person that has inspired many people. I want to share this story. I was lately asked to have a presentation on: “Women In Development and the transformation of the Curaçaon society” at the Soroptimisten Club-Curacao, celebrating its 75 years of existence.
There were only a few men, as this was a women’s club and they had joined the spouses. One of them said: “You inspire us, we never saw a woman inspire us like that”. I have also heard this quite a lot during my presentations in Africa andmany other countries..
What makes you stay optimistic about the future of Curaçao as we are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, and recession, and in the middle of growing environmental challenges because of the global warming consequences?
If we educate our leaders and our youth on some norms and values, we can create a new prosperous Curaçao.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
I was asked to translate my latest book ‘Nos Kultura’, 2022 into Dutch and English. As I caught the attention of lots of people. I also want to state that I believe 100 % in the Universe, so much so that when I ask for support it is given.
One of the 250 Influencers
Stella Pieters Kwiers is a driven, diligent, curious, courageous, persistent, spiritual author, teacher, value-driven diplomat, scholar, humanitarian, and expert in International Development and the emancipation of women. After finalizing her first Master’s Degree in the USA, Stella was confronted early on in her career in Curaçao as “not being qualified enough compared to those with a University Degree from a Dutch University.” This setback, transformed into an opportunity and it triggered her to choose a successful International Career at the UN and other International Organizations. Inspired by Doctor Da Costa Gomez and her own father’s thinking, she became a living example of what they were advocating in those days. “We have to compete with the whole world and not because we come from a small island doesn’t mean we can’t confront the whole world”. Her background in social & community work, Cultural Anthropology, a doctorate at the Lausanne University in Switzerland combined with her years of International experiences, have made her the perfect person to comment on the positive and the less positive elements of our culture, like remnants of Mental Slavery. Her book ‘Nos Kultura’ published in 2022, is starting to be noticed by larger audiences including those that don’t read Papiamentu and this made her decide to translate her book into Dutch and English. Stella’s drive to write more books aimed at sharing her extensive knowledge and experiences, her plans to resume traveling, and her active involvement in addressing the less positive aspects of our culture, make her stand-out. That is why, we consider Stella Pieters Kwiers one of the 250 Influencers of Curaçao, representing the International Development, Women’s Emancipation and Cultural sector. Look at the list of the Influencers we have interviewed or reported on, up to now.
The goal of the core group of Share2Uplift for 2022
The goal of the Share2Uplift movement is to: “Identify 250 leaders from all walks of life to connect, align and create impactful changes in all walks of life, which includes intergenerational collaboration by the end of 2022.” We will use interviewing Influencers, meet-and-greet events, “train-the-trainers”-programs on “Emotional Mastery” and “Intentionality “as national intervention strategies, to reach this goal on top of our goal to scale up the possibilities to connect, align and create impact via a virtual platform. We believe that by collaborating with Miguel Goede on the virtual Vision 2030 platform, we will accelerate the possibilities to connect the diaspora and others elsewhere in the world and on the island willing to constructively create impactful changes in Curaçao, to join.
As Share2Uplift, we are fully trying to align with this thinking of Center for Curriculum Redesign to promote this agenda in our educational systems and workplace. So, in that sense, we fully support any initiative to make our educational system 21st-century proof.
Share2Uplift aligners are those that:
– Create an inspiring vision of the future;
– Motivate and inspire people to engage with that vision;
– Manage the delivery of the vision;
– Coach and build a team, so that it is more effective at achieving the vision. These criteria are now being polished.
We also consider these 5 values the most important ones for Share2Uplift aligners. They are:
• Peace from within;
As we will progress towards this goal, we will update you on the progress.
Personal coaching tips
This week we will share some short videos on Stella Pieters Kwiers and related to her. We will upload one of these videos every day on our facebook.com/share2uplift page.
Dr. Stella Pieters Kwiers: ‘No ta nifiká ku ora e ta bin di afó e ta bira di nos.
ACSWE: Dr. Stella Pieters Kwiers – YouTube
BONOCHI KORSOU DJAWEPS 29 9 22 KIKO TA KULTURA STELLA PÍETERS KWIERS – YouTube
What Is Cultural Anthropology? – YouTube
Welcome to the University of Lausanne – YouTube
1951 – Pais Kòrsou Korsou – Curaçao Curacao – Nederlandse Antillen – Sociale Zorg op de Antillen – YouTube