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At the CUM, extreme sports athlete Ara Khatchadourian spoke at the invitation of the NGO “Friends of Children” to celebrate its twentieth anniversary and to pay tribute to Sister Emmanuelle. A roundtable discussion on the theme of “children’s rights” took place in the presence of ADE President Muriel Tran Ercolano and Frédéric Bousquet, Olympic vice-champion swimmer. ADE has obtained special consultative status with the UN in New York, enabling it to participate in international conferences within its field of action. It is supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of National Education to engage in school activities.
Following the screening of a short documentary on Sister Emmanuelle’s actions and the founding of ADE in July 2003, Muriel Tran Ercolano (recipient of the Medal of Honor from Prince Albert II of Monaco in 2009 and the Créadie Award in 2015) spoke about her tortured childhood, which she recounts in her book It’s Enough to Love to Preserve Life. Sister Emmanuelle entrusted her with a mission she has been fulfilling daily for twenty years: to assist children abandoned to the world’s violence. Muriel Tran Ercolano wrote, “I too have my own ‘internal’ Everest to climb by surpassing myself.” Her commitment to humanitarian work has led to actions in many countries, including Lebanon. Prominent figures like Monica Bellucci, Isabelle Adjani, Michel Boujenah, Boris Cyrulnik and George Clooney sponsor her association, all expressing admiration for this woman full of love and generosity.
Responding to her invitation, Ara Khatchadourian and Frédéric Bousquet, both from Marseille, shared their personal experiences, demonstrating the need to dare, believe and be determined to achieve one’s goals.
Ara Khatchadourian’s journey is that of a fighter who carved his path by overcoming the greatest challenges. He has lived up to Sister Emmanuelle’s words of “surpassing oneself” by becoming a climber, marathon runner and swimmer after the age of 40: “I had a very difficult childhood in a disadvantaged environment. I was 10 when the war broke out in Lebanon. Scouting was the only thing that inspired me to fight. I left school at 15 to work in a jewelry workshop. At 19, I went to join my uncle in Marseille with 100 euros in my pocket and not speaking a word of French. I worked day and night because I wanted to realize my dream. At 24, I opened my first store in Marseille and then a second jewelry store four years later. I had no time for sports. And it was at 40 that I discovered running during a marathon in Beirut. When I returned to Marseille, I began training and running marathons (Paris, Marrakech, Barcelona…).”
Driven by the passion to take on challenges and the need to surpass himself, Ara Khatchadourian ran the 170 km of the Diagonale des Fous and then climbed Mont Blanc, his first ascent. He shares, “I climbed the 4810 meters of Mont Blanc with much difficulty, but once at the summit, I witnessed an extraordinary sunrise. I then decided to climb other peaks.” He climbed Mount Ararat carrying the flags of peace, Armenia and France, expressing gratitude to France for adopting him. Then came Kilimanjaro. He adds, “The association T’Cap, which promotes the integration of young people with mental disabilities (Down syndrome), contacted me to share my adventures. I became their patron.”
In 2013, he decided to climb Everest for the centenary of the Armenian genocide and to convey a message of peace, remembrance and recognition. But Everest stands at 8,848 meters. “I had to prepare before undertaking this ascent. So, I climbed the highest peaks in South America (in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru) and then in Kyrgyzstan,” he explains. Once ready, he set off for Everest. “It was April 25, 2015. There was an earthquake, and 23,000 people died in Kathmandu. I almost died,” he recounts.
Upon his return to Marseille, the extreme sportsman did not give up on feats. He returned to Kathmandu, and in May 2016, reached the summit of Everest after 46 extremely difficult days of climbing. It took a lot of courage and willpower to continue. “I had promised hospitalized children to place a teddy bear at the summit, and I thought of this promise when I was about to give up. I cried every day. I also thought about those who believe in me, the donors and sponsors. I had to go all the way,” he confides.
This extreme competitor, who sees himself as a “citizen of the world,” took several months to recover from his injuries after climbing Everest before getting back on his feet. And now he’s off to a new challenge. He aims to denounce violence in the world, conveying a message of peace. He continues, “In April 2018, I started running from the Marseille City Hall and crossed 11 countries: Monaco, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Jordan. The goal: to deliver a letter to President Erdogan asking him to recognize the Armenian genocide. I arrived in Armenia on July 21.” The idea of supporting his adopted city and the capital of his birth took root in his mind. “I planned to row across the Mediterranean from Marseille to Beirut. I had promised my friend Akram Nehmé, president of the Achrafieh 2020 association (which helps over 1,000 families through social, cultural and environmental initiatives with dignity and the preservation of human rights), to raise funds. The departure of Rowing for peace was on May 27, 2023. I arrived in Beirut on August 22 after crossing several Mediterranean cities,” he says.
In addition to his conferences in companies and school interventions, Ara has set himself a new challenge: “The next will be Plank for peace or stop the war in September 2024. I want to raise funds for the associations I sponsor.” At the end of the round table, prizes were awarded for the most beautiful drawings made by children from Nice schools who participated in the solidarity contest among young people.
A few words from Sister Emmanuelle:
“Children are the future of humanity.
Acting for others is our springboard for joy.
Your love can work miracles.
Day by day, take advantage of the present moment to flourish and help others flourish.”