Karl Fickenscher

As Interviewed by Alice S., April 29, 2019

Karl Fickenscher: In His Own Words

Karl Fickenscher has worked for the USAID organization as both a lawyer and a manager to give assistance to countries in transition around the world. In this interview he talks about his time in South Africa and his experiences with social justice.

We helped the South Africans create a version of Sesame Street, written by South Africans for South Africans that had a character, a muppet who portrayed a child whose mother had died of AIDS so that we could educate young South African children whose parents were dying of aids, so that they would learn about safety, so that they would learn about how to deal with loss. And that was South Africans helping themselves.

There was a young woman, 23 years-old, a woman named Amy Biehl. She came to South Africa -- she was from southern California, she came from an affluent family. She was working in the early 90’s in the townships outside of Cape Town to try to work for a progressive and open South Africa, a democratic South Africa. She was murdered, stabbed to death by people in the township. Four people, four young black kids were convicted. Then, South Africa became liberated. Her murderers went to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission asked her parents “What do you think we should do with these four people who stabbed your daughter to death?” The father and mother, in an act of wonderful forgiveness said “look to make Amy Biehl’s legacy she came to South Africa to work for an ideal and if truth and reconciliation and forgiveness is the way for South Africa to achieve justice then I will not oppose these people being let out of jail.” They set up a trust fund to address some of the issues their daughter fought and died for, and one of the four daughters father daughter went to work for them. I saw Amy Biehl’s mother hug and embrace the murderer and achieve true reconciliation, something that was incredible.

When you see the effects of people being able to have a bank account for the first time, when you see the effects of a woman who caught HIV AIDS from her husband. She came into our program, she got help, she got antiretrovirals and she decided “I never want anyone to suffer what I’ve suffered.” And so she became a very strong advocate for awareness to fighting against the stigma of HIV AIDS. When you meet people who are just truly inspiring, people who represent the best of humanity, and your able to help them, that is the best reward you could possibly get.

The struggle for human rights, for human dignity is constant and it needs to be reinvented every generation, it has to be defended every generation. We’re seeing that now in our own country, it’s not something you can sit on your lowers. You either go forward, tread water, or go backward. It’s a challenge everybody shares and it’s a struggle I think my job supports in everything I do.