Caritas prods companies to free staff to help handicapped

Jürg Krummenacher says Caritas will face a growing need for volunteers Keystone

The humanitarian organisation, Caritas Switzerland, is celebrating its 100th anniversary with a "corporate volunteering" scheme. It wants companies to allow their staff - during working hours - to help the handicapped and other people in need.

This content was published on June 1, 2001 - 12:08

Launched in March, the jubilee project has already yielded positive results. Caritas director, Jürg Krummenacher, told swissinfo that staff from one company who spent a week as volunteers had themselves been enriched by the experience.

"None of them had done any community work before," he said, "and some were even afraid to enter social institutions. But afterwards they said that seeing other realities had changed their attitudes and even their lives. This scheme is contributing to a better cohesion in our society."

Krummenacher believes another reason why such schemes are important is that future society will need more volunteers. "Longer life expectancy means that more elderly people need special care. We also need volunteers to help the handicapped, drug addicts and asylum-seekers," he said.

Caritas Switzerland, which is backed by the Roman Catholic Church, was founded in 1901 to help Swiss people suffering serious social problems - such as child labour - caused by the industrialisation process.

Soon it began to expand its activities by providing food relief for needy children in Austria and Germany, and holidays for Swiss children whose parents couldn't afford them.

Further expansion came during the two world wars and the economic depression of the 1930s. Caritas Switzerland organised social work for the unemployed, and in the period leading up to the Second World War helped deal with a flood of refugees from Nazi Germany.

By the 1950s, it was extending its helping hand to countries outside Europe by sending staff to help people in emergency situations and set up long-term development aid projects.

Currently its biggest projects involve reconstruction work in Kosovo and Bosnia, where it works alongside staff from some of the world's other 154 national Caritas organisations.

Caritas gives help to people regardless of their religious or political beliefs, and Jürg Krummenacher says most of those receiving aid are in fact non-Catholic. Its main source of funding is the Swiss population, which in response to appeals last year contributed SFr26 million ($14.5 million) to the Lucerne-based organisation.

by Richard Dawson

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