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Children to return to their Swiss roots

Sitting round a campfire - Swiss style

About 300 young people with ties to Switzerland from all over the world are preparing to descend on the country this summer.

This content was published on June 25, 2008 - 11:38

They will stay in eight holiday camps scattered all over the country, from Graubünden in the southeast to the French-speaking area in the west.

These children are special: most of them have at least one Swiss parent. Indeed, it's usually their parents or grandparents who are keen for them to get to know the country where they have their roots.

In order to be sure that the visitors get the chance to see as much as possible, the organisers arrange trips to lakes, mountains, rivers and to some of Switzerland's most famous towns.

"The young camp leaders give them a really good introduction to Switzerland from every angle," Simone Riner of the Foundation for Young Swiss Abroad (FYSA), told swissinfo.

"As a rule we visit one of the larger cities, like Bern, Zurich or Geneva, go up the [mountains to the] Jungfraujoch or Schilthorn, or to the Transport Museum in Lucerne."

But there are also days when the group stays in the camp. That gives the children the chance to play games to take part in some sport, or to do something creative.

Language isn't a problem, says Riner. Most of the children speak English, German or French.

Sign language

"They tend to group together by language. There really isn't a lot of linguistic confusion," she explained. "Children are very creative, and sign language is a wonderful thing."

And since you can't get a feeling of belonging to Switzerland if you aren't familiar with the cuisine, Swiss dishes are on the menu too. How many of these children have ever tried Aelplermakronen before, for example? It's a dish combining potatoes, macaroni and cheese accompanied by apple sauce.

Most of those who have signed up for a camp this summer come from Europe, in particular Germany and France, and several from Spain as well. There are also a few from eastern Europe, Scandinavia and Britain, Riner said.

In all children are expected from about 50 countries.

Financial assistance

Some of those countries are far afield: Africa, Latin America and Australia. And it can be quite expensive to travel from there.

Financial help can be found for those who cannot afford the fare and the cost of the camp itself.

"Every Swiss child living abroad should be able to spend a holiday in Switzerland at least once in their lifetime if they wish to do so, whatever their financial circumstances. About 20 per cent of the children apply for a reduction. And we are really very generous," Riner said.

One major aspect of the camps is the friendships the children make. "They exchange mail addresses, they are constantly contacting each other. And perhaps they will meet again next year." Many of them come more than once.

Young ambassadors

This year the Swiss children coming from abroad have the chance to spend time with local children of the same age, in the national scout camp being organised between Lakes Walen and Zurich in central Switzerland this summer.

So the young visitors from all over the world will get to know a bit more about Switzerland and its traditions, and if they enjoy themselves perhaps they will come again with their parents.

Riner believes this exchange has long-term benefits for Switzerland. "Perhaps not straight away, but when they are older they will be good ambassadors for Switzerland and for the quality of Swiss products," she said.

But for the time being these "young ambassadors" will simply be in Switzerland for a holiday. And the organisers hope they'll have a good time, even if a few of them get a little bit homesick.

"When children come from so far away, homesickness is inevitable," commented Riner.

swissinfo, based on an article in German by Gaby Ochsenbein

In brief

The Foundation for Young Swiss Abroad has been organising Swiss holidays for Swiss children resident outside Switzerland since 1917.

It was originally known as Swiss Aid.

The purpose is to foster these children's links with Switzerland and to enable them to make friends with Swiss contemporaries all over the world.

When the foundation was set up it gave Swiss children living in crisis areas the chance to stay with families in Switzerland and recuperate.

Its first camps were held in the 1960s.

During the 91 years of its existence it has enabled more than 100,000 children to spend holidays in Switzerland.

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