Going back to their roots

Children of Swiss expatriates receiving instructions from a youth camp leader in Torgon

The Foundation for Young Swiss Abroad organises annual holiday camps for children of Swiss expatriates.

This content was published on July 29, 2005 - 16:46

This year around 260 children spent their holidays dotted around Switzerland. swissinfo spent a day at the camp in Torgon, a small village in the southwest of the country.

Torgon is high up in the Valais mountains. The region is on the French border and even calls itself "Portes du Soleil" (Gateway to the Sun). The area is best known as a ski resort. In summer the plateau, with its incredible vista down into the valley and across the mountains, is quieter.

If you hitch a lift in the post bus up through the narrow streets, you will find the driver’s skills almost as impressive as the view.

The post office in Torgon is also where passengers get delivered – the hostel "La Nouvelle Volière" (New Birdcage) is just nearby.

On Sunday the place was a hive of activity as everyone attending the holiday camp had a day at home – no hiking or sightseeing for a change.


From the lawn in front of the house there is a stunning view of the valley of the Rhone, before the river flows into Lake Geneva.

To the right is the narrowing at St Maurice. Far below is the town of Aigle, famous for its vineyards, and to the left is Lake Geneva. Across the valley are the Vaud Alps.

In the middle of this fantastic scenery, 50 or so 8- to 14-year-olds – all children of Swiss expatriates – spend two weeks discovering their roots.

They have come from more than 20 countries including Iran, Kenya, China, the United States, Japan and Mexico.

At the moment however they haven’t got time to admire the view – they’re busy proving their skill on roller skates, whether it’s extinguishing candles with water pistols or winding around slalom poles blindfolded.

New friendships

The children are looked after by nine adults, led by Markus Kurmann.

"The camp has two main goals," he says. "Whether it’s their first visit or not, the kids should learn more about the country where their families originally come from."

"We also hope contacts and friendships will be forged between people from all over the world but who all have the same Swiss roots."
"Swiss" in this sense can be quite vague. Some children have two Swiss parents, some have only one.

What’s more, Swiss German is rarely spoken – as a rule most of their kids don’t like speaking it.

In any case, among the Babel of languages it is always possible to make out English, the lingua franca of children whose Swiss parents live abroad.

Excellent atmosphere

The walls of the recreation room are covered with posters, made by the children, of all the countries they have come from.

"We asked the children to paint a quick picture of their country," says Kurmann. "That’s where they live. Here in Switzerland they are on holiday and want to take a lot back with them."

For that reason they visit many striking and memorable places in the region: the resort of Zermatt at the foot of the Matterhorn, the Grand Dixence dam, the Bex salt mines or Chillon castle on Lake Geneva.

And when it comes to food, even in summer fondues and Fotzelschnitte (a sort of eggy bread) are laid on.

In addition a Swiss quiz is lined up for the evening.

Kurmann and his helpers think the atmosphere in Torgon is excellent. The stars of the show – the children – are also full of praise for the summer camp. For some it is the mountains; for others it’s being with other people of the same age.

The success of such summer and winter camps is reflected in the waiting lists: six of the seven camps planned for this year are already fully booked. There are still a few places on the Beatenberg camp in the Bernese Oberland.

swissinfo, Urs Maurer in Torgon

In brief

Every year the foundation for young Swiss Abroad organises two-week holiday camps for children of Swiss living abroad.

Any child of Swiss living abroad, aged 8-14, can take part.

In winter two ski camps are organised.

Six of the seven camps planned for this year are already fully booked.

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