«We met all kinds of people, which was very exciting. We would like to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your work and your very valuable help.» Peter M., Canton of Bern

Are you uncomplicated and looking for a very special experience? Do you appreciate peace and quiet and would like to do some physical activity at the same time? Then the Caritas Bergeinsatz is just the right thing for you! Mucca.ch talked to Bernhard Ackermann, marketing manager of the relief organisation, about volunteer work on mountain farms.

For 40 years, Caritas has been arranging rescue operations quickly and easily to place volunteers with companies that are in an emergency situation. In 2019 alone, the helpers spent more than 1,100 weeks on 120 mountain farms. There are many reasons for volunteering: accident or illness of the farm manager, pregnancy, the double burden of mountain and valley operations, dwindling parental strength, personal contribution to construction projects or storm damage. Only farms in mountain zones I-IV are taken into account, which have their main occupation in agriculture and do not exceed a certain income limit. Volunteers select the farm of their choice and register on a weekly basis.

Who are the volunteers? And why do they want to volunteer?

Whether they are bankers, craftsmen or students, most of them are not agricultural professionals, but rather highly motivated people between 18 and 70 years of age with different professional backgrounds. Most of them come from Switzerland, about a third are EU citizens. Women make up about half. They all want to gain an insight into Swiss mountain farming and really “get to work”. Many of them want to escape from their often urban everyday life, get away from the computer and work with their hands. They want to experience something new and do something good. The volunteers are interested in mountain farming and life in nature. They give the mountain farmers their manpower and time. In return they receive food and lodging, much appreciation from the farmer’s family and a new life experience.

During their outreaches, the helpers feel a great deal of satisfaction when they feel the trust and gratitude of the family when they work in the pasture, in the stable or in the household, and when they are able to make completely new experiences. Many report that in addition to the relief of work, it is also interesting and invigorating to gain an insight into the often completely different lives of the volunteers through conversations. This is important in that it can give new perspectives on one’s own worries, fears and joys and put one’s own microcosm into perspective. The close and intensive living together has already led to many friendships, which have led to repeated assignments at the same place.

The experience of Anita Schmid

As a mountain farmer on Elsigenalp in the canton of Bern, Anita Schmid was dependent on the help of Caritas last year. As a result of a construction project in the valley, she had to manage the summer on the alp largely on her own – and this despite massive back pain: six screws have been stiffening her lower lumbar vertebrae for a year and a half. She is allowed to lift a maximum of 15 kilograms when making cheese. But a full cheesecloth is twice as heavy. That is why she had hired an assistant for the summer months. When he broke his ankle, Anita Schmid sought help and found it at Caritas. The aid organisation quickly and unbureaucratically arranged for volunteers to help her and thus enabled the Bernese woman to keep the alpine pasture going despite the absence of her helper and to continue producing the popular mountain cheese.

How to get involved

If you are over 18 years old, motivated and healthy and would like to spend one or more weeks in the mountains, Caritas Switzerland would be delighted to hear from you! No previous knowledge is required for an assignment. The varied activities range from babysitting, stable and garden work to haymaking on steep slopes. The easiest way to select a farm and register is to visit www.bergeinsatz.ch

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