Mentoring Youth in Switzerland
Building bridges within the local community
Text by Roger Poirier
ISZL plays a supportive role in charity organisations around the world. Whether these are long-standing relationships like the school’s work with NAG or newer, recently launched projects, many of these efforts started with a single handshake or inspired conversation between individuals, often unaffiliated with the school. One recent effort involving ISZL community members originated from two ISZL teachers who were searching for projects to engage their students in. The result is an effort that, despite its short life span, has already forged important links to the local Swiss community and has had promising impacts that neither would have anticipated.
ISZL teachers Vicky and Ole Wasner attended a presentation in Rotkreuz in late August, looking for worthwhile service projects their IB students could participate in. Miriam Hess, the president of a local organisation called MUNTERwegs, was presenting to a local audience on the group’s child mentoring programme. Uniting senior citizens, volunteers and children, the free mentoring programme brings mentors together with children from various cultures – Swiss and foreign nations – to help them become a part of Swiss culture and integrate further into their local communities.
‘After hearing Miriam’s presentation, I was taken by the project immediately. In addition to involving my students with this effort, I realised that it was possible be a mentor myself’, said Vicky. ‘I liked the fact that one of its aims is to encourage links across different age groups, and that children have mentors from different cultures and generations. Having decided to sign up myself, I came back to school and promoted the project to both students and German-speaking staff, and the response was fantastic.’
MUNTERwegs was founded as a non-profit organisation in 2009 to provide an inter-generational mentoring programme for youth in central Switzerland. According to Miriam, one of the organisation’s four founding women, the aim of MUNTERwegs is to promote opportunities to underprivileged children, adolescents and parents in the field of education and to improve their quality of life. It’s about building bridges between generations and cultures, and improving connections among all members of the community.
A few ISZL students and teachers are enrolled in this community programme and are dedicating time and energy to build trust, provide their partners with company and explore their communities together. To participate, children must be between 5 and 11 years of age (attend kindergarten or primary school), meet MUNTERwegs requirements and desire the company of a caregiver (mentor) who builds a relationship with them over an eight-month period.
The mentor and child are matched partly on their passion and interests and have much opportunity to get to know each other. Meeting about twice per month, partners can plan any number of activities, from arts and crafts to museum visits to baking holiday cookies together. Each story that mentors and children bring to the programme is unique.
Perhaps the numbers speak loudly when looking at the effectiveness of the programme and the relationships that are formed. According to Miriam, about 80% of all partners stay together after the mentoring programme ends and still see each other regularly.
Already feeling closer to his child partner and looking forward to their visits, Ole added, ‘I hope that our students will see that a huge amount can be done for many people living right here in our local community, and that their knowledge of the German language is something that gives them great access to such worthwhile projects.’
MUNTERwegs has four locations within central Switzerland. To discover more about the programme and how you can take part in changing a local child’s life visit munterwegs.eu