More about the Foundation's history

From “Swiss Aid” to the “Foundation for Young Swiss Abroad”
A look back at the 100-year history of an aid organisation over the course of time

For over 100 years the “Foundation for Young Swiss Abroad” and its predecessor organisations have provided around 100,000 Swiss children from all over the world with the opportunity to visit Switzerland. In the beginning, it organised stays with host families for children from war-torn areas to allow them to recuperate. Holiday camps were also provided.

Foundation during the First World War

On the initiative of Ms Mathilde Paravicini from Basel and a small band of helpers, 280 needy Swiss children were brought to Switzerland from war zones in Germany in 1917 for a few weeks’ holiday and were hosted by families.

The cost of this initiative was met in full by the federal government. The following year, a private committee was formed under the name of “Swiss Aid”, which set itself the objective of continuing and building upon the aid work started.

The 1920s – first high point and decline

Cooperation was soon sought with the “Pro Juventute” foundation, which had also been recently established, and this proved extremely successful. Over 3,000 Swiss children from all over Europe enjoyed long or short stays in Switzerland in 1924. They all came from poor backgrounds, usually from big cities, suffered from malnutrition or tuberculosis, were undernourished and looked “sickly and pale.”  The visits to Switzerland were intended to allow them to recuperate and finally enjoy some carefree time in a child-friendly environment.

The brief economic upturn in the second half of the 1920s saw a dramatic decline in the committee’s activities. There was a sharp fall in both the number of host family places provided and demand from Swiss families abroad.

The 1930s and 1940s – a blessing in times of genuine need

The invaluable contribution made by this institution was not recognised again until the economic crisis of the 1930s and the outbreak of the Second World War. Many Swiss families abroad found themselves in desperate poverty and once again it was the children who suffered most.

As well as wanting to help those in need, the spirit of Swiss national identity (Landigeist) also played an increasingly important role during this period.  Through the resolution of 10 December 1939, the association "Swiss Aid - Holidays for Swiss Children Abroad" established a foundation with the following objective (extract from the Deed of Foundation):
“The purpose of the foundation is the finding of free places and collection of financial contributions to provide holidays for Swiss children abroad. If the foundation’s funds allow it, other general charitable initiatives on behalf of Swiss children abroad may also be subsidised.”  (end of extract)

In terms of numbers but also with regard to the scope of its activities, the Foundation reached its highpoint at the end of the Second World War.  Help was provided to over 4,000 children each year and over 10,000 food packages were sent to Swiss children abroad in war-torn areas.

The 1950s and 1960s – an aid organisation shifting its focus from social to cultural and government policy objectives

As a result of the improvement in the economic fortunes of the Swiss communities abroad, the need for recuperation visits declined. Emergency aid was no longer required. The second objective of the “Swiss Aid” foundation therefore became increasingly important.  The young Swiss abroad were to discover their family’s roots, find out about Swiss history and geography and establish a relationship with their native country.

The range of offers that Swiss children abroad could enjoy was also extended during this period. Instead of holidays staying with families, more and more places were provided at “Pro Juventute” holiday camps, at children’s homes and other institutions. Special holiday camps for Swiss children abroad were also increasingly organised.

The 1970s and 1980s – from stays with families to holiday camps

Various reasons account for the constant decline in the number of participating Swiss children abroad during the 1970s and 1980s.

As the requirements of the Swiss families abroad also increasingly changed so too did the focus of the activities of the “Holiday Programme for Swiss Children Abroad”, as the department responsible at “Pro Juventute” was known over the years. In 1978, only 78 out of a total of 363 children attended holiday camps. There was a complete turnaround within ten years – the summer holiday camps now represented the main activity while the placement in host families was of secondary importance.

As the organisation of the camps was far more expensive, fewer places could be made available than with the family stays in the past. A new name was also adopted during this period. In October 1979, a decision was made to change the name of the Foundation from “Swiss Aid” to the “Foundation for Young Swiss Abroad”.

The 1990s to the present day - two office moves and the return of an old partner

For different reasons, the "Foundation for Young Swiss Abroad" ended the partnership with "Pro Juventute" on 1 October 1990 and moved to an independent office in Wattstrasse, Zurich. For 6 years, the office served as the hub for organising all the summer holiday camps and arranging accommodation for between 25 and 50 children each year in host families.

The "Foundation for Young Swiss Abroad" was compelled to take on a dual role for the first time: alongside the fundraising, the Foundation also organised the camps and activities. In 1992, our range of activities was expanded to include a ski camp over New Year.

After a few years, the FYSA Foundation Board recognised that it was no longer appropriate to have volunteers managing the holiday camps, particularly in view of growing demand and responsibilities. The Foundation Board began to look for a new partner and soon discovered the "Organisation of the Swiss Abroad", based in Berne.

The holiday camp programming unit has therefore continued its work at the new site. Our aim is that the young people should return home with a wealth of positive memories and new information about their family´s home country.

For lower-income families, the Foundation is able to provide assistance with the camp and travel costs or to cover all expenses. As our lives become ever more globalised, we want to help children meet their peers from a whole range of countries, languages and cultures. We want to encourage the formation of friendships and ties that transcend borders and promote mutual understanding. Although times have changed, the "Foundation for Young Swiss Abroad" is still relevant and true to our original objectives.

This brief history of the Foundation was produced in 2002 by the Office Manager at the time, David von Steiger. It was updated and revised in 2007 by the President of the "Foundation for Young Swiss Abroad", Simon Küchler, and again in 2013 by the Fundraising Manager, Simone Riner.