A few months ago, I visited the campus of the International School of Berne (ISBerne), a pre-K through 12th grade private school in Berne, Switzerland.
Much of my experience has been with NGOs in the developing world where it’s common to find children combing the landfills for recyclables in order to generate income for their families, or countless instances of children orphaned by AIDS. When arriving at the airport in places like this, I’ve noticed that there are two things they all seem to have in common when you step outside: the smell of wood fires used for cooking, and the sound of roosters crowing in the distance.
Entering Switzerland at the Zurich airport was, however, a considerably different experience as I passed shop after shop selling expensive Swiss watches, then outside to a line of black Mercedes Benz taxis.
Offspring Of Diplomats Learn Community Service
If you’ve never been to Switzerland, the train ride from Zurich to the school in Berne is probably how you would envision the Swiss countryside; chalets, snow-covered pine forests, and spectacular Alpine views. ISBerne, like many Swiss private schools, caters to the children of diplomats and Foreign Service professionals. I had heard that the school has a robust community service program and, although I was there for other reasons, I was very interested in finding out more about it.
ISBerne offers the International Baccalaureate curriculum, a central tenet of which is described as:
“The aim of all IB programmes is to develop internationally minded people who, recognizing their common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet, help to create a better and more peaceful world.”
I've seen the results of an indifferent world first-hand and up-close, so developing a sense of global citizenship early in the lives of students is something that I find very appealing. I discovered that ISBerne has plenty of activities to promote these values to its students.
From Neighborhood Clean Up To Third World Field Projects
Dr. Kathleen Noreisch, director of the CAS (Creativity, Action, Service) program at the school, told me that there are different levels of participation available to the students. They range from local neighborhood clean-ups, to assisting the elderly, to some very ambitious and challenging field projects in Tanzania and Morocco.
Of course, community service is a required component in graduating with an IB diploma, so there are kids who find it just another chore in an already heavy course schedule. We all probably found it tedious to learn our multiplication tables in elementary school, but it nonetheless became part of our knowledge base for a lifetime. Such is the case with instilling a sense of global responsibility at an early age; it influences who we become as adults. Moreover, many students find that they love this kind of work, become very involved, and consider a career in the NGO/ non-profit world.
Children Support Fight Against Hunger, Promote Girls’ Education
I heard one story about a group of very young ISBerne elementary school kids who had been given a handful of pumpkin seeds, which they planted, tended, and then made pumpkin soup that they sold locally to raise money for Mary’s Meals, an international movement that funds food projects in the developing world.
They helped feed other kids who live in an environment where hunger affects the ability to pursue even a basic education. Equally important, they were involved in the entire process that took months to complete and developed a sense of commitment to a worthwhile international goal.
Dr. Noreisch told me about a student trip to Morocco where they worked at an NGO that provided education for local girls. This facility made the difference between attending school and not getting any education at all. She said that it made the students reconsider their typical teenage griping about getting up and attending class everyday and to better appreciate their privileged circumstances. The first step in changing the world is realizing how your own life compares to, and affects, your global neighbors.
Street Children for a Day Raise Funds For Real Street Children
Around the holidays, a group of ISBerne students (some as young as fifth grade) participated in a fundraising event “Strassenkind fur einen Tag” (Street Child for a Day) to raise money for Terre des Hommes, an organization that addresses the socio-economic injustices of the world’s children. They assumed the role of street children; selling newspapers, shining shoes, performing music, and asking for money.
On a particularly cold day in Berne, they approached people at the main train station to solicit funds for the organization, and gained a knowledge of the daily lives of street children; rejection and ridicule from passersby, wondering how to get food or even go to the bathroom, and spending the day outside in the inclement weather. They raised over 1000 CHF (about $1,000) just from handouts of spare change from pedestrians, and gained an appreciation of action taken that produces concrete results.
The CAS program has additional opportunities for community service including Velos für Afrika, a Swiss organization that refurbishes bicycles to assist in local mobility on the African continent, and Peace One Day, which raises the awareness of the International Day of Peace each year on September 21.
Talking to some of these kids, I admired the purity of their intentions. We often see social responsibility as a corporate branding or marketing effort, in some cases “putting lipstick” on the effects that their products produce. Here, I met students who are truly active in global fellowship and have a sincere desire for world peace. Many future leaders emerge from prestigious Swiss international schools like this, and I’m glad that they are taking the concept of global citizenship and responsibility with them.
For a personal account from a student who participated in Strassenkind fur einen Tag, click here.