Schweizer Berghilfe – For Mountains, for All
Eva Brechbühl is certain of one thing: innovative people with courage and dedication are needed to safeguard the future of Switzerland’s wildest mountain areas. A tourism professional who spent 37 years working for Switzerland Tourism, Eva retired six years ago and has since been volunteering for mountain rescue organisation Schweizer Berghilfe.
Mountainous regions cover around two thirds of Switzerland’s landmass, providing a home to a quarter of the country’s population. But it’s not all picture postcard and fresh air. In the more removed areas, people don’t have the same opportunities as their urban counterparts. Work is hard and pays little; schools and education centres are miles apart. In some cases there isn’t even a village shop or pub.
Consequences of these uncomfortable conditions are far-reaching. Many villages and valleys are suffering from an ageing population, as their younger residents leave to seek opportunities elsewhere. Some are even in danger of completely disappearing from the map – in what could be the very near future. It is a reality that mountain folk have been faced with for generations – and they are hard at work trying to do something about it.
Movers and Shakers
Alpine regions are certainly not short of potential – just look at the myriad projects in agrotourism and cultural tourism that have been instigated in the last ten years, There are also the people who live in the mountains and are not short of courage and dedication. They are prepared to think innovatively and work hard to develop new sources of income. Sleeping on straw, cheese making on an alp and touring with sled dogs are just some of today’s success stories.
Unfortunately though, a will does not always equal a way. Future-oriented projects often require investment greater than finances allow for. Once every avenue has been explored, one hope remains: Schweizer Berghilfe.
Established during the Second World War, the foundation is funded by donations and aims to improve means of existence and living conditions in Switzerland’s mountain regions. Thanks to financial support from pioneering projects, Schweizer Berghilfe can help Alpine populations help themselves in almost every field: agriculture, tourism, industry, health, education and emergency relief.
In the last year alone, CHF 28.4 million was donated to support 617 projects. More than 57,900 people, primarily from urban areas, came together to donate the funds required: feelings of solidarity with Schweizer Berghilfe are unabated.
Schweizer Berghilfe is a matter close to Eva Brechbühl’s heart, although she was born and bred in Zurich. Twenty years ago, she accompanied her father on ‘home visits’ in and around the Gotthard area on behalf of Schweizer Berghilfe. In her father’s homeland, she saw first-hand “how wonderful and important it was to help these people fight for their existence”. Since tourism expert Eva retired six years ago, after 37 years’ service at Switzerland Tourism, she has been personally involved with the cause.
Consequently, her retirement has had nothing to do with being ‘retiring’! Eva travels across the country for Schweizer Berghilfe. Her destinations? The most secluded corners of valleys in Switzerland’s mountain kingdom. People in these places are particularly keen to hear her thoughts. The 66-year-old is one of 34 voluntary regional experts at Schweizer Berghilfe who respond to questions on the spot and write proposals for the project committees.
Eva and her colleagues contributed 6,400 hours of voluntary work in 2013. It helped ensure that donations were spent in the most efficient and effective way. Eva is in tune with people, knows the right questions to ask – including some on the less discrete side – and is always delighted to learn about what excites the Swiss population. She sees the greatest potential for the future in networking humans and areas.
Projects to make history
Once projects have been approved, Eva waits two years before going back to find out what effect they have had. “I really like doing that,” she reveals. “Meeting the locals is always exciting. They are so happy to show us what they have achieved, and to be able to share their worries with us. Every case helps us improve our knowledge.”
And Eva has learnt a lot in the last six years! The success stories and memorable encounters are too many to count but none are forgotten. One does stand out, though, and always brings a smile to her face: Matthias Hehl’s story.
Years ago, Hehl, a geographer and teacher, took on the Alpenrose, an isolated guest house in the lonely Gadmental valley. He wanted to create a care and education centre for young people from difficult backgrounds. But there were no guests for the youngsters to cook for and look after. So Hehl decided to launch a second pioneering project, which would unite tourism and business: the Gadmen Lodges.
“I admire these people,” says Eva with a smile. “The future of the Swiss Alpine regions lies in their hands. Hopefully we’ll be able to continue in this way, if we all stick together.”