Breaking Down Walls
Here at TSOS our mission is to change the perception and reception of refugees worldwide. In essence, we want to help create communities of welcomers. That sounds good on paper, but what does “welcome” look like in action? One faith-based group in Bonstetten, Switzerland offers a good model.
In a small Swiss village, nestled between rolling green hills, or snow covered, which is often the case this time of year, a diverse group of individuals have become family.
“Here it is a feeling of ‘come and be here’,” said Heidi Aeschbacher, a Swiss resident, who not so long ago made her own journey to Switzerland in search of home. “We support you no matter who you are and no matter where you come from.”
Aeschbacher is the President of the women’s organization in the Bonstetten, Switzerland congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. She, along with the other leaders in her proximity, spend their free time organizing German classes for newcomers, a homework help group for students, assistance for refugees in their community and neighboring countries, and creating a space that feels like home, even during the tumultuous health conditions our world currently faces.
They’ve called the initiative “Jede/r einzelne zahlt” or “Everyone counts”.
It doesn’t matter if you are a member of their congregation, a neighbor down the street or someone who has just arrived from a war- torn country, there is space for you.
“Do you want to learn English? You can come to us. Do you want to learn German? You can come to us. Do you need help finding a job? Do you need a place to practice the piano? You can come to us,” she said.
On any given day, the church building where the group congregates becomes a classroom for language learning, a music hall, a skills lab, even a place to develop hobbies like wood-working and sewing. Others have found it a place of refuge as they have come by employment or connections with local leaders who can offer advice in the strenuous immigration application process.
Aeschbacher and her group of Swiss, Venezuelan, Italian, Syrian, American, English co-horts, additionally use their own integration experiences to soften the blow of arriving in a new place. She came to Switzerland, more than 20 years ago, as a teenager from America, but even then, was surprised by the difficulty of arriving as a foreigner.
“There was no net, there was nothing set up,” she said. “The experience I had taught me that people need to know, ‘it’s great that you’re here.’”
She says Switzerland communities, even small villages like Bonstetten, are truly changing their perspective on newcomers as they open their doors and hearts to new faces.
“You don’t know, what you don’t know,” Aeschbacher said. “If you never get in touch with someone new, you don’t learn anything. Every culture has developed really beautiful parts. Hopefully, by coming to a safe place, people can let the wall down and share their beautiful parts with the rest of us.”
For a small corner of the world, in Switzerland, what has happened in Ukraine has opened a door I didn’t think I would ever see.
A shared Christmas connecting international givers and a recognition that our stories align