Scouting in Switzerland
Everyone probably knows the scouts from their home country – the international scouting movement was founded in 1907 by Robert Baden-Powell and now has around 42 million members in over 200 different countries.
In Switzerland, the scouts are called ‘Pfadi’ which is a short form of ‘Pfadfinder’ which just means Scout. There are other groups too with similar activities and aims – for example Cevi (run by the Protestant Church and associated with the YMCA) and Blauring (organized by the Catholic Church).
Both my children are in Pfadi and love it, so I wanted to share some basic information for those of you who are interested, as things are done a bit differently here in Switzerland!
Kids can join from Kindergarten age and then join the ‘Biberstufe’ (Beavers) who meet every other week. The next level is ‘Wolfstufe’ (Wolves) which is for children from 7-11 years old and after that, they join the ‘Pfadistufe’. The two younger levels are mixed boys and girls; from 11-14 they are separate. After the age of 14, children have the chance to continue and train as leaders. That’s the good (and slightly scary!) special thing about Scouts in Switzerland: it’s run for children, by children (or teenagers/young adults).
When and where do they meet?
The children are assigned to a group, led by around 3 Scout leaders, and meet every weekend, usually on Saturday afternoons for 3 hours, during school term time (the youngest children only every 2 weeks, for 2 hours).
You find out the time and meeting point on the website – the information is posted towards the end of the week and includes what the children should wear (always weather appropriate clothing plus their Pfadi shirt and scarf, often a snack, sometimes Swiss army knife, things to dress up in, something to grill…) The meeting point is often a school house or the Pfadi Centre, which is opposite the Uster Swimming Pool, on the other side of the Highway.
What do they do?
The youngest children have activities based around a fantasy story – the leaders are 5-6 young women and they usually have around 30 kids to entertain with stories such as the rainbow fish, carnival, treasure hunts etc. As the children get older, they go further into the forest, build dens, play adventure games, learn to make fires, and just generally have old-fashioned outdoor fun in all weathers. As you’ll see from the photo of my daughter – they can come home badly in need of a bath!
The older kids also help out sometimes with social activities, like collecting paper for recycling, or manning the drinks stand at the Uster marathon.
Pfadi offers all children the possibility to take part in camps – the younger children up to age 11 are in basic indoor accommodation (dormitory style) and the older ones camp in tents. There is a short camp over Pfingsten (Whitsun) which my daughter tried out when she was just 5 years old, and absolutely loved. Then there’s a longer week or 10 day long camp either in the first part of the summer holidays, or sometimes in autumn. For the older children there are in addition 2-3 weekend camps which are local.
My son has taken part in numerous camps and whilst he was sometimes nervous, he invariably came back in good spirts. As parents, no news is good news – you’re only contacted if someone gets sick or is so homesick, they need to go home. So it takes bravery on the part of both parents and children, to let them go! But it’s also great at building their confidence and preparing them for the compulsory school camps that take place from the 5th grade onwards in the Swiss school system.
Children also get a special Pfadi name given to them, when they’ve been attending the Pfadi for a while and the leaders have got to know them. They are ‘baptised’ with their new name during an evening exercise outside in the forest, with a ritual which seems to involve drinking some suspicious looking (but harmless) liquid. My daughter is proudly called Agea (a beautiful blue butterfly) and my son is Loi (lion!)
This is a super value activity: the annual fee is just CHF65 per child, CHF55 for siblings. This includes the weekly activities. In addition you need to buy a shirt and scarf. The camps are extra but again, very reasonably priced, and these are also optional.
Kids can come along to try out Pfadi on any of the regular activities, by contacting the leader via the website:
Every March, there is the annual Pfadi Schnuppertag – on this day lots of new kids come along, and the leaders hand out information and forms etc. More information is also on their website.
My husband was a Pfadi leader and now I’m slowly getting up to speed with all things Pfadi-related too, so if you have any questions or would like to know more, please feel free to ask me!