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First Credit Suisse Volunteering Award 

In the spring of 2015, for the first time since the launch of the corporate volunteering program, the Volunteering Award was presented. One of the five winners is Daniel Weiss. He works as a financial planner in Private & Wealth Management Clients Switzerland and for almost three years has been a volunteer at the "In Our Midst" language learning group of the Swiss Red Cross in Zurich-Oerlikon for young foreign nationals.  

Beate Kurth: Mr. Weiss, why do you volunteer?

Daniel Weiss: Even though I admit to occasionally playing the lottery, I believe I have already hit the jackpot, which is to be born healthy in the safety of Switzerland. I volunteer out of gratitude for this, to share some of my luck with those less fortunate.

What do the evenings in the language learning group mean to you?

In addition to the charitable purpose, they are a welcome change from my daily work. As a financial planner, I advise clients about the upcoming third stage of life (retirement). In the language learning group, I'm dealing with teenagers who are still in the middle of the first phase of life.

After a long working day, what motivates you to spend all evening with the young people in the language learning group?

Perhaps the motivation of the young people, who also attend the language learning group voluntarily after school. It also makes me happy to see the linguistic progress over the course of a semester; language skills are one of the most important conditions for successful integration.

How is it that you have been here for three years, meaning that you have accepted one assignment after the other?

I enjoy volunteering on the basis of the SRC project and seeing with my own eyes how meaningful and helpful this group is for young people.

What are the requirements for volunteers in this special program?

First and foremost, taking pleasure in bringing the SRC idea to life for the language learning group. One should also be open, patient, and have a strong command of German; one must also be willing to cooperate with the other volunteers.

The young people come from a wide range of countries, almost no one has the same native language, and their German skills are rudimentary. How do you bring these children together as a group?

That is exactly what I find so interesting and enriching for all involved. We try to create team spirit through games, group work, cooking, and cleaning. Among the young people, there are sometimes misgivings and prejudice too. At the end of the day, though, they are all in the same boat. The atmosphere and cohesion among them is often surprisingly good.

To what extent is the language learning group also a social or integration group?

In addition to German, we also try to teach the young people about Swiss culture and life by explaining everyday situations, holidays, and customs to them. Furthermore, we cook many typical Swiss dishes. Where else are these young people going to eat raclette? The fact that the specialty is requested again after a while makes it even nicer.

How do volunteers organize the evenings?

Each volunteer receives advance notice that he or she is responsible for the evening and organizes it. With the exception of recurring activities such as shopping, cooking, and eating, we are pretty free. For instance, we talk to the young people about career choices. We explain the education system and the opportunities that Switzerland offers to those who work hard. We remind them about seizing their opportunity and working as hard as they can in school. A command of German is also key for choosing a career.

Each of the young people has his or her own, sometimes traumatic, story. What is the best way to help those children?

We don't actively ask the young people about that. When trust is established, they sometimes talk about their experiences – usually at the dinner table. What we do then is listen carefully. Depending on the situation, we submit a report to the responsible party at the Red Cross. We cannot and should not do more, as we are not therapists.

What would you like the Swiss public to do when dealing with immigrants?

Be open to new things and help with integration in any way you can. Integration begins with small things. Our young people from the language learning group, for instance, did not come to Switzerland of their own free will. Their parents decided that for them, either because they have found employment in Switzerland, are fleeing a war, or a parent has married a Swiss national. We can all motivate them to make the best of their situation.