On August 1, Swiss National Day is not only celebrated in Switzerland, but by Swiss and friends of Switzerland all over the world. This special day celebrates the founding of the Swiss Confederacy with parades, paper lanterns, games, fireworks and of course fabulous Swiss food.
Mercy Ships has a long history with Switzerland and some would even say Mercy Ships began there! In 1977, while living in Lausanne, Switzerland, Don Stephens began a process that led to the founding of Mercy Ships. Many Swiss caught the vision and have come to volunteer on the ships. In fact, approximately 158 Swiss crew have volunteered over the years, with 13 Swiss crew currently volunteering onboard and over 145 Swiss applicants waiting for opportunities to serve.
Rahel Schmid from Thun, Switzerland, along with her husband and two daughters, served on the Africa Mercy for the past four years. While her husband served as the ship senior chaplain, Rahel was the primary care giver for her young daughters and served as a physical therapist, event planner, and overall welcoming presence to new crew.
When Rahel and her husband Andreas came to the ship, their daughters were very young. Lena was 2 years old and Aimy was 6 months old and learned to walk during the time the family lived onboard. Raising children on the ship is a privilege and comes with the special challenge of teaching children their home culture while allowing them to explore and embrace all the new cultures they’re surrounded by.
Rahel said, “Raising my girls outside their home country was a gift! Sharing life on board was the greatest gift I could ever give them. Being surrounded by people who genuinely care about others, who give up their financially secure jobs to help others is something they will never forget. Seeing patients receive healing and being part of that will remain in their lives forever and inspire them to do the same. I absolutely loved life with my girls onboard.”
When asked how she kept up Swiss traditions to pass along to her daughters, Rahel shared, “We had mostly Swiss German books for the kids, so the stories were about mountain goats and cow bells! We always had a stash of Swiss chocolate for birthday gifts or special treats. At Christmas, we always had a Swiss gathering, eating fondue. We had our Swiss Christmas cookies and Swiss mulled wine while our girls wore traditional Swiss dresses.”
The Schmid family also celebrated Swiss National Day every year that they were onboard. Festivities with other Swiss crew included Swiss chocolate and favorite Swiss foods.
Families from around the world who come to volunteer with Mercy Ships get to share their culture with the crew onboard and teach them a bit of their national history.
The ship itself has its own culture, and children who grow up there adopt ship culture as their own. Some of the special things Lena and Aimy will always remember from living onboard are playing on the Deck 8 playground, their school teachers and waffles! Every Friday on the ship waffles are served and now, back home in Switzerland, the girls have asked for a waffle maker so that they can incorporate some ship culture into their Swiss culture!
Happy Swiss National Day to all the Swiss Mercy Ships volunteers and Swiss friends all over the world!
If you and your family would like to share your culture while volunteering with Mercy Ships, click this link www.mercyships.org/volunteer.