In Zurich, three expat women, Adriana Puente, Deborah Patroncini and Daniela Ruggiero, are promoting a new English-speaking group for nature-related activities, called “International volunteers supporting WWF Switzerland”. We asked Adriana, the group coordinator, to tell us all about it. Thanks a lot, and long live the beautiful group!
How was the idea of the group born?
I applied for a volunteering position in a palm oil project at WWF in Zurich, but unfortunately, my German skills were not up to it (Zurich is in the German region of Switzerland). Later, I was invited to a volunteers’ introductory day where Anna Billeter and Annette Wallimann (coordinators of the volunteers at WWF in Zurich), shared with me the idea of starting an international volunteer group.
The goal was to eliminate the language barrier and have all activities in English. Many expats apply for volunteer positions but German is necessary for almost all of them. Needless to say I liked the idea very much! We developed it together and launched the kick-off event in Spring 2015, inviting everyone who had shown an interest in volunteering at WWF. At this first meeting, Deborah started to be an active member of the group.
What are the group’s goals?
Our main aim is to do something meaningful, nature-related, in English; to organise activities where language is not a barrier. Of course, this also entails meeting new international and local friends and welcoming and helping expats in Zurich, who may have difficulties getting settled.
Which activities has the group promoted so far?
So far, mostly forest management activities, such as building a new Biotope with the forest department of Winterthur and helping maintain a recently re-naturalised area (a former shooting moor) in Zurich (Rehalp). We also helped wildlife, joining a swifts rescue center (Apus apus, Apus melba), where we worked from June to September, feeding, giving medicines, changing broken feathers and finally releasing the swifts back into the wild (hoping that they would then have a long and healthy life!).
The name of the group highlights the fact that you support the WWF Switzerland. What does it mean?
WWF Switzerland has different volunteer groups, such as regional groups and riverwatch groups among others, and we are one of them. We are part of the WWF Swiss volunteer net. The support is mutual: they support us (for example by allowing us to hold our meetings at the WWF headquarters and promoting our group) and we support WWF projects and activities.
Do you collaborate with other organizations/groups?
As I said, we collaborate mostly with WWF. However, sometimes we also work with other organisations. For example the next event will be held jointly with the Winterthur rangers (Wintiranger), who are part of the Forstbetrieb in Winterthur. Possibly, we will continue working with them. During last forest management day in Rehalp, we worked with the office protection of nature in the city of Zurich (Grün Stadt Zürich).
We are always looking for new partners, such as protected areas where our help is welcome.
Do people need particular skills to attend the events promoted by the group?
People do not need to have any particular skills. Any skill is welcomed and needed! Our activities are varied and we are open to new ideas for new projects. At present, we are not ready to develop our own projects: although the group is steadily growing, it is still small. However, this is our goal. At the same time, we are looking forward to expanding our executive board, so we hope to meet people who know about communication, partnership, networking, etc.
Is it mandatory to speak English to attend to the events?
We mainly attend events where the main language is German. However, language is not a problem, as we will translate into English for those who do not understand German. The same could be done for other languages, since in our group there are Italian speakers, Spanish speakers, and French speakers. So it is not mandatory to speak English to attend to our events! We will always try to find a way to communicate, because the idea is to have no language barrier in this group!
Should people bring their own tools?
Normally, the tools are provided by the partners with whom we work. However, it is not a bad idea to bring along your own working gloves.
Is there an age limit for participants?
There is no age limit. However, volunteers under the age of 16 should be accompanied by an adult, who will take responsibility for them. It does not have to be one-to-one. Recently, we were contacted by a group of boy-scouts who will join our activities. We are looking forward to working with them!
Is there a registration fee for members?
There is no registration fee. However, a few costs need to be covered. These may vary; sometimes the partners offer lunch (sandwiches, fruit, drinks,) but sometimes the volunteers bring their own food and water. Normally, volunteers pay for their transport.
How do people register with the group?
Registration is easy. People can just send us an e-mail at email@example.com, or leave us a private message on our Facebook page (https://goo.gl/FSDKTH). For volunteer work, you can sign up on the WWF platform (Freiwilligenportal, https://freiwilligenportal.wwf.ch/). It’s in German, but we are happy to assist new members in the registration process, if needed.
Is it mandatory to attend to every event promoted by the group?
No, volunteers can join in as much as their free time allows. Of course, the more people come the better they get to know the other members. An important part of volunteering is to get to know new people, with whom you share a common interest. That it is only possible through regular attendance at events.
We ask members to confirm attendance so that we can organise events accordingly. We always provide an e-mail address or a phone number of someone who can be contacted, for example, for directions, delays, etc.
Can people propose new projects?
Of course! As I said before, we are looking for new projects. For example, if people see an area where they would like to take action, such as polluted rivers or areas with invasive plants, they can tell us and we will try to organize a series of activities to improve that particular habitat. As the proverb says, “United we stand, divided we fall”!
How do people learn about new events?
We mainly communicate with our members via e-mail. Usually, when someone shows an interest in the group and wants to join our activities, we add them to our mailing list. Every now and then, we send an e-mail listing upcoming activities. We also publish events on our Facebook page (https://goo.gl/FSDKTH). By liking our page, people will automatically receive updates from our group on their own FB wall.
How can people contact you?
Do you have a message for our readers?
We are a new group: this is a wonderful opportunity for newcomers to bring ideas and contribute shaping the group, especially for those who have just arrived in Switzerland or those who have been here for a while already but enjoy an intercultural environment. We offer an opportunity to do meaningful nature-related activities, and get to know people, make friends, experience nature, discover new places, new forests, new ecosystems and learn about nature. We welcome everyone. Our mix of different cultures enriches our experience and I think this is one of our most valuable assets. At the end of the day, not only do people go into the forest and work, but they also learn about other cultures. It’s a lot of fun!
Who is on the executive board?
At the moment we are three, me (Adriana), Deborah and Daniela, but we are looking for new members. In particular, we need to fill the following positions:
- Networking: To look for partners and design new projects;
- Sponsorship: To find sponsors and funds to cover our costs, such as lunch and travel tickets.
- Event coordinator: To ensure that activities run smoothly.
As I said, at the moment the board members are three:
- Coordinator: Adriana Puente (myself). I am Mexican and I have lived in Switzerland since 2013. In Mexico I founded three NGOs: one to promote animal rights, one to fight Climate Change and one to promote women’s rights, all this alongside my official job as PR director of the Government of my state. My passion for nature took me to England where I obtained my Masters in Biology Conservation. I have worked in conservation projects in Costa Rica and Tanzania and more recently here in Switzerland in the swift rescue center and as a Ranger at the Winterthur Forstbetrieb. I enjoy working with nature, smelling the forest, hearing the animals and observing the passage of the seasons. I am looking forward to sharing this wonderful experience with other nature lovers.
- Vice-coordinator: Deborah Patroncini. She is Italian and she first arrived in Zurich in February 2013. Deborah studied biology in Italy for her bachelor and master (with a specialisation in ecology). After monitoring freshwater quality for almost four years in a private company in Padua, she went to England where she studied for a PhD in freshwater pollution. Deborah is passionate about nature and finds it very gratifying to work in nature. She is an active WWF volunteer and recently she completed an internship at a centre for rescue and conservation of migratory birds (Apus apus and Apus melba).
- Social media manager: Daniela Ruggiero. She is Italian and she arrived in Zurich about two months ago. She is an interior designer and thanks to her ability with graphics software, she is also responsible for the visual communication of the group. She is a clear example of how having particular skills on nature and animals is not necessary to be part of our group. Loving nature, as she does, is more than enough. Daniela finds beauty, inspiration, adventure and delight in nature. For her, every animal has its own story and feelings, and like all human beings, deserves great respect.