words. Odyssia Houstis
photos. courtesy of Roger Federer Foundation
issue 1 – in love with Switzerland

A conversation with Dr. Janine Händel, CEO of The Roger Federer Foundation in Switzerland

We had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Janine Händel, CEO of The Roger Federer Foundation. An organization who believes in the potential of all people and does everything possible to empower them to improve their situation on their own. The foundation is best known for its educational projects in 6 countries in southern Africa. We were curious to learn more about the foundation’s projects in Switzerland, designed to improve the quality of early learning and basic education. 

According to a study conducted by the OECD, Switzerland has the most expensive childcare system in the world. As a result, 60% of children under the age of three are looked after by parents and grandparents until they enter kindergarten. Often, childcare solutions do not adequately support children’s learning needs. By the time Swiss kids start school, only one third of children have developed the necessary motor skills for effective cognitive, linguistic, social and emotional abilities.

Dr. Händel explains that 10 years ago, 33% more children were playing outside. Today’s children who experience less unsupervised outdoor play have lower levels of creativity and struggle to learn how to play in their spare time. This is even more prevalent for children born to economically disadvantaged families where the parents are unable to afford to pay for their kids to play. There are open gyms and other services offered but are not taken advantage of by the groups that need it most simply as there is little awareness of the opportunities available to them.

One of the initiatives the foundation has created is building natural playgrounds on school grounds open after school which offers free play. These are not your typical play components like a slide or swing, but natural elements that promote more creative play. 31 such playgrounds have already been built in the French and German speaking parts of Switzerland and the Italian speaking region is on its way.

The foundation has also developed coaching programs for parents to support their kids in playing and learning. By doing so, parents build trust in the school system allowing teachers to reach socially disadvantaged families before they enter kindergarten. The foundation has created an environmental education plan to encourage and train teachers to teach more outside. The pilot programs in highly disadvantaged areas, with the help of the youth associations, have shown communities how to convert their environment into a playground with little money. This has created new play areas at their doorstep making access to outdoor play so much easier. 

“It may seem like only drop by drop in an ocean, but if you do it right, the leverage of what you do together is monumental”.  -Dr. Händel

Dr. Händel emphasizes that what creates change is not just the building of new playgrounds and equipment but the way people feel empowered to use and organize resources on their own. The foundation is strict in following this empowerment approach because they truly believe that this is the only way to achieve sustainable systemic change.