HEKS/EPER – History

For more than 70 years HEKS/EPER has been championing the causes of needy and disadvantaged people. The relief and reconstruction work of Protestant Churches in post-war Europe has evolved into a worldwide commitment to a more humane and just world – and HEKS/EPER has become a professional aid organization that assists over a million people through its projects.

1944–1954

Inter-church aid for reconstruction

The Church Federation launches an aid programme for Protestant Churches in war-torn Europe and distributes 3,150 tonnes of food, clothing and books worth a total of 5.5 million francs. HEKS/EPER is founded in 1946. During the Cold War HEKS/EPER supports church parishes in Eastern Europe in their ecclesiastic and diaconal work and launches the first church parish partnerships. In 1949 HEKS/EPER assumes responsibility for Protestant refugee aid in Switzerland.
HEKS-Geschichte 1944-1954
Otto Stork

1954–1960

Start of international development aid

The colonial countries in Africa and Asia are struggling for their political independence. HEKS/EPER expands its activities to these continents and provides survival relief in Algeria, sends donated clothing to Iran and Jordan, donates books and scholarships for students in Asia. Collections undertaken by cantonal churches served to launch the first development project in Southern India, in the form of a skills training workshop for industrial workers. HEKS/EPER also takes part in developing the school system in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

HEKS-Geschichte 1954-1960
Samuel Andres

1961–1969

Major aid programmes

Under the «Bread for Brethren» programme, churches and aid organizations in Switzerland raise 15.7 million francs within two years for development aid projects run by HEKS/EPER and Protestant missions. In addition, Reformed and Catholic churches join forces for the first time under an aid programme, Joint Church Aid, to assist victims of the Biafra War. Also, with the support of the Delta Ministry project in the US State of Mississippi, HEKS/EPER takes a stand in support of equal rights for African Americans in the USA.

HEKS Geschichte 1961-1969
HEKS Archiv

1970–1979

Disaster relief and development policy

HEKS/EPER stands in solidarity with communities oppressed by racism and apartheid in Angola, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Following flood disasters in North Africa and Eastern Europe, earthquakes in Turkey and Peru as well as a storm surge in Pakistan, HEKS/EPER builds up a disaster relief programme of its own. Having provided emergency aid for years after the Vietnam War, HEKS/EPER also becomes involved in reconstruction work. Ties with aid agencies, human rights groups and grassroots movements are also expanded as a way of promoting development work.

HEKS Geschichte 1970-1979
HEKS Archiv

1980–1989

Strengthened commitment to helping refugees in Switzerland

On the back of the continuing influx of refugees, the HEKS/EPER refugee service grows into its biggest department. HEKS/EPER opens the first Legal Advice Offices for asylum seekers in Switzerland. In 1980 «Refugee Day» is observed for the first time. HEKS/EPER supports programmes for refugees and displaced people around the world, including in Southern Africa, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Lebanon, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and the Philippines. In 1988 HEKS/EPER launches Eastern Europe Day, which is observed every year.
HEKS Geschichte 1980-1989
HEKS Archiv

1990–1996

Turnaround in Eastern Europe, end of apartheid in South Africa and Balkan War

The aftermath of the Cold War witnesses the emergence of church aid organizations in Eastern Europe. During and after the Balkan War, HEKS/EPER spends 60 million francs to assist war victims. HEKS/EPER also provides emergency aid in the wake of the genocide in Rwanda. Furthermore, HEKS/EPER coordinates international monitoring of elections in South Africa and Mozambique by churches. In Latin America, HEKS/EPER supports land reform and champions the cause of the landless. Meanwhile, HEKS/EPER develops projects in housing assistance and job market integration for the unemployed in Switzerland.
HEKS Geschichte 1990-1996
HEKS Archiv

1997–2007

Emergency aid and reorientation of work in Switzerland

HEKS/EPER provides emergency aid ever more frequently following natural disasters and armed conflicts. The year 2005 in particular is marked by natural disasters: HEKS/EPER provides emergency assistance following the tsunami in Asia and disasters caused by extreme weather in Romania, southern Mexico, Guatemala, Kashmir, Niger and in the Sudan. In Switzerland, HEKS/EPER loses the Confederation's mandate for refugee support and expands its activities to include assistance to the migrant population. In 2004, HEKS/EPER becomes a foundation.

HEKS Geschichte 1997-2007
Annette Boutellier

2008–2012

Greater thematic focus

HEKS/EPER becomes more focused in the thematic priorities of its project work. Internationally, HEKS/EPER concentrates on developing rural communities, conflict management, humanitarian aid as well as church cooperation, while in Switzerland it focuses on social inclusion and advocacy for socially underprivileged people. HEKS/EPER places the struggle for land rights at the centre of its fundraising campaign entitled «Big changes start small». The «Aid donations» Christmas initiative launched in 2008 continues to be successful to this day.

HEKS Geschichte 2008-2012
Toni Bernet

2013–2019

A professional church aid organization

HEKS/EPER continues to build up its expertise as a church aid organization that champions the causes of disadvantaged people on the basis of Christian values and human rights and is still forging ahead in terms of controlling and impact assessment as well as sustainability and transparency. HEKS/EPER assists more than one million people every year – in Switzerland and around the world. HEKS/EPER continues its long-term development cooperation projects on poverty alleviation and food security for peasant families.

HEKS/EPER scores two major successes in its advocacy work in 2018: the UN adopts a declaration protecting the rights of rural communities to land and natural resources – a project on which HEKS/EPER had also collaborated for years. And in Bangladesh, the «National Congress on the Rights of Dalits and Adivasis» organized by HEKS/EPER adopts a declaration on the strengthening of the political and cultural rights of these indigenous communities, which are subject to discrimination. In Switzerland too, HEKS/EPER strives at least to alleviate the consequences of the persisting refugee crisis. Through the petition «For safe and legal escape routes into Switzerland», HEKS/EPER together with the Swiss Refugee Council and more than 38,000 signatories call on the Federal Council to provide asylum for particularly vulnerable refugees.

In 2018, however, receipts for humanitarian aid and development cooperation fall short of expectations, making it necessary to cover some of the expenditure from project funds. This obliges HEKS/EPER to forego certain projects and make cost savings in project support and administration. For HEKS/EPER, the hallmarks of the years 2019 and 2020 are financial stabilization and greater focus in its project work.

HEKS Geschichte 2013-2016
Christian Bobst