Press release, 13 January 2021

75 years at the service of human dignity

HEKS/EPER is marking its 75th anniversary this year. Founded in 1946 to alleviate the untold hardship being experienced post-war Europe, Swiss Church Aid has been in constant evolution since then. Today HEKS/EPER is one of the six major Swiss NGOs specialising in development cooperation, emergency humanitarian aid as well as advocacy on behalf of asylum seekers and socially deprived people in Switzerland. Through a film, a photo exhibition as well as presentations and discussions, HEKS/EPER will be looking back at its work and projects, its successes and setbacks of the past 75 years.

Die Geschichte vom HEKS

On 1 January 1946 in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, HEKS/EPER was founded at the initiative of the then Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches (SEK), now the Protestant Church in Switzerland (PCS). Today, 75 years on, HEKS/EPER has changed considerably, inspired among others by the values of solidarity, justice and human dignity. At its beginnings, it organised the sending 1900 rail cars laden with clothes, soap and potatoes for victims of the Second World War. In Eastern Europe it also erected temporary wooden churches and built orphanages. The year 1958 witnessed the first activities undertaken outside the European continent – a project in India to set up a training workshop for toolmakers. HEKS/EPER then went on to build schools in the Congo and Haiti, to deliver humanitarian aid emergency aid following the genocide in Rwanda as well as other major conflicts, and to assist victims of numerous natural disasters in rebuilding their livelihoods.

Over the years, HEKS/EPER the organisation acquired specific expertise in matters such as access to land or asylum law. In 1968 HEKS/EPER took over what is known in Switzerland as representation of a charitable organisation, which entails assisting asylum seekers as a neutral observer during their hearings. Over 700 Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees – the «boat people» – were assisted by HEKS/EPER. In the 1970s HEKS/EPER also actively championed the cause of equal rights for the black population in Angola, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

To be continued – with new challenges

The merger with Bread for All in 2022 will constitute yet another major transformation for HEKS/EPER. This joining of forces is expected to bundle the skills and resources of both agencies, thereby laying the groundwork not just for further enhancing the impacts of their projects and activities at home and abroad, but also for tackling urgent new challenges, such as climate change or global pandemics.

Film and Exhibition

A film is planned for the second half of this year, made by the renowned Swiss film director Barbara Miller and tracing HEKS/EPER’s eventful history. It is to be presented to a wide public through the «Lunchkinos» or lunchtime cinema programme.

Already in the next few weeks, a chronologically structured travelling exhibition on the history of HEKS/EPER will embark on a tour of various Swiss towns. The COVID-19 situation allowing, numerous parallel events are also being planned.

Samuel Berner
Head of Media and Information Department
Samuel Berner

Phone: +41 44 360 88 25
Mobile: +41 76 461 88 70