Clubs and Activities Trips and Excursions

Surval News: Swiss Gap visits to Le Byron

09 October 2019

“I’m doing good, thanks to you.”

One of the highlights of the Swiss Gap Programme here at Surval is the opportunity to combine charity work in the local community with immersion in Swiss culture. The girls are given the chance to do this on a weekly basis, through volunteering for L’étape and Cartons du Coeur (boxes from the heart), charities which provide food and important life necessities for local families in need; and, on a fortnightly basis, through visits to Le Byron.

Le Byron is a Housing and Care centre for senior citizens, set amidst the vineyards of Villeneuve, with a light-filled dining room that overlooks Lake Geneva. It was Madame Monney, a former French teacher at Surval, who first established the link between Surval and Le Byron, a relationship that has continued to grow in strength in the years since; for the past three years, Madame Wahli, our Teacher of Etiquette and French, has been coordinating these visits, which have become one of the most valuable and memorable parts of the girls’ experience here – to the extent that many of the students from other grades within the school have asked if they can go too!

Traditionally, each year, the new Swiss Gap class’ first visit to Le Byron involves introducing themselves to the residents using posters that they have made depicting a little bit about their lives. For many of the girls who have come to Surval to learn French, this may be the first time they have actually spoken in French to a French-speaking person, and they are often quite nervous to begin. However, the warm and encouraging reception given to the girls by the ladies and gentlemen there, and Madame Wahli’s support and enthusiasm, quickly chase the butterflies away!

For our second visit of the term, our Le Byron Student Coordinator, Mayela (Indonesia), helped organise and lead a games afternoon with the residents. To begin with, some of the girls were quite timid, especially when one of the ladies at Le Byron said that she didn’t like games, and was going to go to her room; however, everyone – including this lady – was soon swept up in the fun of balloon “keepy ups”, hoopla and various other competitive activities; and, about half-an-hour later, the very lady who had said that she wasn’t going to stay was caught up in an exciting race with Mayela to see who could roll a spool of thread with a bottle attached to the end the fastest! This lady was not the only Byron resident to express her disappointment when Madame Wahli regretfully announced that the girls would have to leave.

Most recently, Mayela and Chloe (Ireland) put their French skills to use as they led a Bingo afternoon, with the other Swiss Gap students joining in with the game and helping the residents – including a lady of one hundred years old! This very enthusiastic centenarian thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon, not least because, as the girls grew in confidence, they started to have proper conversations in French. As Mayela reflected afterwards, “The best part is learning about the lives of the residents.”

“I am very proud of the girls’ work at Le Byron already,” says Madame Wahli. “We have had some wonderful moments, and it is so nice to see everyone laughing and happy together. The men and women have got used to Surval visiting them now; and, if we haven’t been for a few weeks because of a holiday, they keep asking Le Byron staff when we will be coming back and are so glad to see us when we return! Yesterday, one of the girls asked one of the ladies how she was doing, and she replied: ‘I am doing good, thanks to you.’”

They say, however, that a picture is worth a thousand words, so if you truly want to see the happiness that these visits brings to, not just the residents of Le Byron, but to the girls themselves, then just look through the images accompanying this article, or in today’s Instagram post. Unfortunately, we are not able to publish images showing the residents’ faces, but I am sure that you will still be able to imagine the atmosphere of pure simple joy, companionship and warmth that pervades on each of these very special visits.  

Further reading: 

Student Blog: Discovering Swiss culture

The Surval Experience