01 October 2006

Are you still a newcomer after living in Caux for 60 years?

Hildi Zeller has only been living in the village of Caux in Switzerland for 60 years now, so she's not too surprised that someone said to her the other day: 'You're not from here.'She came in 1946 with a small army of fellow Swiss, to turn the old Caux Palace Hotel into a conference centre where World War II enemies could meet and start to find healing. Now the local paper calls her 'the soul' of the Protestant chapel, which in a few weeks will be celebrating its hundredth birthday.

The name 'Caux' probably derives from a pre-Roman, Celtic word for a high pasture. Further up the mountain road from Caux is the Col de Jaman—now a quiet spot but for hundreds of years an important mountain pass. The postmen from Montreux and Chateau-d'Oeux would meet here to exchange the mail. The Col de Jaman marks a watershed: the rain that falls on one side flows into the Rhine and is carried north to the North Sea, while on the Caux side it flows into the Lake of Geneva and runs south to the Mediterranean via the Rhone.

New life
Towards the end of the war, Caux provided shelter for Jewish refugees. One of them was a small baby who had been born in a train on the way from Budapest to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Just before the start of the conference, she came back as a grandmother,with her daughter, son and grand-daughter.

Before they left, the daughter asked: 'What did it mean to stay here?' She answered: 'A new life.' The daughter asked, 'I mean what did it mean to stay here now?' Grandma replied: 'Again, a new life.'

Dirty money
Caux has given its name to the Caux Round Table, an international network of business leaders. It is launching a new campaign in favour of a global anti-corruption agency. According to its head, the British lawyer Lord Brennan, ten times as much money goes from poor to rich nations as goes the other way in aid. 'Corruption is to take and use,' he summarised. 'Integrity means sharing and giving.'

Other thoughts which stay with me from the summer: Jemma Kumba, Chairwoman of the Sudanese Parliament's Economic Committee said the experience of Caux had helped her to value 'the importance of inner change', and the philosophy of 'Ubuntu'—'I am because you are, and you are because I am.' Lilian Cingo, from South Africa, told how Phelophepa, 'the people's health train' that she had pioneered, is taking health care to remote communities in her country.

In the process, she had had to learn how to drive and maintain a train. More than one million people have been treated since 1993. Cingo gave stories of social and racial healing through the train —'so many people are traumatised'. She added, to laughter, 'All our leaders need to see a psychologist.'A family in the North uses 50 times the resources of a poor family in the South, said Ian Robertson, from the University of Zimbabwe, and also CEO of a small agricultural business. 'The planet is being gutted of resources.' When would people ask themselves 'how much is enough'?

Practical peace
The summer's conferences closed with a rousing appeal from the Nigerian deputy to the Papal Nuncio to the UN in Geneva, Fortunatus Nwachukwu. He called for African integrity and unity, and peace between Muslim and Christian. 'Islam and Christianity are both imported religions to our continent,' he said. 'They are both based on peace and harmony—so why do we allow them to foster division and conflict instead?' he asked. His words were greeted with enthusiasm by a Nigerian imam, who embraced a Christian minister and said, 'We work to make practical peace and love.'Monsignor Nwachukwu hailed them both: 'You are living in the future. Our prayer is that such initiatives as yours spread.'

Unless stated otherwise, all content on this site falls under the terms of the Creative Commons Licence 3.0