Schweiz: Elizabeth Neuenschwander

We should remember that we will not live forever, that at one point we will pass away. And therefore, it is useless to accumulate too much for ourselves. It is better to create something valuable.

— Elizabeth Neuenschwander

Elizabeth Neuenschwander has spent almost 50 years of her life working abroad. She became a dressmaker and left Emmental, a remote Swiss region, at age 19. Since the late 1950s, she has worked in developing countries for different organizations: with Tibetan refugees in Nepal and India, as a nutrition advisor in Biafra and Nigeria. Those were only a few stations on her way from a dressmaker to a project manager. Since 1986, she has worked in Quetta, Pakistan, where she founded self-help projects for Afghan refugees. In 2001, the Canton of Berne gave her the renowned Trudi-Schlatter Award.

Elizabeth Neuenschwander (76) takes pictures of every bridge she sees. “Bridges lead over abysses, they are connections between two different shores,” she explains. She was born in 1929 in Schangnau, Switzerland, and left her village early. It was the narrowness of the remote Emmental that made her leave plus her deep interest in foreign cultures. She went to Denmark for further education. From there her path went further – step by step. Gradually, the dressmaker from Schangnau turned into a project manager for several international organizations such as Unicef and the Red Cross, working in African and Asian developing countries. Since 1986, she has been running her own private projects in Pakistan. Overall, her objective has remained the same: help people to help themselves. She travels to Pakistan twice a year, stays there for a few weeks supervising her projects in Quetta near the Afghan border, comes back to Switzerland giving presentations, showing pictures and selling blouses and shawls that “her” women sew and embroider in Pakistan. With the aid of her projects, she wants to give women more self-confidence and self-esteem in an Islamic country where honor killings still are a part of daily life. “This is my small contribution to a better world. A world where everybody knows his and her values is a better world,” Elizabeth Neuenschwander explains and goes on traveling between Switzerland and Pakistan: twice a year she crosses the bridge that she has built between two countries and two worlds.