3. Return to Switzerland

Back home in Switzerland

In 1977, after completing his term with the International YCW, Sergio returned to his home country Switzerland. He had spent eight years in Brussels, Belgium at the European YCW and International YCW secretariats. He found the whole experience enriching and made many contacts in the different continents and regions through his travels.

After these years of involvement with the YCW and young workers, he needed to re-adapt and develop a new lifestyle, including finding a job to provide for his family. Barbara and Nicoletta, his two daughters, were still young while Denis, Sergio's wife, also had to adapt to the new situation. Soon, however, the demands of international solidarity would loom again in his life and orient his future.

Following his return to Geneva, Sergio made an effort to keep in touch with other departing members of the IYCW Executive Committee so that the wealth of experience gained through years of work would not be wasted and lost. Marlyse Strasser explains.

Having experienced an extremely intense period of international responsibilities, our generation expected a lot from our “return to the grassroots”. With no detours, we returned home and took up the work that was offering. For Sergio, this happened in 1977 when he was already married with two children. He had been employed by the Aged Pensions Insurance Office in Geneva in the section that dealt with the retirement of migrants returning home and who had accumulated certain pension rights in Switzerland.

It was quite a gap from the kind of life that we had experienced for more than ten years. We had a vision of a world to change. We wanted to “rebuild the world” of the future and wanted to help make it a reality. We had friends involved in extremely dangerous situations as worker leaders, e.g. in apartheid South Africa, in Brazil under military dictatorship, and we knew that we they faced great risks.

Evidently we found the discussions with our new work colleagues and neighbours somewhat limited. It was at this time that Sergio joined the Movement for International (MIC) in Switzerland.

Our returns to the grassroots were generally not very well thought out and even less were they strategically planned. Marooned from one day to the next, cut off from the causes that had mobilised us, we had to surface again and re-adapt ourselves to jobs that had evolved, to make new contacts, find new paths, as well as new places of reflection and commitment in the evenings after work. And when we were finally able to pick up a newspaper or take an interest in world events, it was already past 11p.m.!

During this period, Sergio made a great effort to keep contact as far as possible with former Executive Committee members in Africa, Asia, Latin America, generally by letter in an era long before computers, email or skype. He felt that it was important that the earlier commitments should not be wasted or end up being lost. Thus, he worked hard to stay in touch, to build links...

For example, he personally subscribed to various magazines such as Afrique-Asie, the Far Eastern Economic Review, etc. So I could at least continue to follow the period of struggle for independence in Rhodesia, which became Zimbabwe, in Angola and Mozambique. He circulated news of each other among ourselves. He would sometimes call for financial solidarity to help out someone or another. In this way, he helped save a number of us from discouragement and disappearance into anonymity.

The Swiss transition

Christiane Escher, leader of the Movement for International Cooperation (MCI) in Switzerland describes for us Sergio's return to Regazzoni country and explains how he helped develop networking for MCI with people and organisations in the Global South whom he had known through his YCW experience.

The Regazzoni family arrived in Geneva in summer 1977. I remember their apartment facing the railway line linking Geneva and Paris. Barbara, the elder of their daughters, did not like sweets while Nicoletta, the younger one, loved the chips brought by Phap Nguyen from Vietnam. Denise welcomed us warmly. Sergio worked at the Geneva administration of the Aged Pensions Insurance looking after the retirement of migrant workers who had returned home. A fairly boring way to return home for him! At Brussels, Sergio had had the opportunity to travel the whole world...

In spite of this, he developed some solid and lasting friendships at work. Soon Sergio joined the Movement for International Cooperation where perhaps he found a more international vision. I think that sometimes we even held meetings at the Regazzoni home.

It was Sergio who introduced us to Phap, who became a member of MCI and who is still treasurer today. That encounter gave us a new view of events in Vietnam and enabled us to become partners with Vietnamese from both the North and the South. Much later, I took part in a memorable meeting organised by CCFD in Danang in 1994. Sergio was the soul of the meeting. I discovered a person who had established solid links for years with people from all sectors of life in the north and south of the country. He had developed a deep relationship with the Vietnamese people at a time when few people went to Vietnam. He had an inexhaustible knowledge of the country. A competence of the heart.

In writing these lines, I think of many meetings that Sergio organised. A Lebanese priest who was a friend of Sergio told us one day: “In the worst situations of violence in my country, it was necessary to maintain a certain degree of normality. For me that consisted in going to the local barber for a shave! That's what helped me survive!” This was during the 1970s and 1980s. We often discussed that remark. We asked ourselves: “How can such normality that seems banal in ordinary life contribute to maintain stability during conflict situations?”

During this period, many meetings took place with people from various continents. I remember a family picnic where Jose Cardoso1 (known as Ferrerinha) performed a spontaneous accordion concert. It was on this occasion that contacts were developed with the future Centre for Community Action (CEDAC). These have grown over thirty years. They still continue through Bernard Comoli2.

Facilitating connections

The Movement for International Cooperation, a non-religious NGO, had friendly links with a number of French people including Fred Martinache3 as well as the first African YCW leader to take on international responsibilities, Bernard Akakpo. The MCI worked with the Crafts Community in Lomé, where Bernard was the director.

In 1983, a meeting took place in Douala for the foundation of the InterAfrican Federation for Cooperation (FIAC), of which the objectives were human, economic and social advancement. Among our friends from francophone Africa, there were a number of Europeans present including Sergio, Fred and myself representing MCI. It was there that I first met Mathias Rethinam4. Sergio, relaxed as always, looked after all of our needs. Our African friends were looking for ways for better collaboration with other countries, in other words South-South links.

Later, people from Indonesia, Australia, Latin America, who were passing through Geneva for meetings with international organisations, stopped by to make contact with MCI and to learn about life in Switzerland. Sergio always joined us on such occasions.

It was also Sergio who introduced me to the Thommen-Strassers while they were still living in Haiti5. From the beginning, MCI had both formal and informal partners. And this relationship was the beginning of a long collaboration that became a deep friendship6. So many memories flood back... It's the story of a biography that I could write or rather several biographies of deep friendship and solidarity.

Then one day the Regazzoni family moved to Paris, where CCFD was awaiting Sergio. It was an organisation made for Sergio. Afterwards there was the Centre Lebret. Our friendship links continued and deepened along with our partnership relationship.

One day during a visit to the Regazzonis at Evry, we attended mass at the cathedral. Coming back from Church, Sergio, seeing the crowd of people from every horizon, praying, singing, dancing sometimes, exclaimed: “There! That's the real Pentecost!” Thanks, Sergio. Thanks to Denise, Barbara and Nicoletta who allowed him to give so much.


1After completing his term with the International YCW, Jose stayed on in France with his wife Irony and their children Adriana and Fabio. While awaiting the democratic opening up of Brazil, which was then still under a dictatorship that had imprisoned and tortured a number of YCW leaders and worker activists, Ferrerinha and Irony made efforts to obtain professional qualifications that would be useful on their return as an electrician and ergonomist respectively. All this while planning the future CEDAC of which they would become founder members in the future.

2 Bernard is a former Swiss YCW leader. He worked for some time as an “extension worker” in Morocco.

3 A former leader of the International YCW and member of the International Secretariat, Fred Martinache  was also a member of the International Training and Exchange Centre (CFEI) at Nogent sur Marne near Paris, then first secretary-general of CCFD and finally director of the Centre Lebret.

4 Former international chaplain of the IYCW, a long standing partners of CCFD and the Centre Lebret.

5 The stayed there from 1995 to 2001.

6Thanks to Sergio, Marlyse Strasser became a member of the MCI.