At the 2019 UIAA General Assembly in Cyprus, the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC)’s AlpineLearning Project Weeks was awarded the annual UIAA Mountain Protection Award. The youth-focused project, founded in 2014, was created to provide school classes with the unique opportunity to enable children to experience the high mountain landscape of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Jungfrau-Aletsch, Switzerland, and in the process, better understand the principle of sustainable development of the Alpine region.
As part of the UIAA’s commitment to the MPA, its Assessment Team is always available to support nominated projects and the federation offers a permanent platform for updates from showcased projects. Since 2020, the luxury Swiss brand Bally has partnered the Award. For the coming editions of the Award, the UIAA and Bally will work closely to help amplify coverage of the Award to enable projects to fulfil their goals faster and with great support. The 2020 Award has been postponed until 2021 – however the application process remains open. Please read more here.
A year on from recognition by the UIAA, Martin Künzle – Project Lead at the SAC, provides an update on recent progress, and in the context of Covid-19.
UIAA: How much of a boost to AlpineLearning Project Weeks was winning the 2019 UIAA MPA?
SAC: Winning the MPA in 2019 truly motivated and encouraged us to further develop and expand our AlpineLearning project. Not least thanks to the MPA the project progression was also defined as a strategic goal within the frame of the Swiss Alpine Club’s 2025 strategy. The project is to expand from ten school classes, today to 30 in the near future. So far, the coordination of the project was with the UNESCO World Heritage Site Jungrau-Aletsch. From next year onwards, the SAC will take on the lead, because we want to extend the project beyond this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Can you briefly summarise how the project has evolved since late 2019?
In addition to the Project Weeks in the UNESCO World Heritage Site Jungfrau-Aletsch, we have now secured the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Sardona as a second location. This year a pilot project week is taking place there for the very first time.
What do you consider being the biggest milestones and achievements of the project ever since its creation?
One major milestone is the expansion of the project to other regions through which education materials and framework programmes such as excursions have to be elaborated. This step is easier when important local stakeholders such as UNESCO World Heritage Sites or nature parks get involved.
How has your project been impacted by Covid-19?
Due to Covid-19 SAC huts cannot be used at full capacity. Nonetheless, only one school class was unable to take part in the project.
What readjustments have you had to make? And what work have you been able to carry on with?
The kick-off meetings with teachers took place virtually. Covid-19 safety measures and concepts for huts including hygiene measures have been implemented. Therefore, our AlpineLearning Project Weeks can be held safely.
Have you been able to carry out some of your tasks online?
Yes, kick-off meetings with teachers and meetings with project leaders.
With access to the mountains opening up in Switzerland earlier than other countries, were you able to run some of the outdoor activities?
SAC huts are well visited and many Swiss citizens enjoyed their holidays in the Swiss mountains rather than abroad.
What are the priorities for the next twelve months?
The evaluation of the 2020 project weeks is our first task. Further work and clarifications, so that the project can be expanded to more school classes and held at other SAC huts.
What advice would you give to UIAA members running similar sustainability-led projects? What makes a successful project?
It is good to have a strong local stakeholder such as UNESCO World Heritage Sites or natural parks. Starting with a pilot provides the possibility to test and optimise the project concept.
How can the general public support/mountaineering community support your project?
They can spread information about the project. The better known the AlpenLernen gets, the easier it is to find partners to extend the project in other regions. It would be also helpful to spread information about the project among teachers. Additionally they can support the school classes in their efforts to cover their part of the costs for the project weeks (e.g. crowdfunding actions).
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