The ethnologist Claudia Fuhrer (58) feels at home in the Capuchin monastery in Solothurn. Food is grown and sold locally here, as are seeds and seedlings. This is the best way to give people the right to food, says the nutrition specialist at the aid organization Fastenaktion.
“The Capuchin monastery is an oasis of sustainability, encounters, inclusion and tranquility,” enthuses Claudia Fuhrer. On this sunny March afternoon she sits with a plate of vegetable soup at the round table outside under the arcades of the Capuchin monastery in Solothurn. The mentioned values are important for her personally, but also for the aid organization Fastenaktion, for which she has been working for twenty-five years.
Discovery market of seeds
Claudia Fuhrer lives with her family in Solothurn. She got to know the newly revived Capuchin monastery at one of its seed and seedling markets. Since then she has been visiting the former monastery, which became a cultural and community center in 2018.
Claudia Fuhrer is a passionate gardener – here in the greenhouse of the Capuchin monastery in Solothurn
The passionate hobby gardener discovered some local varieties of vegetables at the convent market – as well as their vendors. “Exciting conversations always develop,” she says. And the vegetables she grows with those seeds or seedlings have a special meaning for her. The memory of the community experience at the market resonates in each case.
lived straight to food
Claudia Fuhrer appreciates that markets with local seeds are allowed in Switzerland. “In many countries in the South, this is now banned due to seed restriction laws,” she says. This means that the basis for diverse, sustainable agriculture is lost. “Being able to exchange and reuse your own seeds is the basis for living the right to food,” says Claudia Fuhrer. During the fasting campaign, the ethnologist is responsible for these issues.
“The monastery represents something total.”
Claudia Fuhrer in front of the imposing former Capuchin monastery in Solothurn
“The monastery represents something holistic that I long for in the hustle and bustle of everyday life,” says Claudia Fuhrer. She decides to spend a Thursday evening here in the near future. Because then there is always an open meeting point. “I’ve heard that leads to interesting conversations, even with people you didn’t know before.” And she would like to volunteer later when she has time.
She also appreciates that products are cultivated, processed and sold on the monastery property itself. “Here you can eat locally and seasonally.” From their point of view, this is the most sustainable form of nutrition. Soup will be made this afternoon. The wood-paneled dining room is packed. About 80 guests attend, most of them fairly older semesters.
Supper campaign in the dining room of the Capuchin monastery in Solothurn
New recipes for local vegetables
Claudia Fuhrer runs a large garden at home. For her family of three – the couple and their 17-year-old son – there are plenty of fresh vegetables on the table, she says. She also uses her own vegetables creatively when cooking. She is always trying new recipes.
The family eats little meat – and when it does, it comes from two local farmers. “We in the northern countries have a big responsibility,” says Claudia Fuhrer. “It’s important that we rethink quickly.” Because the excessive consumption and energy consumption in our countries is harming especially the poor countries of the South. The result is drought, floods and famine.
Justice: from food to climate
According to Claudia Fuhrer, food justice is the basic concern of the aid organization Fastenaktion. The various commitments that are also visible in the fasting campaigns build on that. This year the focus is on climate justice. The 58-year-old moves his fingers around the table as she explains it in more detail.
She grew up in a bilingual Biel in a Protestant family. She was confirmed. The mother was a war child, raised in Germany. An uncle was a priest of the Lutheran Church. “I’m a socialized Christian,” she says.
An African specialist with knowledge of Kisuaeli
Claudia Fuhrer studied ethnology at the University of Bern, specializing in African countries. “It developed organically,” she says. Mozambique was a focus during her studies. And thanks to a stay in Portugal, Fuhrer already had contacts with people from the former African colonies. This is what Kisuaeli, a student at the time, found out, which benefited her on research trips to East African countries.
She became a research assistant at the ethnological institute in Bern. But she resigned after a year to join what was then Fastenopfer in 1997 – as program manager for Kenya, Cameroon and Burkina Faso. South Africa came later. She added a postgraduate degree in development cooperation to ETH Zurich.
“I had to learn again in every country: How are you negotiating here?”
© Fenitra Rabefaritra / Fastenaktion
The rice supply of a savings group in Taratasy, Madagascar
She has now worked for the aid organization for 25 years, with changing responsibilities. “I was never bored,” she says. Just knowing the African countries she was responsible for was a challenge. “I had to learn again in every country: How do you negotiate here, how do you voice criticism? How do you get women and men to talk to each other? “
The ethnologist often marveled at her travels. About the people who may not have had much training but still had a clear idea of what they wanted to achieve. Or about the local knowledge that enables people to farm in the most unlikely places.
The trick with the pet bottle
For example, farmers set up an irrigation system in a dry place where water drips from PET bottles. Elsewhere they inserted wires into the pet bottles, which vibrated with each gust of wind and thus expelled the moles and mice. “I tried it in my garden, it works great,” Claudia Fuhrer says with a smile.
And she also noted that in African countries the church is taking on a much more active role than in our country. In conflict in Kenya, religious people played a minor role: they negotiated between the militant groups, gave refugees shelter and protection, and made the militant people do something together. “That was impressive,” says Claudia Fuhrer. And not without danger: Some monks were killed.
© Mission / Martin Brunner-Artho
Health service: A nun offers her services to people in a Kenyan village.
Family friendship, justice, collegiality
Claudia Fuhrer likes her work and her work environment. She appreciates the help organization’s family friendship to the employees. And the dialogue on an equal footing that the aid organization is conducting with its partners in the countries of the South. Non-discrimination is explicitly stated in the contracts, she says. And: “I’m grateful for the collegiality I experience in our team.”
© Catholic Media Center, 29/03/2022
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