Our Chalet is an international Scout centre of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) just outside Adelboden, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland. It is one of four World Centres of WAGGGS. It is in the Bernese Alps, 1350 metres above sea level.
Our Chalet offers year-round activities, special events, and conferencing for Girl Guides and Girl Scouts and their leaders from all over the world. There are a variety of indoor and outdoor accommodations and conferencing facilities.
In 1929, WAGGGS met in Holland and decided to build a World Centre for Girl Guides and Girl Scouts worldwide. An American Girl Scout leader, Mrs. Helen Storrow (1864-1944), agreed to donate the money for construction and first four years of operation as long as it was built in Switzerland. Ida Von Herrenschwand (1887-1961), known as "Falk", and a Swiss Scout, helped her find a location in Switzerland. Several places were considered and discarded, including Grindelwald, Aeschi, and Kandersteg, but the Kandersteg International Scout Centre had already been built there. Storrow favoured Aeschi because of its beauty but Falk felt it was too low for winter sports. The proposal for Aeschi was brought to a conference in Foxlease, England and was almost approved but Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, agreed with Falk and the proposal did not pass. After more discussion, the conference agreed upon these conditions:
- the site must be near a main train line but away from tourists
- there must be hotels in the neighbourhood, but it must not be a fashionable place
- it must be high enough for skiing in the winter and climbing in the summer, but not too high for those with heart trouble
- there must be sufficient ground around and pleasant neighbours
- and several other items
Falk kept searching and finally found what she thought was the perfect site in Adelboden. The contracts to buy the desired land from three different farmers were signed in December 1930. In June 1931, Storrow and the World Committee of WAGGGS came to inspect the site. Because Falk had shown her so much of Switzerland, Storrow treated Falk to a tour of America. The basement of Our Chalet was laid in September 1931 and the roof was built on December 21, 1931. The architect was M. von Sinner. Storrow returned in May 1932 to see the completed chalet. Falk and others gave a party at a village inn at this point to celebrate creating a strong bond that to this day is between the chalet and villagers. Many of the traditions of Our Chalet come from the first year of operation. The name Our Chalet was chosen so that every Girl Guide or Scout would feel it was her home.
Storrow decided that she wanted little house of her own where she could stay and receive guests to be ready in time for the official opening of Our Chalet. Named Baby Chalet, it is still available today for guests to stay in. Falk became the World Centre's first "Guider in Charge". The formal opening for both Chalets was on July 31, 1932 by Storrow and Olave Baden-Powell with many villagers and Girl Guides and Girl Scouts from around the world. Robert Baden-Powell also attended. The original plan was for Our Chalet to be open during the summer and for a brief winter holiday, but it was so popular that it soon opened to support the year-round demand.
Our Chalet was used immediately after its formal opening. First there was a meeting of the World Committee, and then sixteen girls from eight different countries stayed for a fortnight at the invitation of the Committee of the Juliette Low Memorial Fund.
World War II
August 24, 1939 is known as the black day for Our Chalet. On that day Our Chalet was full of Guides from all over Europe. A group of Guides set out for nearby Kandersteg, leaving the staff behind. Falk felt compelled to recall them because the clouds of war and the safe return home of her charges weighed heavily upon her. An all-out effort managed to get the Guides returned by 4pm, with significant protests from the Guides, yet Falk's concerns were well founded as world war broke out eight days later. The Swiss were mobilizing too as they were not certain they could stay out of the war. The staff quickly set upon the often difficult task of getting guests back to their home countries.
During World War II the Centre was closed to regular guests, as it became involved in training military skiiers, interring foreigners, and reuniting refugees, many of whom had Guiding and Scouting connections. The Swiss Guides were the only Guides who were able to use Our Chalet during the war, except for some French Commissioners who showed up in 1942. Many refugees came to Switzerland during the war and the staff tried to accommodate them in Our Chalet, but this was not allowed in most cases due to wartime regulations. However, the staff did help them with relief funds from the Guides and Scouts of Switzerland, Great Britain, and the United States. The Our Chalet staff found great joy in helping reunite families during and after the war.
The World Chief Guide, Olave Baden-Powell, wasted no time helping rebuild Guiding in Europe after the war was over. She was at Our Chalet on VE Day, May 7, 1945, to reopen Our Chalet. Even though it was hard to get travel visas after the war, Our Chalet was swamped with visit requests. Falk noticed a difference in the outlook of the pre-war and post-war Guides.
Mrs. Storrow died in 1944, so a new Chairman was needed. Mrs. Arthur Choate took over. The American Girl Scouts had donated substantial funds through the U.S.A. Friendly Fund in 1944 to help with postwar recovery efforts. Conferences did not begin again until 1946, when a Juliette Low conference was held in July and an International Conference for Trainers in August. The first Germans arrived in 1948, when six leaders came, concerned about the nature of their welcome. They were treated just like everyone else. The Friends of Our Chalet fund was created during this time and helped with recovery efforts.
1952 was not only the 20th anniversary of Our Chalet, but also saw the retirement of Falk. She was replaced by "Pen", Penelope Wood-Hill (later Cullingford), from the United Kingdom. Because of the huge birthday held, Our Chalet saw a financial loss for the first time. The ten thousandth guest also came that year. Falk served as Guider-in-Charge from 1932-1952.
As Our Chalet's popularity grew, the need for more facilities grew. So in June 1956, Stöckli was opened for staff use. Stöckli is the name given in the Canton of Bern for the house by the main farmhouse where the older generation of farmers live. Pen, Mrs. Chester, and the World Chief Guide were present. This is the same month that the first Ranger Adventure Week was held.
By 1972, over 33,000 people had visited. Much expansion was done during the 1970s. The "Chalet Challenge" award began in 1978 and is only available to Our Chalet visitors. In 1990, the World Conference in Singapore gave permission for Our Chalet to build a new house to provide extra guest accommodation, conference facilities and office space. The new building was officially opened in September 1999 and called "Spycher". On World Thinking Day in 1998, Our Chalet was the first World Centre to launch its own web site.
Falk died in the autumn of 1961 and in her memory a Falk Fund was established whereby member associations could apply for a "Falk Holiday" to permit one or more of their members to stay at Our Chalet to thank them for years of good service, a exceptionally well-done job, or because they were handicapped.
Pen retired June 29, 1968, and was replaced by Inge Lyck, from Denmark. Lyck introduced more challenging outdoor excursions in the programme and re-introduced the concept that each year would have a theme to tie all the activities together. In the autumn of 1968, Olave Baden-Powell made what would be her last visit to Our Chalet. Isabelle Dufour of Switzerland replaced Inge in 1975. During this time cross country skiing became more popular even though Adelboden is not ideal for this. Major improvements, especially plumbing, were made to the buildings in the 1970s. Toward the end of the decade, Our Chalet was began a fund to join the community sewage. This fund was eventually used in September and October 1986. Dufour returned to nursing in April 1980 and was replaced by Hanna Newport, also of Switzerland. In the spring of 1982 Our Chalet received a new insulated roof, which replaced the stones, chimney, and huge icicles that were caused by the escaping heat. In August 1983, five of the 1933 Juliette Low group spent their 50th anniversary at Our Chalet and placed a plaque on the tree they had planted outside the library window. Newport left early in 1987 and Gwen Smtih of the United Kingdom filled in during a very busy season until December 1987 when Maha Salhani of Lebanon took over.
In the late 1980s many of the walking sessions had to be cancelled due to lack of interest. The staff noticed that whereas in earlier years luggage was hauled by hand-cart, taxis were all that were used by this time. In the summer of 1986, Swiss law changed and banned underground oil tanks, as Our Chalet had. In 1988 Our Chalet had the funds to move the tanks to a new cellar under the kitchen porch. There was extremely low attendance in 1991 because of low snowfall and the Gulf War.
Salhani served as Guider-in-Charge until 1992, when she was replaced by Gweneth Smith, of the United Kingdom. Smith had previously been a staff member at Our Chalet since 1973. During that time she worked with four different Guiders-on-Charge. During that time she was a secretary and ski instructor. She helped with the "Friends of Our Chalet" letter, which went out each year no later than World Thinking Day. Katharina Kalscics, of Austria, took over as Guider-in-Charge in 1997 and served until 1999.
Yvonne Cuénod, called Cigogne, (1900-1993) was a Swiss Girl Guide Executive who was involved with Our Chalet for 61 years, from the beginning in 1932 until her death in 1993, though she was less involved after 1953 when she ceased being a regular staff member. She first became directly involved with Our Chalet in 1932 by helping set up the original furnishings. She regularly attended meetings, helped with cleaning, organised events, and handled relations with the local community. She had been one of the three trainers on the first International Training Course for Guiders in 1932.
Summer activities are available at Our Chalet from June to September. This is when the "Chalet Challenge" is offered; it is designed to stretch young girls both physically and emotionally so that they gain personal confidence, inner strength and a sense of self-worth. This is done through learning some Swiss German, teaching a song, completing a hike, and learning a new sport. Other summertime activities include: walking and hiking, adventure activities – such as paragliding and whitewater, trips and excursions, and evening programmes.
Adelboden has world class skiing and hosts the International Ski Federation (FIS). Winter activities at Our Chalet run from December to April. These activities include: skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, snowtubing, cross country skiing, paragliding, winter walking, ice skating, curling, ice climbing, tobogganing, sit skiing, tailing, sleigh rides and much more. Night activities are available.
In addition to World Thinking Day and the FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup being special events at Our Chalet and Adelboden, New Year's Eve and Our Chalet's birthday are also major events. July 31 is Our Chalet's birthday and it is celebrated in conjunction with August 1, which is the day Switzerland became a confederation in 1291.
Many major events have occurred at Our Chalet, such as the Quo Vadis Council of 1933 and the World Committee conferences and International Training seminars. Significant events of 1934 include: the first International Brownie training, a camp for patrol leaders, and the 8th World Conference held at the Hotel Regina in Adelboden. The first Round Table of Trainers was held at Our Chalet in 1935. In the late 1930s other significant events were held such as an International Ranger Conference, a Round Table for Ranger Captains, a Round Table for Brown Owls, and more Quo Vadis Councils. In 1938 the 10th World Conference was held in Adelboden. By the time the second Round Table of Trainers was held in the spring of 1939, people knew it might be the last major international event for a while as the storm clouds of war were gathering. In August 1986, the first Helen Storrow Seminar was held.
Juliette Low seminars
Juliette Gordon Low was the founder of the Girl Scouts of the USA. The Juliette Low Seminars are named in her honor and provide international leadership training to young women who come from any WAGGGS member organisation. The first one was held August 6, 1932 at Our Chalet. They were not held during WWII, but began again at Our Chalet in July 1946 and were held at there until 1968 when they began rotating around all four world centres. Originally, they were held annually but are now held twice every triennium. The seminars provide a platform for young women to: share their views and experiences, develop a sense of universal citizenship, enhance their leadership skills, appreciate cultural differences, broaden their international understanding, and prepare for national and international leadership.
The primary accommodations are the Main Chalet and Spycher Chalet. There are also smaller private chalets and a campground that is open from early summer to autumn. There are a variety of sleeping arrangements in the primary chalets. Spycher is wheelchair accessible. There are also many facilites for seminars, training, and conferences. There are single, twin, and shared rooms available. Shared rooms sleep up to seven people. Dormitory rooms are available in the Main Chalet and Spycher Chalet. Squirrel House accommodates two groups, one upstairs of up to 10 people and one downstairs of up to six people. Baby Chalet sleeps four people. Camping facilities and Edelweisshütte Camp House are available for camping.
- "Our Chalet". World Association of Girl Scouts and Girl Guides. http://www.ourchalet.ch/. Retrieved 2006-12-07.
- "The Story of Our Chalet by Falk" (in English). Our Chalet (1999 ed.). Cambridge, England: World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. pp. 7-21.
- "Massachusetts Girl Scouts. Records, 1915-1967: A Finding Aid". Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. Harvard University, Radcliffe College. March 1978. http://oasis.harvard.edu:10080/oasis/deliver/~sch00725. Retrieved 2006-12-17.
- "History of Our Chalet". World Association of Girl Scouts and Girl Guides. http://www.ourchalet.ch/GuidesFrameset.asp?Menu=framesets/GuidesSubMenu.asp&Main=framesets/GuidesInnerFrame.asp&ID=GSHistory&Section=GSNoticeboard. Retrieved 2006-12-16.
- "History of Our Chalet". World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. http://www.ourchalet.ch/en/about/history. Retrieved 2007-03-09.
- Kerr, Rose (1976). Story of the Girl Guides 1908-1938. London: Girl Guides Association.
- (in English) Our Chalet (1999 ed.). Cambridge, England: World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. pp. 22-78.
- "Summer - The Ultimate Swiss Experience". World Association of Girl Scouts and Girl Guides. http://www.ourchalet.ch/GuidesFrameset.asp?Menu=framesets/GuidesSubMenu.asp&Main=framesets/GuidesInnerFrame.asp&ID=GSSummer&Section=GSActivity. Retrieved 2006-12-17.
- "Winter". World Association of Girl Scouts and Girl Guides. http://www.ourchalet.ch/GuidesFrameset.asp?Menu=framesets/GuidesSubMenu.asp&Main=framesets/GuidesInnerFrame.asp&ID=GSWinter&Section=GSActivity. Retrieved 2006-12-17.
- "Special events". World Association of Girl Scouts and Girl Guides. http://www.ourchalet.ch/GuidesFrameset.asp?Menu=framesets/GuidesSubMenu.asp&Main=framesets/GuidesInnerFrame.asp&ID=GSSpecialEvents&Section=GSActivity. Retrieved 2006-12-17.
- "World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts: Juliette Low Seminars". Girl Scouts of the USA. 2006. http://www.girlscouts.org/who_we_are/global/wagggs/. Retrieved 2007-02-20.
- "Rooms". World Association of Girl Scouts and Girl Guides. http://www.ourchalet.ch/GuidesFrameset.asp?Menu=framesets/GuidesSubMenu.asp&Main=framesets/GuidesInnerFrame.asp&ID=GSRooms&Section=GSAccom. Retrieved 2006-12-17.
- "Seminar Facilities". World Association of Girl Scouts and Girl Guides. http://www.ourchalet.ch/GuidesFrameset.asp?Menu=framesets/GuidesSubMenu.asp&Main=framesets/GuidesInnerFrame.asp&ID=GSSeminar&Section=GSAbout. Retrieved 2006-12-17.
- "Accommodation". World Association of Girl Scouts and Girl Guides. http://www.ourchalet.ch/en/accommodation/accommodation. Retrieved 2007-03-13.
|Scout and Guide World Centres|
|WAGGGS World Centres:|
|Our Cabaña | Our Chalet | Pax Lodge | Sangam|
|WOSM World Centres:|
|Cairo International Scout Centre | Kandersteg International Scout Centre|
|National Scout and Guide Centres|
|Baden-Powell House | Gilwell Park | Vassärö|