Going to work with the City Cleaners: a parenting win!

This summer, our boys joined activities that were offered by what is called Passeport Vacances (French) or Ferienpass (German) which literally means “Vacation Pass”. Actually something typically Swiss and something we’ve finally been able to join this year (due in part to covid-canceled vacation plans), it is also a discovery we’re glad we finally made. Because it is so brilliant (even without a pandemic), we would probably plan our future summer vacations around it.

I write about it now because I know this program doesn’t exist in many places. I didn’t know about it before I came to Switzerland, but I think it’s an idea worth sharing. It would be cool to see more and more communities globally organise programs like this that bring together small businesses (like sports clubs, dance studios, theatre companies, independent musicians or artists) and even public venues or services (like museums, swimming pools, and garbage collection companies), as well as private establishments like fun-parks and ski-resorts for a summer program just for kids!

With all the activities on offer, I think the best activities our 8 year old joined were spending two half-days with the city-cleaners.

One morning at 6:50am, Mr.M dropped our son off at the maintenance depot and he “went to work” with the road-sweeper for the day.

Pictured here is the little vehicle he boarded as the road-sweeper’s assistant that morning, and spent 5 hours scrubbing down the roads, doing what many of us take for granted: keeping the sidewalks clean!

That morning, while running an errand with the toddler, we unexpectedly caught him “at work” as we passed their vehicle diligently brushing away at a snail’s pace during their tour in town . We waved at each other frantically while crossing paths, and though I was tempted to follow the toddler’s suggestion to turn back and follow their yellow vehicle around to watch our Kuya* at work – I resisted, and simply delighted in the nice surprise of seeing him that morning at all.

I’m not sure who was more convinced that they had a blast at work that day, the sanitation crew who enjoyed the 8 y/o’s company or the 8 y/o who was so proud to have been in the front seat of their truck for four hours.

Though Kuya came home and declared this was not a job he would like to have because he “couldn’t read his books while driving!” since then, he is quick to wave a friendly hello or even stop and have a chat every time we catch our local road-sweeper parked for a break on a very clean sidewalk somewhere in town. I think I enjoy these unexpected moments best during the day; such a welcome distraction from the moment’s current worry.

The next day, the 8 y/o joined an afternoon collection with the garbage truck!

When I brought him to the depot and the sanitation workers simply whisked him away without a proper greeting, to board him onto the passenger seat of their truck in time to drive out exactly at 1pm, I was briefly concerned our Kuya would have a miserable afternoon.

I was sure he was going to return with a sigh of relief to finally have survived that ordeal, but instead, as they dropped him off after the 4-hour shift, I was greeted with such wide grins as if they had caught all the candy from the piƱata at a kid’s birthday party.

Later, Kuya would tell us of the funny conversations they had that afternoon and even give us a run-down of the route they’d taken as they collected the bins and brought the refuse to the incineration plant in the next town over. I’m not sure who was more convinced that they’d had a blast at work that day, the sanitation crew who had enjoyed the 8 y/o’s stories or the 8 y/o who was so proud to have been in the front seat of their garbage truck for four hours.

Who wouldn’t want kids growing up to be mindful adults who at least respect or at most potentially innovate the seemingly mundane work that goes into maintaining a city – simply because of a summer experience riding with the city-cleaners as a kid.

I think growing up, I was either scared or unaware of the city cleaners and didn’t really care about the maintenance work they did on the streets, but now, even my own children could appreciate their efforts and even greet these essential workers by their first names whenever we came across them in town.

What is Passeport Vacances and how does it work?

for each activity, the boys had to be sure to wear a red hat and bring their “passport”

So our version of the Ferienpass is called Passport Vacances. In summary, this program exists across the country and can be a private initiative or a public program which offers children (ages 5-15) a menu of activities to choose from during their summer holidays. For us, the boys could choose activities online (www.passvacsion.ch) and later received confirmation by mail from the organisers, and afterwards, a “passport” to include their picture and parents’ contact information. For every activity they were signed up to, they were simply required to wear a red baseball cap and bring their “passport” and off they went!

For the lady who hosted the wood-working session with 5-6 y/o kids, she enjoys working with wood so much that she volunteers to host a few sessions each summer to simply share her passion with children.

I’m not too sure how much investment went into this from both the public or private sectors, but it was a very affordable program for all families (ca. 50 ChF – roughly equivalent to 50 USD) where the children could try out a total of 5 different activities over a span of two weeks, including free transport passes as well as museum and public pool entrances throughout those two weeks.

How could this be so affordable?

handcrafted by the 5 y/o at his woodshop session hosted by just an ordinary citizen who liked to share her love for wood

I asked this same question. I know my children benefit from these activities, but I had to wonder how those other establishments could benefit as well. Aside from the sake of building a community that bring all these families and private organisations together, I think much of the small business owners use this opportunity to advertise their services. Imagine the number of kids who are now begging their parents if they could continue pony-riding lessons after trying it for the first time this summer. Our 5 y/o is already convinced that he wants to continue percussion lessons with the teacher he met last week! (looks like we’ll be buying earplugs soon)

Though it was a hectic week driving around boys to their chosen activities, from archeology, wood-working, percussion lessons, pony-riding, and the city cleaners among others, knowing they’ve had these experiences on their own feels like a parenting win!

Other collaborators also offered a “trial session” like cinematography, so now the 8 y/o is trying his talent on creating stop-motion videos. Who knows, maybe one day, he’ll join their club.

And yet others, like the trucking company that was charged with garbage collection, may simply benefit passively from the collateral education these children receive after an afternoon spent “at work.” Besides, who wouldn’t want kids growing up to be mindful adults who respect or maybe even innovate the seemingly mundane work that goes into maintaining a city – just because of a summer experience riding with the city-cleaners as a kid.

For the lady who hosted the wood-working session with 5-6 y/o kids, she enjoys working with wood so much that she volunteers to host a few sessions each summer to simply share her passion with children. Isn’t that great!?

Though it was a hectic week driving around boys to their chosen activities, from archeology, percussion lessons, pony-riding, and the city cleaners among others, knowing they’ve had these experiences on their own feels like a parenting win!

*Kuya = “older brother” in Filipino

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