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Where ideas make waves

Cassiano Luminati and Sandrine Percheval are two actors among many in the network of CIPRA. © Caroline Begle

CIPRA is a small organisation with a large network. It enables people to tackle challenges together and learn from one another – like Sandrine Percheval and Cassiano Luminati, who met for the first time at the AlpWeek in Grassau/D.

It’s late afternoon on a cold October day of blue and gold. The excursion boat of the Chiemsee navigation company is rocking gently to and fro at its jetty mooring at Prien, Germany. Some 400 people are walking down the wooden jetty to board the ship. Sandrine Percheval and Cassiano Luminati are already on board, resting their arms on the ship’s railing as they watch the passengers board: elegant men and women, impeccably dressed. Small groups of young people in knitted scarves and trendily ripped jeans. Women in traditional costume. Wafting above their heads, tufts of Gamsbart, or chamois beard, bristling from the hats of men in traditional Bavarian costume. All the heads turn in unison as the two German politicians step onto the boards: Barbara Hendricks, the Federal Minister for the Environment, and Ulrike Scharf, the Bavarian Minister for the Environment. The ship weighs anchor.

They have all travelled to Grassau for the AlpWeek, organised by many institutions, authorities and associations, including CIPRA. Numerous initiatives, cultures, languages, organisations and approaches to potential solutions that all come together around the theme of “People and the Alps”. Embedded into the Week is the 15th Alpine Conference, the principal body of the Alpine Convention. Today, under Germany’s chairmanship, the guests are invited to a state reception at the palace of Schloss Herrenchiemsee on the eponymous island.

Sandrine Percheval, 35, and Cassiano Luminati, 45, sit down opposite each other at the stern of the ship. French and Swiss respectively, they both work within the ambit of CIPRA. This is the first time they have met in person. Cassiano
Luminati – dark beard, mischievous smile – grew up in the remote valley of Valposchiavo near the border with Lombardy. At the age of 18 he left the valley to study architecture in the vibrant city of Milan. “All I wanted was city life!” he exclaims. “And all I wanted was sunshine and warmth, so I went to study in Southern France,” adds Sandrine.

She’s eager to know what brought Cassiano Luminati back to the mountains. “Music,” he answers. “In 1998 a friend asked me if I could help her organise a jazz festival in Val Poschiavo.” He could. It was a resounding success, and it also marked Luminati’s new start in life in the valley. It’s now fifteen years since he was first appointed director of Polo Poschiavo, a centre of excellence for further education. “The way I see it,” he explains, “it’s a matter of combining existing structures with something new.” Right now they’re working on crossborder vocational training schemes. In 2005 Polo Poschiavo was awarded a main prize as part of CIPRA’s Future in the Alps Project.

Rediscovering home from a distance

“Do you also work with young people?” Sandrine wants to know. “Yes. As president of the Val Poschiavo region and through CIPRA’s mediation, I met the Youth Parliament of the Alpine Convention on several occasions between 2011 and 2015. I got to put the wishes those young people had expressed before the decision-makers – for example the need for a night bus, an idea that was subsequently implemented.”

In 2012, he staged the AlpWeek and the Alpine Conference in Val Poschiavo with the help of the Swiss Federal Administration and observer organisations of the Alpine Convention such as CIPRA, Iscar and Alparc. Asked what he enjoys most about his work, Cassiano does not have to think long and hard. “It’s bringing people and ideas together!” For example, Polo Poschiavo, the local museums and the tourist organisation joined forces to bring buckwheat back to Val Poschiavo, allowing guests and visitors to experience it for themselves. And Cassiano wouldn’t be “Luminati” if he didn’t already have new objectives up his sleeve: “I want our entire valley to be awarded an eco label – a 100% organic smart valley.”

Sandrine Percheval nods, flicking strands of dark hair aside, and then begins to tell her own story. She says she loves the green landscape of the Alps with its little towns and wild nature, especially in the South of France. But she’s also well aware of the fact that such authenticity comes at a price: “Remoteness means having to cover long distances.” Nonetheless it’s important for the rural population to have prompt access to information. That’s where the facilities provided by the Adrets Association come into play, which is where Sandrine Percheval has been working since 2014: the Maisons de service public, information and care agencies that offer a sort of first aid for all kinds of issues, free of charge. Need an insurance policy? A medical specialist? Or an official document? “Instead of running from pillar to post people have the option of contacting these offices, which are usually based in the municipality itself,” explains Sandrine Percheval. It’s their job to ensure that the specialist staff – most of them women – are able to exchange information and are well trained to cope with this wide range of tasks.

Resourceful thanks to incentives

“And what do you like best about your work?” asks Cassiano Luminati. “The social aspect,” says Sandrine Percheval, with a big smile. The care agencies are there for all residents, but they’re particularly important for disadvantaged people such as seasonal workers. In summer and autumn, seasonal workers typically help out on the farms; in winter they work as ski instructors or ski lift operators. They’re often itinerant, badly insured, with few friends or family locally, and are often ill. “These people are always borderline in terms of poverty.” A few years ago Adrets became a member of CIPRA France. “That strengthened our legitimacy,” says Sandrine Percheval. She adds that, through CIPRA, she now gets lots of inspiring ideas for projects and joint initiatives in different areas, for example environmental protection.

The chugging of the engine slows down as the ship gently nudges the jetty. The crossing is over. There’s a chill in the air now, and the smart attire and knitwear are drawn closer. The passengers disembark and, in the fading light, make their way up the avenue to the Herrenchiemsee palace. There is a babble of German and Swiss German, English and French, Italian and Slovenian. And, among the hubbub, Sandrine Percheval and Cassiano Luminati as they continue
their conversation, in French. From a slight elevation the young woman looks down over the procession to the jetty below, where the ship, now illuminated, awaits its returning passengers. “We’ve all come here from different countries and with different roles and hopes,” she says, “but in the end we’re all in the same boat.”

Margarete Moulin, freelance journalist, Munich/D (text) and
Caroline Begle, CIPRA International (photos)