Active Global Citizen

Lisa Sophia Marti

SDG #4 Quality education, and SDG #10 Reduced inequalities
Volunteer at AFS Switzerland, and future student of University of Sussex, MA program in Power, Participation & Social Change
Lisa is the leader of an extraordinary changemaking project, “voCHabular,” that fosters inclusion and integration by helping refugees in Switzerland learn German, and by providing workshops for immigrant teenagers to reflect on their intercultural experience.Lisa co-created the working group which incorporates aspects of global learning into the trainings of AFS Switzerland and she has facilitated numerous workshops on active citizenship, global learning, racism, gender, stereotypes, debriefing, refugees and sustainability, all with the aim of fostering peace and understanding.
Individuals have a personal responsibility to act as global citizens


Lisa Sophia Marti has been an active AFS volunteer for more than 10 years, acting as a true changemaker in her community to stand for civic rights, intercultural understanding and sustainability. She is also on a path to becoming a student at the University of Sussex (Brighton, UK), due to start a masters program on Power, Participation & Social Change this September. Lisa holds a BA in social science at the University of Bern, Switzerland, with a focus on political studies and Middle-Eastern studies. She is strongly motivated to actively shape the world, and enable people to learn to live together across differences.

Last year, her leadership in creating an extraordinary changemaking project, “voCHabular”, lead to her winning the AFS Galatti Award. “voCHabular” fosters inclusion and integration of refugees in Switzerland by helping them learn German, and by providing workshops for immigrant teenagers to reflect on their intercultural experience. The project now includes interactive books covering Arabic, Farsi and English translations to (Swiss) German.

Lisa is an idealistic person, who dedicates much of her time to volunteering for the causes she believes in. Outside of AFS, Lisa has supported a vocational education program for youth in Lebaonon, targeting Palestinian and Syrian refugees, and Lebanese youth. She has volunteered for Viva con agua, an organization that supports sustainability and water projects. She has also organized sustainable fashion shows and intercultural trips to Morocco, focused on creating connections among people of different backgrounds. 


We asked Lisa what motivates her to do all this work:

I have three main motivations be a volunteer. First, the feeling of doing something that makes sense, contributing to a cause and creating impact to change the world for the better is amazing. The ability to tackle the issues and problems I perceive gives me energy. I have also learned a lot in this process, and I consider volunteering as a safe environment to develop and practice new skills – you can be very creative, and learn from your own and other’s mistakes quickly. Finally, volunteering helps you create great social connections: I have made a lot of friends by engaging with people with a shared desire to make an impact. And while we work on some very serious topics, we also have a lot of fun – which is very important.

What motivated you to start working with refugees and create the “voCHabular” project?

I believe that the “refugee crisis” is a crisis because the receiving communities need help in understanding how to welcome and integrate newcomers. I lived in Morocco for a while and learned a lot from seeing how they integrated migrants and refugees, especially in helping them deal with different dialects of Arabic. The situation is very similar in Switzerland, with Swiss German and standard German – learning how to communicate in one dialect isn‘t always enough to be comfortable in the other. Also, there is a paternalistic attitude towards the outsiders’ ability to learn both the standard and Swiss variant of German. However, the difficulty of learning our language shouldn’t be an obstacle for people to be part of and participate in a society.


What impact has “voCHabular” created?

“voCHabular” now includes 60 active volunteers both with and without a refugee or migration background. It took three years to create this project in a very inclusive manner: people who use our materials were involved in the creation process.

Our books help people learn German, with translations in Arabic, Farsi and English. We are also working on more languages, like French, Turkish, Tigrinya and Amharic, and planning to create more advanced materials. The first batch of 2,000 books that we printed was all sold out in a month. We then printed another 1,500 copies, and some are still available. The book doesn’t have a fixed price, people can pay as much as they can or wish.

Two foundations supported our work in the beginning, helping with prototyping and developing the project. We also received a great deal of media attention in the beginning, which helped promote our project and reach more people.

We also organize intercultural learning workshops in schools and with refugees, based on the AFS curriculum. 

Apart from being an AFS volunteer, you studied abroad with AFS and your family hosted foreign students. What impact has AFS had on you?

I studied abroad in France with AFS in 2007, but my family has also hosted numerous times. The impact has of course been very personal: I made new connections with diverse people, and experienced the amazing feeling of being in a completely different context and opening our family for others. 

I also gained very useful skills, such as communication, public speaking, event planning, non-formal learning skills, facilitating learning for others and understanding different pedagogical concepts. I believe global learning is very important: we have to understand how things are interconnected, think globally and act locally. AFS taught me that individuals have a personal responsibility to act as global citizens.

Connect and network with Lisa as well as other Active Global Citizens and leading 21st century education stakeholders at the AFS Global Conference: Active Global Citizenship—and How to Educate for It, 9-11 October in Montreal.   

Register for the AFS Global Conference