Alexandre Witschi and Yves Emery
A lone Harley Davidson biker purrs through a small mountain village in the Valais on a warm, sunny afternoon. It’s a perfect day for a leisurely ride. Except this rider is not out for a cruise; he’s a member of the Templiers order of bikers and today he’s out on a mission.
A few minutes before 4pm, he pulls up in front of the gates of a local middle school and turns off the engine. Dressed in black leather head to toe, he doesn’t look like he’s here for the school run. With arms across his chest, he casually surveys the scene of shouting and laughing teenagers spilling out of class. Spotting his charge with her head down, dragging her feet, he emits a low whistle. When she reaches him, he greets her with a high five and pat on the back.
After a brief exchange, Lucie climbs on the school bus and makes her way to her usual spot, sitting on her own. The biker stands by until the bus leaves, then sets off after the bus with a roar, startling the kids left watching. A few yards down the road, he’s joined by two fellow bikers, then two more until a dozen bikes are trailing the school bus all the way home.
The biker is Alexandre Witschi, (biker name ‘Largo’, after the Largo Winch Belgian comic book character). He’s just one of the 25 members that currently make up the Templars Against Child Abuse non-profit organization in the French-speaking region of Switzerland. This ‘school escort’ is a classic example of one of their interventions, entirely focused on the victim and intended to intimidate and silence bullies. There is no interaction with the tormentors at any time: “We’re not a motorcycle club of ‘outlaws’. But we do play on that image and we will not sit idle when we see a child being abused. When a group of riders ride up, all dressed in black, we tend to leave an impression.”
In Switzerland between 30,000 and 50,000 children a year are reported to suffer some form of abuse, be it physical or psychological violence, neglect, sexual abuse or are witness to domestic violence*. “Much abuse goes undetected and children are reluctant to talk about it. They somehow feel responsible for what is happening to them,” elaborates Alexandre. “Our actions may seem minimal but they have a big impact, as the child feels heard and less alone. Each child we host is welcomed into our ‘family’ of bikers with a hoodie carrying our Templiers logo on the back. They also have our landline numbers to call anytime they need. It’s about rebuilding their self-confidence.”
Yves Emery (biker name ‘Whitesox’), another Pictet colleague and fellow biker, further explains: “Our goal is not to create havoc wherever we go but rather to provide a complementary service and support, so we always alert the local police and the school before we stage an intervention. We intervene in the ‘free space’ between school and home, when most of bullying happens. When a parent or guardian comes to us, they are usually desperate. They have discussed their child's problems with the school or a specialized institution, without success.”
Yves went on his first intervention in Spring 2022. “For me it’s about seeing a teenager smile again. I get to combine my passion for riding with making a difference in a kid’s life. Why wouldn’t I do it?”
Yves and Alexandre, like all the ‘Templars’, are volunteers with day jobs, most have grown children, all are passionate about riding and happy to spend their riding time in service to the community. “We usually take the afternoon off work as most interventions take place at the end of the school day. Each child is assigned to a specific pair of bikers who live close-by ahead of time,” continues Yves.
“We’re not seeking justice or to punish anyone. It’s important the child knows that they have a network of supporters to call on,” concludes Alexandre. “The trauma of their experiences can leave life-long impact and we hope that our support can help some children to overcome that.”
If you know of a child who is being bullied or is suffering abuse of any kind, you can contact the Templars through their website.
When they’re not riding for a cause, Alexandre is an Investment Product Manager for the Pictet Wealth Management Investment Platform and Yves is a Trade Processing Specialist in Banking Operations for Tech&Ops.
* Source: 2018 Optimus study (initiated and funded by the UBS Optimus Foundation) focused on understanding the scope, scale and context of violence against children in Switzerland.