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Begert Willy




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Willy Begert

Willy Begert with IVSP relief team in the Middle East 1944

Willy Begert with IVSP relief
team in the Middle East 1944

Willy1 Begert (1913-1971), also born in Switzerland, took part in his first SCI workcamp in the Grison mountains in Switzerland at the age of 21. The following year, he participated in the action to support the miners in Wales during a period of chronic unemployment. In 1938, he became Secretary of the Swiss branch of SCI in Zurich. He joined the ‘Neutral Swiss Committee of Aid to Spain’ to help the refugees from the civil war and continued this work in France in 1939-40. With the invasion in France, he went back to England where he again took care of children who were victims of war. In 1943-44, he took part in the distribution of food and clothing for the Greek refugees as an SCI volunteer. He was the first International Secretary of SCI in 1946, where he was assisted by his wife Dora and the first Secretary of the Co-ordination Committee in 1951 (see Dorothy). But he preferred the field work and was a volunteer in Algeria with SCI for two years. He later became a UN community development expert in Morocco and in Cameroon.


Willy Berger (middle) at international SCI meeting in Herzberg 1946

Willy Begert (middle) at international SCI meeting
in Herzberg 1946

Hommage to Willy Begert

Paying hommage to Willy Begert who died on the 18th March 1971 is to pay hommage to a man whose whole life was devoted to serving others.

He was inspired by Service Civil International, Pierre Ceresole’s creation, with it's ideal of uniting men through voluntary work together, breaking down the barriers of all kinds- which separate men and making armies superfluous.

In 1934 Willy Begert, then aged 21, took part in his first SCI camp at Santa Maria in the Grison mountains [Switzerland]; in 1935 he was at Brynmawr in Wales [Great Britain] during the time of the chronic unemployment which demoralised the miners of that region. By this total commitment to this camp he knew how to inspire the men to nevertheless work. In 1938 he was secretary of the Swiss branch of SCI in Zurich but a new, still more difficult task awaited him: aiding the children who were victims of the civil war in Spain. He joined the "Neutral Swiss committee of Aid to Spain", He left with Ruedi Olgiati and stayed in Spain to do social work in the central provinces. After Franco's victory, he crossed into France to devote himself from 1939-40 to the Spanish refugee children in the south of France. Then came the 2nd. World War with the invasion of France and he went back to England where he again took care of children who were victims of war. In 1943 the English branch of SCI sent him to Greece to assist the local people. He stayed 7 months in a Greek refugee camp in Gaza, Then, having gone to Greece at the end of 1944, he took part in the organisation of the distribution of food and clothing, as an SCI volunteer accepted by the welfare authorities as an "Acting Welfare Officer”.

In 1946, SCI which had had to temporarily suspend its activities during the war years took up its international role again. Willy Begert was chosen as the first International Secretary of the newly established International secretariat of SCI. He stayed 6 months in Zurich and then left for Paris where he remained at the head of the secretariat till 1951, During those years one could say that Willy Begert recreated international contacts. Aware of his merit and experience, Unesco which planned in 1951 to coordinate aid services and nominate a "Coordination Committee for international workcamps" (CCIVS) appointed Willy Begert as the first secretary, a function which he carried out far a year. But he preferred field work and the direct contact with the populations of developing areas. After working for two years with SCI in Algeria, a Unesco grant enabled him to travel for nine months visiting several other African countries and studying their basic (grassroots) education (non-scholastic, rural and artisanal) and community development programmes. It was as a result of this study period that Unesco offered him the post of "Advisor on Basic education" in Morocco - a post which he held from 1957-1959. In October 1959 he left for West Cameroon as an expert sent by Unesco to advise and assist the Government of West Cameroon in its community development programme. He did not present himself in this role as a master teaching knowledge imported from Europe but rather as a friend helping the rural cooperatives to carry out their own development. In 1969, very fatigued by his unceasing work, he retired to Geneva for a well-earned rest.

For all of us, particularly those who are members of SCI inspired by the same ideal, Willy Begert is a shining example of continuity of effort, entirely directed by the wish to serve in a truly international and human spirit which goes beyond national levels.[...]

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