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SCI in West Africa

The following historical notes have been provided by Arthur Gillette and Franco Perna.

Origin of the text
Olivier Bertrand: Breaking down barriers 1945-1975, 30 years of voluntary service for peace with Service Civil International.
Paris (2008)

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SCI in West Africa

A British Quaker civilist, Gordon Green, served as a conscientious objector during the Second World War when he acquired a taste for unskilled manual labour at nominal rates by picking spuds at 4d. an hour. Then, after a series of post-war camps on the Continent, he took part in Quaker projects in America. “Meeting Negroes for the first time there got me interested in the colour problem” he remembers and in going to Africa. In 1954, Gordon went to teach at fashionable Mfantsipim School in the Gold Coast (Ghana). To give students an opportunity to experience – and combat - underdevelopment first-hand, he helped organize occasional workcamps. As Independence approached, however, he saw the need to hold camps on a regular basis. With like-minded African and European friends, Gordon founded in 1956 the Voluntary Workcamps Association of the Gold Coast (VWAGC - 'G C' being changed to 'G' for 'Ghana' in 1957).

In 1962 the Co-ordinating Committee organized its second West African Workcamp Leader Training Project in Ghana and Togo. It was significant that the regional project could take place in both countries simultaneously for although they were neighbours their official relations were far from cordial. Friendship and co-operation among workcampers in the two countries had ignored government quarrels since the first regional training project had been held in Ghana in 1958. A single Togolese, Gerson Konu, a teacher from Palimé, took part in that project and carried the workcamp idea home with him to found Les Volontaires au Travail (LVT - Volunteers at Work), a workcamp association patterned on VWAG. Largely on the strength of his organization's success Gerson was elected to the Togolese Parliament. The independence and work of VWAG and LVT were so widely appreciated that both organizations survived the increasingly volatile political situations which culminated in coups d'état in Ghana and Togo. It is only in 1957-58 that IVS (UK branch of SCI) sent the first volunteers to West Africa, Ghana and Togo, where some sort of voluntary service bodies were being set up, partly as a result of volunteers’ work and a camp leaders’ training course. Gradually, during the `60s, in response to specific requests from local communities and governments and making use of substantial financial support obtained through the British Volunteer Programme, IVS placed quite a number of long-term volunteers in various African countries south of the Sahara. However, it was only in North and West Africa that SCI became known and appreciated as an international movement, thanks to deeply rooted links of cooperation and friendship with local partners.

The first two contributions, from Nicole Lehmann and Max Hildesheim, refer mostly to the same period – the late `50s / early `60s, - and the same country - Togo, where they both did long-term service. Both have done many other camps in various countries. By the time Nicole Paraire became involved with SCI in the `70s only short-term volunteer exchanges with West African countries were being made. Nicole has done workcamps in third-world countries, and has been actively involved with developing SCI’s Africa policies. Each of these three contributors had a close relationship with the late Gerson Konu who was an important figure in aid and development work in Africa.

Memories of volunteers in West Africa

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