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Asian Secretariat changes location

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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Asian Secretariat changes location

Devinder and Valli moved on from their pioneering work the end of 1964, though both of them remained in the development field. That seemed to happen over and over: other organizations recognizing the valuable experience and perspective of former SCI volunteers or office staff, then hiring them. Devinder became a field director with the Peace Corps in India, then worked many years with UNICEF. The American Committee for Tibetan Relief tapped Valli for their representative; subsequently she co-designed a program for SEARCH in Bangalore and in later years has served on numerous boards and worked as a consultant.

Since there had already been strong development in the Indian subcontinent, the International Committee recommended that the Asian Secretariat be moved more mid-way between India and Japan. Hiroatsu Sato was appointed as successor in 1965 and in the fall of 1965 attempted to establish the office in the capital of Malaysia. Workcamps had been organized there and in Penang, but eventually the government refused to sanction an office and in 1967 it was moved to Singapore. (See Sato’s history). Before leaving Japan Sato followed up with returned South Korean participants to Japanese workcamps, and assisted them in organizing a work camp in South Korea. He also followed up with contacts Ethelwyn Best had made with Buddhist groups in South Vietnam, but the growing conflict and impossibility of going to North Vietnam made the International Committee decide not to send volunteers to South Vietnam, despite requests. There was a robust exchange of volunteers helped by a generous grant from the Friendly Fellowship Foundation and LTV placement courtesy of the British government. (See Shigeo Kobayashi, Ann Smith Kobayashi, Cathy Hambridge Peel on following pages.) However, the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965 made travel impossible between India and Pakistan, and severely limited volunteers from travelling to neighboring countries. This hampered exchange within the sub-continent for several years.

A series of severe cyclones struck East Pakistan and triggered the emergency response that marked many SCI branches’ scope of activity, especially the French Branch. The Asian Secretariat assisted the local group and helped with fund raising. Eventually a long-term project at Moudubi, to construct a cyclone shelter, was undertaken and many of the responding students eventually became the backbone of the Bangladesh Branch. (See Roger Gwynn’s reflections)

In the middle of 1966, Ataur Rahman, was appointed as Assistant Asian Secretary to head a sub-office in Colombo, Ceylon. Then in December of 1966, Masahiro Shintani joined Sato in Malaysia as the second Assistant and made the trek to Singapore the following March. When Navam Appadurai was appointed Asian Secretary in 1968, Shintani-san continued to maintain the office in Singapore until the Appadurais and Ataur were able to make the move in 1970.

Navam and his team carried on work in increasingly tense times. In 1971 East Pakistan separated from Pakistan and the ensuing civil war also involved India, and again there were a large number of refugees. Both the group in the new Bangladesh and the Indian Branch were very active. (See Juliet Pierce and Linda Whitaker). In 1972 a royal succession occurred in Nepal creating turmoil with student strikes and suppression of reforms. There were long simmering tensions between North and South Korea, and increasing communal tensions between Singhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka. This was against the wider backdrop of the Vietnam War that cast a tense aura over the whole region, making visas harder to obtain and it caused divisions within SCI regarding activism and pacifism – especially within Europe. Throughout it all SCI members in all those countries (except North Korea and Vietnam) continued to organize workcamps and long-term projects.

In 1972 the Asian Secretariat made another move, back to Colombo. The Singapore government, following the earlier thinking of the Malaysian government, became concerned about SCI’s advocacy of alternatives to compulsory military service. As Singapore had a compulsory military training for young school leavers, they requested SCI to change its constitution that emphasized peace or leave the country. There was no debate and the office shifted again. Ataur had already left to engage in relief work in his newly independent homeland. Navam continued on as Asian Secretary until 1978 in Colombo.

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