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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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Service Civil International (SCI) was created after World War I by Pierre Ceresole, a Swiss conscientious objector, with a view to work for peace and mutual understanding through the development of a voluntary civil service which would eventually replace the military service. To this effect, SCI was the first movement to organize workcamps with an international participation for emergency relief activities or for the benefit of underprivileged people. After World War II, SCI developed with 43 branches active around the world while many other organizations followed the example and attracted a large number of young people to workcamps.

A few former volunteers who met recently recalled their memories from their experience with SCI, what they had gained from these experiences and the impact that it had on their lives. And they realized that after four or five decades they still had many things in common, despite the variety of origins and of pathways. It was then decided to collect memories from a number of people who were volunteers with SCI during the period 1945 to 1975.

They were primarily those who had served as long-term volunteers abroad, or who had participated in several short-term camps outside their countries. After the pioneers who created the movement in the `20s and after the interruption due to the war, they were the second generation, who contributed actively to the expansion and internationalization of SCI. They were enthusiastic and dedicated and they firmly believed in its ideals of peace, non-violence and mutual understanding across national boundaries, through hard work done together. This experience had an impact on their future direction.

This is not a history of Service Civil International. It does not attempt to give a detailed description of its numerous and varied activities during the period under consideration. It is focused on some aspects of the life of those who participated in them and on the way they feel about it today. However, these individual stories have to be placed in the context of the development of SCI and sometimes in the broader historical context.

As it was necessary to limit the scope of this study, it is focused on the story of volunteers who were very much involved, in a lasting way and at the international level. Their pathways often crossed each other. This selection means that little attention has been given to the more limited and short-term experiences.

We had direct interviews with or received written contributions from over 30 volunteers, belonging to seven different countries, primarily the United Kingdom and France, but also from Asia, Africa and the US. The majority was in English, the others in French. Although they referred to a common questionnaire, they are extremely different in terms of contents, length and style. It was decided to reproduce them as they are, in order to keep their original flavour. The contributions came from people who are living today, with one exception. But it was also felt that some references should be made to a few significant figures of SCI, who played a role in the story of these volunteers.

Since the participants had been volunteers at different times and in different countries, it was difficult to organize their memories in a coherent way. We have put the emphasis on individual stories, in order to show how the people have evolved and what has been the coherence of their lives. These individual stories are grouped in accordance with the region where the volunteers had their major investment and in a chronological order.

On this basis, the document is organized as follows :

This work was planned and implemented in close cooperation with Phyllis Sato, who had the entire responsibility for collecting the contributions and writing the presentation on Asia. I am grateful to David Palmer and for their contribution to the editing of the English version of the other chapters and to Arthur Gillette for his Preface and for his help. Of course, I would like to thank all those who took the trouble of writing a contribution or giving an interview.


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