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Personal benefits

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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Personal benefits and impact

It is on this theme that contributors have most to say and have very convergent views. For instance, Elizabeth Crook emphasizes her continuing faithfulness to the goals and values of SCI. Juliet goes so far as to say that her experience has completely changed her life and her political views. Martin and Linda refer to personal transformation and a feeling of achievement.

Most former volunteers state that their experience with SCI has meant an opening up to the world and to people in general, which seems to be the most important and the most common conclusion. According to Claire and David, their understanding of, and interest in, other cultures, especially the Arab world and Islam, has been a direct result of their relationship with SCI. RL says that he has become more tolerant. A number of stories refer to travels, periods of life abroad and international marriages. Sato felt he had become a citizen of the world.

Today, reading these memories and stories written about SCI from around the `50s and `60s, one gets the impression that their idealism and wonder is somewhat obsolete. What is striking is - in addition to the stories themselves - that, at that time, the discovery of such cultures as those of India, Africa, and even North Africa was something which was quite extraordinary. Today we are much more familiar with these different worlds through TV and tourism, in other words due to globalization. So the impact of a workcamp experience abroad might be less striking now, but other types of experience provided by the modern world are probably much less meaningful and enriching and more superficial than taking part in a workcamp with shared objectives for a particular period of time. Manual work together transcended language and cultural differences, and ‘Deeds, not Words’ became a common bond.

Another dimension of the opening up to the outside world is its impact on volunteers’ political awareness and ideas. An earlier orientation was confirmed (Martin), new and different points of view were discovered (Claire, Max).

In addition, SCI often had an impact on volunteers’ career orientation (Cathy and Juliet for instance). Some of them decided to give up promising and profitable carees to become, more or less, lifelong volunteers, either within SCI (Bhuppy, Jean-Pierre) or in different organizations with similar social or humanitarian goals (Martin, Thedy, Valli). Martin states that his current work, and what he brought personally to it, has been greatly influenced by his work with SCI. Even though they did not change their orientation, the way people with medical or social qualifications have since practiced their professions, or the extent to which they became involved in their fields of specialization, was modified through their SCI experience (Marie Catherine, Nicole Lehmann, Linda, Roger). The experience gained was useful to them, and although they later went on to work in a large organization Nelly, Arthur and Devinder attempted to overcome its rather bureaucratic style and to transfer into their work environment the values and the approach that they had used with SCI.

The contributors to this collection of stories were enthusiastic about their experience, and had the feeling that they had participated in an individual and collective adventure. In many ways, they were pioneers. After reading their memories, several questions come to the fore:

Such broad and ambitious questions go beyond the scope of this work. However, it would be appropriate to consider here a few words from Valli, Phyllis and Martin’s conclusions.

Valli: “If at times SCIers feel that the movement has not done well, we may have to look critically at what we have done or not done, and not hastily conclude that the origins, the aims and even the method are irrelevant. Certainly modifications according to present ‘times’ will be useful to ‘make sense’ of evolving situations. Have we come across anything more fundamental a statement that human beings need to break down their prejudices? And act on it!

Phyllis: “With the internet and the speed of global news, today’s youth have a much wider exposure to cultures other than their own. Certainly, there is a lot more knowledge that is superficial or virtual. I think that does not impart the essence of struggling together, often under difficult conditions, to accomplish something and to make a direct connection with strangers. Even in our technological societies, there seem to be numerous opportunities for the personal touch in bringing Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus together, or helping in crises playing out of sight of our headlines like in the Sudan. The passion and the innovation have to come from today’s activists; however the importance of making direct connections is age-old.

Martin: “Not much has changed that would make SCI less relevant. Divisions and conflicts at a personal, communal, and international level require just as imaginative and transformative commitments from individuals. Whilst alternatives to military service may no longer be as much required, given the voluntary nature of most armed services, the visible demonstration of the power of individuals, whatever their superficial differences, to transform divisions and conflicts in the world remains as essential as ever.

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