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Report on Burma – June 24, 1961

by Heinz Gabathuler (Apr 23, 2018)

It has been more than three years now that I started to present various objects in the From the Archives section of this E-zine. I have written on printed brochures and reports, medals, calendars, resource packs, handwritten workcamp diaries and even a postcard: All kinds of remarkable objects I had expected to attract the readers’ attention. They came from different decades in SCI’s history, from Europe as well as from Asia.

But most of the International Archives are actually simple and pretty ordinary stuff: Typewritten letters, circulars, minutes, grant applications, participants lists, newspaper cuttings. The Report on Burma, dated Kuala Lumpur, June 24, 1961 and signed by Devinder Das Chopra SCI / ASAS which apparently means Asian Secretariat or Asian Secretary), at first sight appears as such an ordinary, even boring document.

Even though it had been written by Devinder, the then 27 years old first ever Asian staff person within SCI International, the acronym "ZH/5.7.61/200" at the bottom of the document proves that it has been typed at the International Secretariat in Zurich, probably by Ralph Hegnauer (or a female aide he probably had). It could be that the original report had been just a handwritten document sent by post; how else in these times from Kuala Lumpur to Zurich. Or that the British format of the original typewritten letter simply would not fit the central European standards (DIN A 4). Probably the document has been circulated (the number “200” may indicate the number of copies) in the movement, maybe to the members of the International Committee (no IEC existed at that time, and no Asian Committee either), maybe just to branches and activists.

The document is remarkable for two reasons. First of all, it is probably the only document in the Archives referring to Burma (now Myanmar). Unlike in Thailand, where for a short time an SCI group existed and a few workcamps had taken place in the 1960s, no real SCI activities had ever taken place in neighbouring Burma – except for this one visit by Devinder who stayed there for one week in the summer of 1961. And secondly, the report proves the will of the movement to further expand on the huge Asian continent. Around 1960, apart from India where SCI had been active for more than a decade, activities emerged in quite a few Asian countries (Sri Lanka, Japan, Nepal East Pakistan / now Bangladesh, and Thailand). And travelling around, trying to make contacts to likeminded organisations in order to explore the possibilities for further regional expansion has been one of the main tasks of the regional secretary, being actually more of a fieldworker than a mere officeworker.

The report starts with naming the difficulties voluntary workcamp activities in Burma were facing, including the fact that "the Govenment has not had time enough to lay any plans for youth activities with a constructive bias like work camps, national civilian service, etc., since it has been dealing with its own rebel troubbles on the borders [...]”. Mentioning his talks with some Christian organisations (mainly quakers and methodists) active in Burma, Devinder suggests at the end not to develop autonomous SCI activities: "To start independently of the religious biased groups in Burma would require resources we cannot boast of at present." And he recommends to start cooperation with AFSC, means the quakers from the United States. It never happened, though.

Heinz Gabathuler, International Archives Coordinator


The one page report is filed under 41501.1 in the International Archives. Asian Coordination documents have the numbers 41000 ff., whereas European Coordination documents start with 42000: Asia comes first, even though SCI activities started in Europe. But the first Asian Secretary was employed shortly before the first European one, and after the dissolution of the European regional structures in 1997, the Asian ones persisted for some more years.

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