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Spotlight on SCI History: Words and deeds - the Uddel Seminar in 1969

by Heinz Gabathuler (Mar 28, 2012)

The turmoil in Western societies around the year 1968, marked by students' revolts and
opposition against US warfare in Vietnam, also left its traces on the SCI movement.
During Easter holidays in 1969, West European and the US branches organised a
Seminar that took place in Uddel, The Netherlands, under the then quite fashionable motto
"The Social and Political Implications of Voluntary Service".

There were all in all more than 50 participants at the seminar, representing all branches involved, including 58 year old Ralph Hegnauer who then was International Secretary, and the main leading figure of the movement. The only Asian participants were two LTVs who were currently based in Europe. A few observers from other organisations joined as well.

As the title indicates, discussions were very fundamental. The first resolution called for a "social and political analysis of our work". Participants made a critical reflection on the fact that most SCI volunteers were "well-to-do students", with working class underrepresented. The self-conception of voluntary service was definde in terms of Solidarity instead of Charity ("with people and not for them"), and awareness-raising within Western society about the causes of poverty in the "Third world" was considered important.

Of course, these roots were largely identified in "exploitation" by the West. After all, on can conclude that it was at this Seminar when the traditional "deeds not words" approach of SCI had somehow been modified by a "words and deeds" approach - still stressing the importance of practical voluntary service at the grassroots.

According to the report of a Swiss participant at the Seminar, the event showed that the voluntary service movement was about to "fall into the hands of 'young revolutionaries'". This remark shows, as well as the outcome of the Seminar itself, the profoundness of the changes both in society and within SCI being a part of it which was especially sensitive on issues such as peace, social justice, and global inequalities.

(The report on the Uddel Seminar and other documents can be found in the International Archives of SCI: SCIIA 40'751.1h)

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