The idea of International Voluntary Service came from a Swiss engineer, Pierre Ceresole, following the First World War. Because he was fed up with all of the peace activists only talking, while all of Europe was completely devastated from the hatred and cruel nationalist tendencies that came out of World War I, he decided to come up with a project, whose motto would be „deeds, not words“ and the concept of international workcamps was born. He founded “Service Civil International” (SCI) in 1920 with its emphasis upon constructive, voluntary service for peace through international workcamps in devastated and conflict areas.
The first international voluntary project (workcamp) took place on the former battle field of Verdun in France in 1920. The aim of the project that was initiated by Pierre Ceresole was to reconstruct the war damaged village Esnes-en-Argonne and to be a symbol of reconciliation between France and Germany. Among the small group of international volunteers there were three Germans. The team built temporary homes for the people in the village and cleared the farm land. After the first voluntary project was organised another one in Les Ormonts in Switzerland, where twelve volunteers helped to clear rubble after an avalanche. This service was promoted as a model service for conscientious objectors to military service, in order to support a political campaign to introduce an alternative civilian service. In the following years more relief services were organised.
During the first decades voluntary projects were organised with no formal structure. But as the idea of organising workcamps expanded to more countries after the Second World War, an international association of SCI member organisations with an international secretariat in Paris was founded.
After the Second World War, international voluntary service projects brought former enemy populations together in solidarity. Faced with the challenges of post-war reconstruction and an increasing number of volunteer organisations, discussions occurred at UNESCO about ways to coordinate and encourage the efforts of volunteering. 1948 the Coordinating Committee for International Voluntary Service (CCIVS) was created to coordinate these new international voluntary service organizations.
In the early 1960s, CCIVS began to make contacts with youth organisations in the then socialist countries of Eastern Europe and in the 1970s and 1980s it served as a crucial neutral platform, which enabled volunteer youth exchanges between east and west to be organised. In 1971 CCIVS was also associated with the creation of United Nations Volunteers.
In 1975, workcamps became standardized. Until then, they often lasted for months and didn't have a clear structure – participants could arrive and leave, whenever they wanted. They sometimes had hundreds of participants. Workcamps from now on lasted between 2 and 4 weeks and normally contained a „study part“ next to a „work part“. The number of volunteers was limited in order to make it possible for the group to really interact and get to know each other. The aim was to study also the contents and political/ sociological backgrounds of the accomplished work.
Until then, men and women had different tasks in workcamps: Men worked hard on construction tasks, while women were responsible for cooking and cleaning. The separation of work between men and women was finally abolished. Physical work and kitchen work was done altogether.
Likely the organizations will prepare some interesting workcamps and youth meetings related to this topic. Search for it!
It could be a great chance to keep your engagement into voluntary life ongoing.