The history and the idea of ASF
Aktion Sühnezeichen, that later became Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedensdienste, was founded in 1958 by Protestant Christians around Lothar Kreyssig to recognize the National Socialist crimes and to make a first step towards reconciliation. Their idea was to humbly ask for peace and forgiveness through commitment, interest, actual help in places and groups of society where the national socialistic terror destroyed the most. “We ask for peace” was originally used in the request to establish ASF and it summarizes the idea and work of ASF until today. Although it was established by Protestants, ASF has always been ecumenical and very open to all kinds of faith. Everyone who feels addressed is welcome to join. Although Germany was parted and split from 1949 until 1989, it was originally founded as an organization encompassing all Germany. Unfortunately, the division made working together impossible, therefore two organizations developed in parallel. Both with the same goal - but with different focuses in their practical work.
The values of ASF have hardly changed since 1958 – solidarity, respect, openness, appreciation, protection of the human rights and the awareness of all those values are important while getting involved with ASF and their work.
Possible ways to join ASF
Interested people can choose in between various ways of supporting the work of ASF: either as a long or short term volunteer, as a member of a regional group all around Germany or the Association, participating in seminars, field trips, workshops and church services or contributing with a donation. Every possibility is focused on the encounter and exchange of different people.
The international volunteering program might be the core of ASF – every year about 180 volunteers, mostly aged in between 18 to 30, are sent to projects in Belarus, Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Great Britain, France, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Ukraine and the US. While most of the volunteers sent abroad are German, around 15 to 20 volunteers from all over the world are working in projects in Germany. Furthermore Ukrainian and Polish together with German volunteers are part of the trilateral program in the UK and Poland. The program includes 12 months of working in one’s project, workshops about historic-political topics and many activities that promote exchanges and discussions. Not only working, but also experiencing the cultural differences and spending time with other volunteers and new found friends are part of a year abroad with ASF.
The idea of the international volunteering program is to engage oneself in a historical, political or social project. The commitment is focused on places and groups of society that have suffered the most from the national socialist or stalinist terror and that are in need of support. Fields of work are projects engaging with elderly people (mostly survivors of the Shoah and the Stalinist terror, former forced labourers and their descendants), people with disabilities or historically discriminated people, in memorial sights, museums and organizations in the field of political and historical education. The question, how history influences our present society and actions, always frames the different projects.
Future volunteers should therefore be ready to listen, learn and discuss various aspects of important topics in society. ASF and their project partners need social, cooperative, tolerant and open people, who aren’t afraid of teamwork and taking over responsibility.
ASF offers various ways to engage oneself in projects, that clearly broaden one’s mind and support self-development connected to progressive commitment in society. Together, peace and solidarity can hold on, as long as we make the world aware of their importance and remember them through our actions.
"ASF creates a space where volunteers can make an individual impact through intercultural exchange"
To give a more personal insight of a volunteer’s life I’ve talked to two ASF volunteers in rather diverse countries and with different projects. Pia is a volunteer in The Netherlands – in Amsterdam - working in the “Joods Cultureel Kwartier” and living with 9 other people in a student’s apartment. Josefin is living in Israel – in Haifa – working in a women’s refuge and in a daycare-center for elderly people. She shares an appartement with 3 other volunteers. As you can see, not only their cultural experiences differ but also their living and work experiences since one is doing a historical project and one is doing social work.
Their motivations for a volunteering year with ASF are quite similar: After graduating from Highschool it seemed to be the right time to get involved in an international project. They chose ASF because they could identify themselves with the solidary values the organisation stands for. When they learned about the work of ASF during a presentation of a former volunteer, they got passionate about the idea of doing something for Europe, intercultural communication as well as historical awareness. Both hope to gain as many memorable experiences as possible, getting to know new people and the culture of their host country. Meanwhile they try to conquer the biggest obstacle: their own comfort zone.
Until now, both have experienced their host countries very positively. Although Pia in Amsterdam expected The Netherlands to be very similar to Germany, she was surprised about all the differences there actually are – especially the direct Dutch mentality and the humor of Dutch people are things she had to get used to at first. Amsterdam being a beautiful city and perfect for a volunteer to live in makes her very happy. Josefin experienced the people in Israel as very interested, open and accommodating. She already got many invitations to celebrate Shabbat with different families and feels like her social work is making an active impact on people’s lives. Her help is being received very gratefully.
Both volunteers agree: Volunteering during a global pandemic is different than expected – not projectable and sometimes very chaotic, but still exciting. Although both experienced delays with getting to know their host countries and got challenged with several lockdown-situations, they still experienced profound conversations and encountered many inspiring people. They remain optimistic for the situation to improve in spring and summer – until then they won’t think about what they missed because of Corona but focus on the chances they have and the anticipation for warmer days. Pia claims that volunteering during this exceptional situation prepares international volunteers to be very flexible in several life-circumstances, makes them to Zoom-professionals and card game champions. It could be a lot worse – both volunteers agree that they are very grateful for ASF and their project partners to make their volunteering year possible and as special as it is. They definitely don’t take this chance for granted.