In early 1965 I was walking by a lane near my house with my friends. It was a stroll by youngsters then just to pass time. Suddenly we saw a handwritten poster on a small door of a garage: «VOLUNTEERS WANTED». I remember that we used to see some young foreigner coming and going from the same place. Being attracted, we peeped in and saw a man deeply engaged in typing something. As we went in he gazed and looked at us. Oh, it was Roman Bhai, alias Ataur Bhai, who was my big brother’s friend. With his evergreen smile he welcomed us and, on enquiry, he said it was the office of an international voluntary social service organization named ‘SCI’. The name sounded like ‘CIA’. Oh no, don’t join that for god’s sake!! But Ataur Bhai explained in detail about what SCI is and voluntarism locally, nationally and internationally.
My joining SCI had no exact aim or philosophy since I was in my youth with virtually no sense of direction and had not had any exposure to such an arena. I enrolled so as to see what voluntarism means. Is it unpaid labour or do you get something in return? At that time our social situation was not that open to do free services. Such services were not very popular in the society as well. Moreover, to be connected with a foreign organization in then Pakistani society was not viewed with respect.
Voluntarism stuck in my mind and I wished to give it a try to be a volunteer. But fear was there whether I would get the consent of my parents since the traditional family structure mandated that at that time, plus the membership application form also contained such a clause. It took me quite a while to get the consent, assuring my parents that my voluntarism would not affect my studies.
After becoming a member of SCI I observed that it was not only work based but also had a philosophy that it carried with it: the great philosophy of creating friendship and amity between people of divergent background, thus creating an opinion against the ills of war. PEACE was the main focus of SCI through voluntarism with people of different nationalities, caste, creed and colour. To erase the curse of WAR from the face of the earth the founder, Pierre Cérésole, dreamt to establish an army of volunteers to replace the man-killing army.
I have attended, led, and organized several work camps at home and abroad. My first work camp was a weekend camp in Dhaka to clean and sweep sewrage drains and the school premises at Hazaribagh. Though I was not accustomed to this type of work, it felt great when being appreciated by the elders of the locality. There were a few local participants and we had good discussions on SCI ideology. Our work drew the attention of the school committee who requested SCI to help them do masonry work on some rooms of the school. That project had participants from students of California University who were on a visit under the ‘Project Pakistan’ programme. This was my first interaction with foreign volunteers. During work and discussion most of the young volunteers were stammering talking English. I am sure conversation was not in pure English, rather it was ‘Banglish’ (mixture of Bangla and English!!)
Faruque and Ralph Hegnauer having Lunch at
the Blind School week-end camp in Dhaka (around 1966)
As I continued with the movement of SCI, I found myself more and more attracted to provide service to people especially after natural calamities. As our country is prone to disasters like cyclones/tornados/floods, the people’s suffering is enormous and beyond imagination. SCI, though a small voluntary organization, always responded immediately after such natural calamities in cooperation with Red Cross/Church Council, etc.
Moudubi – long term project
After taking part in such relief distribution work in the southern most part of Bangladesh, SCI identified a remote small islet called Moudubi, which is almost in the sea bed. Sato-san of SCI-Japan, then Asian Secretary, termed Moudubi as the remotest corner in the world. The reason is that you can see both the sun rise and sun set from the island. In 1966, in cooperation with OXFAM and local villagers, SCI constructed a single story brick building which would act as School-cum-Cyclone shelter as there was no pucca (solid) building within a 30 mile radius.
In my opinion the Moudubi project is unique in character in respect to its distance, physical situation and the whole-hearted local participation as well as attracting a flood of foreign volunteers from about 15 countries, joining hand in hand and singing the famous song We Shall Overcome. It is unbelievable that masons Jabbar Mia and Matin who worked there were brought from Dhaka and influenced by ideals of voluntarism. If I remember correctly they did not take full wages as a gesture of their participation in this holy endeavour.
After almost forty years the memories of Moudubi are still very fresh and vibrant in me and I feel that it was yesterday that we were there. I am convinced that had I not joined the greatest long-term project of SCI, my joining SCI would not have been that memorable. Thank you Moudubi for allowing me to have sweet reminiscences which still give me inspiration.
At one point SCI, especially in Asia, started taking up long-term projects because of the work opportunities and availability of committed volunteers in the region. Many of the long-term projects ran smoothly and successfully when committed volunteers remained or the branch could raise funds and remain involved or the locality did not find any alternative to SCI.
The efficacy of long-term projects was put into question as to whether it is in line with the motto of SCI, i.e. to move, to grow, to expand beyond borders, to imbibe people with the spirit of internationalism and amity locally, nationally, regionally and globally. Whether it was making SCI stuck in one particularly society, in a particular area and failing to view the horizon elsewhere? These LT projects also made SCI heavily dependent on funds from different funding agencies whose aims and objectives are not necessarily similar to SCI’s. As my involvement grew more and more I came face-to-face with these burning questions.
During the four decades of my involvement I have had the opportunity to attend various types of work camps like weekend, short-term and longterm camps both within Bangladesh and outside. Almost all of the camps were memorable and mixed with experience.
In 1969 it was a ten day residential work camp with volunteers from the then West Germany, under the AIG programme, to construct a park for the locality. There was zero participation from the locals. The funniest part was that the camp subscribed to two newspapers. Surprisingly, one day we looked for the papers but they were not found. But, finally, some remnants were found in the toilet, used as toilet paper by the German volunteers !!!!
One day in the morning I was looking for my tooth brush but surprisingly found that it was being used by one camper. On query he answered that he thought that the brush was for common use!!
Also in 1969 there was a serious outbreak of pox in and around Dhaka city. SCI volunteers and the municipal health inspector took charge of a crowded market adjacent to New Market and started vaccinating residents with a pumping system. Suddenly some people came running and snatched away the machine complaining that people were forcefully injecting permanent Family Planning Medication. We were forced to withdraw.
The tragic one took place in Glebe House camp in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1979. This was an international work camp. One evening after group discussion we were engaged in fun games but all of a sudden a white volunteer from SCI Leicester came downstairs and slapped the only African volunteer from Senegal without saying anything. There were about 10 -12 volunteers in the room. This was the most shocking experience I had in European work camps.
Asia-Europe Exchange Programme
I had the opportunity to be part of international work camping as organized by SCI-Europe in 1979. This was under the Asia-Europe Exchange programme. My journey started with a mishap, i.e. my luggage did not wish to accompany me to Europe!!
I deeply marked that the structure, membership, attitude and mainly the modus operandi of SCI-Europe is quite different from that of Asia. Membership is different as Asian volunteers remain in touch on a regular basis for a long, long period.
The volunteer exchange programme is the key to SCI ideology. But method of recruitment does not help the morale of the exchange. From the European end they recruited first-timers who had no exposure to SCI ideology or previous work camp experience, who consequently often found it diffcult to follow the work camp schedule. As I was a member of the Asian Executive Committee/Seed Executive Committee and attended very many big forum meetings, I tried to impress on our western colleagues that a volunteer who had no previous SCI exposure should not be recruited or else this would turn SCI into a professional tourist club.
The Man Pierre
by Faruque Alamgir
Once upon a time
a man named Pierre
urged the humanity
to forget bestiality,
join immediate past foes
for reconciliation and friendship;
mend the shattered human values
and free the world from the curse
SCI is not as vibrant as it was there during the `50s till `90s. The morale has been deviated from creating an army of volunteers to replace militarism and instead turned into a project oriented and bureaucratic organization, rather than remain a voluntary organization.
There is a big distance between the European branches and Asian branches. To make SCI vibrant and an international family again more and more volunteers need to be inducted and people-oriented programmes be adopted, fostering closer contacts and the IEC/IS (International Executive Committee/International Secretary) be more mobile. Attempts must be given to revive and establish new contacts in the countries where SCI once existed. Since SCI is membership based, branches should focus on increasing membership, meaning that being a torch bearer of Peace can be further expanded.
I personally feel that because of the growing tension, deadly conficts and unhealthy competition between the rich nations, plus making the august United Nations a clique of the big five that now the world is shaking like a volcano. Pierre Cérésole dreamt that the spilling of human blood would lessen and end soon by the help of peace sentinels through SCI. But the spill has turned in greater volume as the flood of blood throughout the globe and again the Western powers are behind such unholy blood bath.
If someone asked me what is my appreciation about SCI, I will not hesitate to say that SCI has given me the opportunity to widen my thinking and adopt a philosophy of life to become a sentinel of Peace. SCI is the gateway for free thinkers and those who are ready to make friends and be part of the global peace effort. But individual attitudes vary from place to place and people to people but all with the only single goal – solidarity, Friendship and Peace and that is the essence and beauty of SCI. SCI glorifies itself by having Unity in Diversity.
SCI’s efficacy is still there but maybe the modus operandi has to be modified or changed. However, the main ornament of SCI, work camps, must continue to give the feeling of oneness with the situation, people and issues. SCI has changed me to be a life long volunteer and I enjoy being in the company of friends attained during my long association with SCI.
SCI is my way of life and I proudly belong to the global SCI family.
Due to my continuous involvement with global SCI I am fortunate to have come across, as well as work closely with, some of the best campers of SCI. I received the loving affection, encouragement and moral support and they are my idols in SCI: Ralph Hegnauer, Nigel Watt, Ethelwyn Best, Michilene Six, Helen Honeyman, Roger Gwynn, Navam Appadurai, Devinder Das Chopra, Sato-san, Asta Mangal, Anwar Hussain (founder of SCI-Bangladesh), Ataur Rahman, Valli Seshan, Bhuppy Kishore. These are
the erudite, selfless committed stars or core of the movement who are an inseparable entity with SCI. I feel myself very lucky to have had the great opportunity in working with these Peace Giants and feel myself as an able (?) disciple.
SCI is distinctively different from other normal NGOs. The essence of SCI is that it is purely a voluntary, non-profit social welfare membership based organization. The members are its weapon to turn out sentinels of Peace.
SCI and its impact on people is very diffcult to draw. As, after a work camp, SCI (other than long-term projects) leaves and mostly never goes back to find out whether there are any sweet memories left in the peoples’ mind that it worked with. To me, SCI should revisit some camps to reinvigorate the lost memory.
As for me SCI had a great impact on my life. Because of my commitment to voluntarism and belief in SCI ideology I did not join any other organization so that I could contribute whole heartedly to SCI. I believed that if engaged in many works, I could do justice to none. SCI, since 1965, has become not only part of my life but is my second global family.
Finally, I wish to say that the efficacy of SCI seems to be fading due to the onslaught of well funded NGOs with clandestine motives. But, as conflict has intensified, diversified on a daily basis and globalized by the war mongers, it is now around the corner of everybody’s home so the ONUS is greater than before.