I had heard of IVSP (the name of IVS until 1960 or so) when I was at school – a Quaker school. At the age of 18, in 1954, I was a conscientious objector (we had military service in those days) and in 1955 I enrolled as a ‘long term volunteer’ with IVSP (SCI) as part of my alternative service. My first workcamp was at Glasgow, Scotland (painting poor people’s homes), followed by Millisle, N.Ireland (painting an orphanage), Vorarlberg, Austria (building a road), Metz, France (helping build homes), Worms, Germany (more homes). All this lasted about 6 months. At the Metz camp the leader (a very harsh one) was Etienne Reclus, secretary of SCI-France. At the Worms camp were Devinder Das Chopra, Sam Bala Sundaram (from Sri Lanka) and Ben Korley (the first African volunteer to be invited by SCI and a founder of VOLU Ghana – Voluntary Workcamp Association of Ghana).
This time was the most positive experience during my alternative service and, as I already loved train travel and learning languages, made me get very excited about internationalism and basic development.
Experience outside Britain
While at university I led another camp in the UK, at Wolverhampton; then in 1960 I went to India for 8 months as a volunteer teacher at Vidhya Bhavan, Udaipur (not with SCI) but while I was there I met in Delhi Devinder who was AS by then, and Valli, not yet Mrs Seshan. I also took part in a workcamp at Cherian Nagar, Madras.
I then went to teach in Zambia for 10 years. Together with John and Louise Melbourne, a British couple who had met at an IVS camp on Fair Isle, we tried to encourage workcamps – and the government got interested and organised some ‘nation building’ camps.
Career with voluntary service
On my return I looked for a job and got one, as London Regional Officer for IVS (Sept – Dec 1971). I was promoted to Overseas Service Officer (1972-76) and finally General Secretary (1976-84). I was International President of SCI from 1985 to 1989.
From 1992 to 1998 I worked as Director of CCIVS in Paris. I have helped CCIVS since then as a volunteer and have been on their EC since 2004. I am currently (‘benevole’) secretary of Youth Action for Peace UK.
So, you see, it’s not a quick question of filling a form and voluntary service has in fact been my career; a very satisfying one. I have achieved a few things such as assisting the start of workcamp movements in Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and a few tries elsewhere.
Comment on SCI
Its message, philosophy, ambience are wonderful. Its organisation has been weak at times, usually due to lack of funds, but occasionally personalities. One criticism I would make is that SCI tends to think it is superior, purer than any other voluntary organisation (I remember feeling smug when I was in it!). It is certainly stronger in terms of its convictions than many of the national organisations but now that I am in YAP I think we are as ideologically pure, though perhaps even more chaotic!
I’ve had a happy life and have lots of friends all over the world and I have SCI to thank for a lot of that.