Service Civil International

Service Civil International

Service Civil International (SCI) is an international non-governmental voluntary service organisation and peace movement with 43 branches and groups worldwide. The organisation was founded in 1920 by Swiss Engineer Pierre Ceresole.


SCI states to base its work on the following values:
*Volunteering - in the sense of acting out of self-initiative, without seeking material reward and for the benefit of civil society, as a method and a statement for social change, whilst never competing with paid labour nor seeking to contribute to strike-breaking
*Non-violence – as a principle and a method
*Human Rights – respect for individuals as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
*Solidarity (sociology) – international solidarity for a more just world and solidarity between human beings at all levels
*Respect for the Environment – and the ecosystem of which we are a part and upon which we are dependent
*Inclusion - to be open and inclusive to all individuals who share the aims and objectives of the movement, without regard to gender, race, colour, religion, nationality, social status or political views and any other possible grounds for discrimination
*Empowerment – empowering people to understand and act to transform the social, cultural and economic structures that affect their lives at all levels
*Co-operation – with local communities as well as other local, national and international actors to strengthen the positive potential within civil society as a whole.

SCI believes that all people are capable of living together with mutual respect and without recourse to any form of violence to solve conflicts. It organises international volunteer projects all over the world because it believes that peace can only be built if people with different backgrounds and cultures learn to co-operate and work together.


SCI was born out of a passionate search for peace, immediately after World War I. Taking part in the first International Conference of the Fellowship of Reconciliation in 1920 in Bilthoven [See fr Rencontres de Bilthoven.] , Pierre Ceresole, a Swiss radical pacifist initiated a peace project with volunteers from different countries in France.

From reconciliation to emergency aid (1920)

The first international "workcamp" took place on the former battle field of Verdun (France) in 1920 in order to reconstruct the war damaged village Esnes-en-Argonne and being a symbol of reconciliation between France and Germany. Among the small group of international volunteers were also three German volunteers. They build up temporary homes for the villagers and cleared the farm land.

In 1924 Ceresole organised a second international workcamp in Les Ormonts (Switzerland), which helped to clear rubble after an avalanche. This service was promoted as a model service for conscientious objectors, in order to support a political campaign to introduce an alternative service. In the following years more relief services were organized. The largest has been in 1928 in Liechtenstein with more than 700 volunteers from 28 countries, which cleared the Rhine valley plain after a heavy flood in 1927.

Evolvement in social commitment (1931)

In the first decade of SCI, workcamps were used relief services for regions affected by natural disasters. In 1931 SCI "idea" evolved and the concept of Workcamps with international volunteers were applied in other areas of social commitment:
* Community development: During the economic crisis of the coal mining industry in Wales, a workcamp was organised to restore self-confidence in distressed mining town of Brynmawr (Wales, Great Britain). Volunteers and unemployed men build a swimming pool and layout a public park.
* Developmental aid : In 1931 Ceresole got acquainted with Gandhi, which invited him to bring SCI to India. In 1934 he travelled to India in order to organize workcamps for a region affected by the earthquake in Bihar. This project was repeated in 1935 and 1936. Further development aid projects followed after World War II.
* Humanitarian help: In 1937 SCI was mandated by a group of aid organizations, in order to give humanitarian help for refugee children during the Spanish Civil war (1936-1939). Evacuation services, food and clothing distribution were carried out in the part of the Spanish Republic. Twenty years later humanitarian help was given to war orphans in Tunisia during the Algerian independence war (1958-1962). Besides those two projects, humanitarian help never got any further importance in SCI.

International organisation (1948)

Since 1920 SCI organised workcamps and activities with no formal structure in France, Switzerland, Great Britain, India, and other countries. As the idea workcamps expanded to other countries after World War II an international association of SCI branches with an international secretariat in Paris was founded. The volunteer exchange and workcamp organisation were improved (e.g. set up of a volunteer insurance). The number of workcamps and volunteers increased tremendously:
* 1947: 46 workcamps in 9 countries
* 1968: 298 workcamps in 24 countries.The number branches increased similar. In the 60s regional coordination structures for Africa, Asia and Europa were set up.

North-South and Development Aid (1950)

In 1950 SCI was invited by the recent independent India in order to carry out construction of houses for refugees in Faridabad (India) and. A small group of international volunteer was able to recruit many local volunteers. The conflict between India and Pakistan inspired them to organise workcamps in Pakistan from 1951 on. As consequence several local branches and groups of SCI were founded in Asia.Confronted by the immense poverty in disadvantaged regions in Europe, Asia and Africa, SCI started to set up development aid program and recruiting qualified volunteers. The largest development programme was in the province of Tlemcen, West Algeria, after the independence war (1954-1962). From 1962 till 1968 SCI rebuilt the village Beni Hamou, set up a medical service and community development like primary teaching for the district of Sebdou.

East-West (1955)

Despite the Cold War SCI looked for an exchange Eastern bloc. As non-communist organisation, SCI volunteers took part in a workcamp during 5th World Youth Festival in Warsaw (Poland) in 1955. From then on workcamps were co-organised with socialist volunteer organisation in Poland (1955), GDR (1956), USSR (1958), Hungary (1964), Czechoslovakia (1964), and Bulgaria (1981). This contatcts were intensified in the 70s. 1972 SCI set up East West commission in order to facilitate volunteer exchange and to improve co-operation with partner organisations in socialist countries.With the political shift in Eastern Europe new SCI initiatives started since 1990.

Reorientation (1969)

In a row of seminars, workshops and meetings from 1969 on, the political implication of SCI in society were reviewed. As consequence SCI abandon the developmental aid approach as one of the main purpose of workcamps. The social and political awareness rising for and through international volunteers got focus in most activities of SCI. In particular the North-South reorientate to the concept of development education and solidarity. E.g. several international campaigns (1985-1992) for the independence of Namibia were organise, which was followed by an international refugee campaign (1994-1997).The reorientation lead to further standardisation in international volunteer exchange. In the late 70s a decentralised volunteer placement system for workcamps was introduced, while the North-South and East-West exchange were centralised by European and International Co-ordination of SCI. The latter was decentralised in the mid 90s.

International working groups (1997)

With the reorientation in the 70s, SCI converted its structure with international and regional secretariats to and international coordination with working groups with focus on a particular region or interest area. In 1997 major constitutional change introduced a status for working groups, which are approved now every year. Regional working groups exists for Africa, Asia and Latin America (Aba Yala) and South Eastern Europe (SAVA). The other working groups focused on the following topics:
* Immigration & refugee (since 1970) e.g. European Centre for Immigration
* East-West exchange (since 1972) e.g. Group of Action together in Europe (GATE)
* Gender issue (since 1983) e.g. WIN
* Conscientious Objection (1984-1990)
* Youth and Unemployment (since 1985) YUWG
* North-South Exchange (since 1987): e.g. SEED
* Long Term Volunteering (since 1989): e.g. LTRC
* Environmental issues (since 1998)
* Human Rights (since 1998)

List of SCI Branches & Groups [for addresses of SCI branches see [ Website of SCI International coordination] ]

SCI divides between full member with "branches"-status and associated members with "group"-status. The international committee of SCI decides about the status based on the national constitution, organisation and infrastructure of its members. The national branches can have their own names, when they state "branch of SCI" in their documents. The following tables gives an overview on all branches and groups of SCI. The beginning of activities often refers to the first workcamp organised by or in co-operation with SCI.


The organisation has consultative status with the Council of Europe, operational relations with UNESCO and is a member of:
*CCIVS (Coordinating Committee of International Voluntary Service Organisations)
*YFJ (Youth Forum Jeunesse)
*UNITED for Intercultural Action - a European network against nationalism, racism, fascism

In 1987, SCI was awarded the title of Messenger of Peace given by the United Nations, in acknowledgement of its efforts to promote peace and understanding.

Full members status is held to the European Youth Forum (YFJ) which operates within the Council of Europe and European Union areas and works closely with both these bodies.


*Ethelwyn Best, Bernhard Pike: "International Voluntary Service for Peace 1920-1946", George Allen and Unwin, London, 1948
*Arthur Gillette : "One million volunteers: the story of volunteer youth service", Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, A pelican original, 1968, 258 p. [ on-line]
* Hélène Monastier, Alice Brügger: "Paix, pelle et pioche, Histoire du Service Civil International", Editions du Service civil international, Switzerland, 1966
*SCI : "Service Civil International 1920-1990 - 70 years of Voluntary Service for Peace an Reconciliation", Verdun, 1990


External links

* [ SCI official website]
* [ SCI Peace related website]
* [ International Archives of SCI]

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