Service Civil International

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
SCI Logo

Web :

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 Cérésole. It is also known as International Voluntary Service in a number of English-speaking countries and as Voluntary Service International in Ireland.


Cleaning a market in Cambodia

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 – 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 stakeholders 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,[1] Pierre Cérésole, a Swiss radical pacifist initiated a peace project with volunteers from different countries in France.

From reconciliation to emergency aid (1920)[edit]

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 built temporary homes for the villagers and cleared the farm land.

In 1924, Cérésole 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)[edit]

Pierre Cérésole sitting amidst children at Brynmawr

In the first decade of SCI, workcamps were used relief services for regions affected by natural disasters. In 1931, the 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, Cérésole got acquainted with Gandhi, who invited him to bring SCI to India. In 1934, he travelled to India in order to organize workcamps for a region affected by the 1934 Nepal–Bihar earthquake. 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 to give humanitarian help for refugee children during the Spanish Civil war (1936-1939). Evacuation services and 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 War (1958-1962). Besides those two projects, humanitarian help never got any further importance in SCI.

International organisation (1948)[edit]

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 (such as set up 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)[edit]

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 since 1951. 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 Algerian War Independence (1954-1962). Simone Tanner Chaumet worked in Algeria as an SCI volunteer. 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)[edit]

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)[edit]

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. Examples several international campaigns (1985-1992) for the independence of Namibia were organised, which was followed by an international refugee campaign (1994-1997).

The reorientation lead to further standardisation in international volunteer exchange. In the late 1970s, 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)[edit]

With the reorientation in the 1970s, 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 and refugee (since 1970) such as the European Centre for Immigration
  • East-West exchange (since 1972) such as the Group of Action together in Europe (GATE)
  • Gender issue (since 1983) such as the WIN
  • Conscientious Objection (1984-1990)
  • Youth and Unemployment (since 1985) YUWG
  • North-South Exchange (since 1987): such as the SEED
  • Long Term Volunteering (since 1989): such as the LTRC
  • Environmental issues (since 1998)
  • Human Rights (since 1998)

List of SCI branches and groups[2][edit]

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, which 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.

Continent Country Organisation Begin of activities[3] Branch since Remark
Africa Algeria SCI Algeria 1948 1952 Dissolved 1954
Mauritius SVI Mauritius 1960 1981
Nigeria VWAN Nigeria 1963 (2009) SCI Group
Asia Bangladesh SCI Bangladesh 1962 1972
Mainland, China SCI China 2015 SCI Group
Hong Kong, China SCI Hong Kong 2006 (2011) SCI Group
India SCI India 1934 1956
Japan SCI Japan 1958 1964
Jordan Bridge of Peace (2011) SCI Group
Malaysia SCI Malaysia 1964 1992
Nepal SCI Nepal 1961 1994
Pakistan SCI Pakistan 1951 1997 SCI Group
South Korea SCI South Korea 1965 ?
Sri Lanka SCI Sri Lanka 1960 1994
Australia Australia IVP Australia 1988 (2013) SCI Branch
Europe Albania PVN Albania 2005 (2009) SCI Group
Austria SCI Austria 1947 1949
Azerbaijan AYAFE Azerbaijan 1997 1997
Belarus New Group Belarus 1992 (2000) SCI Group
Belgium SCI Belgium 1947 1948
VIA Belgium 1946 1977
Bulgaria CVS Bulgaria 1974 2004
Croatia VCZ Croatia 1964 2007
Denmark 1948 1954 Dissolved 1980
Finland KVT Finland 1947 1981
France SCI France 1920 1936
Germany SCI Germany 1946 1948
Great Britain International Voluntary Service 1931 1948
Greece SCI Hellas 1944 1992
Hungary Utilapu Hungary 1966 2002
Ireland VSI Ireland 1965 1973
Italy SCI Italy 1945 1948
Kosovo Gaia 2010 (2014) SCI Branch
Macedonia Center for Intercultural Dialogue 2006 (2011) SCI Group
Moldova AVI Moldova 1962 (2004) SCI Group
Netherlands VIA Netherlands 1941 1948
Northern Ireland IVS Northern Ireland 1972 1987 Dissolved around 2007
Norway ID Norway 1939 1948
Poland OWA Poland 1947 1999
Romania SCI Romania 1991 1998
Serbia VCV Serbia 2004 2008
Slovenia Voluntariat SCI Slovenia 1963 1998
Spain SCI Catalonia 1982 1989
SCI Madrid 1937 2001
Sweden IAL Sweden 1936 1969
Switzerland SCI Switzerland 1924 1948
Ukraine SVIT Ukraine 2000 2009
Slovakia INEX Slovakia 1993 ?
Latin America Brazil SVI Brazil 2008 (2009) SCI Group
Mexico SCM Mexico ? 2010
North America United States of America SCI-IVS USA 1956 1963?


Ecological work in Sweden

The organisation has consultative status with the Council of Europe, operational relations with UNESCO and is a member of:

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 and Reconciliation, Verdun, 1990


  1. ^ See (in French) Rencontres de Bilthoven.
  2. ^ for addresses of SCI branches see Website of SCI International coordination Archived 2008-05-12 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ The begin of activities is referred to the official annual workcamp list of SCI International Coordination (SCI Archives Reference: CH NECFBV SCI 40001.2)

External links[edit]