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60 years ago: Gandhi in Italy

Two members of the Pacifist Youth Action Group, hitch-hiking to India to spend a period at a Gandhian project, stopped en route to join an international workcamp undertaking post-war reconstruction in Italy. Then, as now, such work both deals with some of the legacy of war and also – by its international co-operative nature – helps to undermine the causes of future wars. They sent back a report to Peace News.

Construction – not destruction – is the battle-cry in Affile.

Service Civil International has invaded Affile, 80km from Rome, but this is an invasion with a difference. Affile, which was once a battlefield, is now being assaulted with bricks and shovels, sledgehammers and barrows. Construction not destruction is the new battle-cry as young people from many nations set forth with heavy boots and light hearts.

The founder of SCI was Pierre Ceresole of Switzerland, who after the 1914-1918 war looked for some practical way to implement what he preached: a positive and constructive alternative to force of arms. He was inspired by the work of the Quakers during the war and he volunteered to work in an international team in devastated areas. Thus arose SCI which has its HQ in France and branches in 13 countries and aims to ‘carry out work of public usefulness and thus provide men and women of good will... with a sound system of training in mutual help, voluntary discipline and comradeship’.

Who are these young people who travel from all parts of the globe to labour in the heat and dust of Affile? They range from students to shop assistants and doctors. Most have more than one motive in coming but they have in common the aspiration of Pierre Ceresole: to give something of themselves to humanity, to put into practice their ideals of trying to build a better world, to work for a real peace and not just preach.

Amongst the volunteers there is a real spirit of unity and purpose, of achievement, however small this may be in relationship to the needs of the world of which they are conscious. We are doing something, we are getting together, and when we return to our own lands we will have a greater understanding of other people and their problems, and feel that we can perhaps contribute more to human betterment and international understanding.

In how many organisations would one find a magistrate, anarchists, social workers, teachers, students, pacifists and a member of a military academy sitting to eat together? Here, Israeli and Arab work together to belie the forces which seek to divide them.

From a report by Ian Dixon and David Graham in the 5 October 1956 issue of Peace News. The British branch of SCI was, and is, International Voluntary Service (IVS). Buried Treasure is compiled by Albert Beale, author of Against All War: fifty years of Peace News 1936–1986.