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ARCHIVE HIGHLIGHTS: U.S. and International Work Camps

ARCHIVE HIGHLIGHTS: U.S. and International Work Camps

Work camps were a powerful tool for peacebuilding, which AFSC adopted from a European movement founded by Pierre Ceresole during WW I. From 1934 to 2008, we engaged young people in work camp experiences that lasted a weekend, a summer, or a year. Through hard physical work, quiet reflection, and cooperative living, participants earned the right to share in the life of the community, and seek constructive, non-violent solutions to problems in the surrounding region.

The Archives has abundant materials on this subject, many in the voices of the campers themselves. Camp logs include essays, poems, drawings, jokes, plays, and accomplishments. They also provide a first-hand record of many places where partnerships helped relieve invisible suffering. Philosophical essays by movement leaders, such as Dave Richie, reveal the underpinnings of the program. Brochures and a 1950 film show how we appealed to idealistic youth.

Throughout the collection, key points recur: (1) Taxing physical labor is good for the spirit; it breaks down race and class barriers. (2) Leaving one’s “comfort zone” to live and work among others helps lead to peace. (3) Silent contemplation is valuable, even essential, when a community is working physically.