AFSers around the world had a lot to be proud of on International Volunteer Day, especially since they are part of an incredible volunteer legacy stretching back more than 100 years! AFS has been a volunteer-driven organization from the very beginning, when A. Piatt Andrew founded the American Ambulance Field Service as a volunteer ambulance corps in 1915. The AFS volunteers saw a clear need for humanitarian work amidst the violence of World War I, and took action transporting wounded soldiers in Europe. In two World Wars, less than 5,000 AFS volunteers were able to save the lives of more than 1,000,000 individuals; an incredible accomplishment for such a small group!
After witnessing the devastation of two World Wars, the AFS volunteers were determined to carve out an impactful new role for the organization in peacetime. In 1946 they created a program dedicated to improving international understanding through secondary school student exchanges. Over the years the AFS programs continued to grow and adapt, becoming increasingly more international and eventually creating the worldwide intercultural learning and exchange organization we know today. In its many iterations AFS has remained dedicated to creating a more just and peaceful world, and will continue to find relevant ways to accomplish this mission moving forward.
Throughout its long history, AFS volunteers have sustained the organization and also helped it evolve. From the earliest AFS volunteers who drove ambulances over shell-pocketed roads, to our current volunteers who lead workshops, support host families, and help foreign students adjust to life in their new communities, AFS volunteers have continuously galvanized and shaped AFS, driving it into the future.
To commemorate this long history of volunteerism, AFS Intercultural Programs developed a free curriculum aligned with UNESCO Global Learning standards for secondary school classrooms worldwide. The Volunteers: Americans Join World War I, 1914-1919 helps students analyze the history of World War I through the lens of volunteer service. The curriculum also aims to continue the legacy of volunteerism established during World War I by organizations like AFS by encouraging students to engage in local, regional, and international service. Learn more and download the curriculum at thevolunteers.afs.org.
Use and share this important and relevant tool with educators in your communities, to help spread the word about the significant legacy of AFS and the important impact our volunteers are still making around the world today!
This post has been written by Nicole Milano, Head Archivist and Historical Publications Editor at AFS Intercultural Programs
All items are courtesy of the Archives of the American Field Service and AFS Intercultural Programs, and cannot be reproduced outside the guidelines of U.S. Fair Use (17 U.S.C.,Section 107) without advance permission.