by Daniel Obst, President & CEO, AFS Intercultural Programs
In August 1946, Stephen Galatti, one of the founders of AFS and a key figure in our organization’s history, asked “What, if any, is the position of the American Field Service in peacetime?” In 2020 this question stands before us with a renewed urgency and importance, even if in a rather different context.
The COVID-19 pandemic is making an unquestionably deep impact on the world. Its influence on AFS has been profound as well. We had to suspend all our exchange programs and reunite thousands of AFS participants with their families in their home countries. Coordinating with dozens of airlines, through flight cancellations and changes, charters, government-organized repatriation, challenges of domestic travel – AFS volunteers, board members and staff worked tirelessly for weeks. Their commitment to service has been a true inspiration and comfort. And their impact is impressive – in record time, almost 7,000 participants from 60 different countries were repatriated.
And I’m not surprised. While AFS is a very different organization than during WWI and WWII, our commitment to service and volunteerism has not changed. But today, we also must address Galatti’s question in the light of the current global crisis – what role will AFS play and how will we keep serving our participants and our communities?
One thing is clear: worldwide, AFS is doubling down on our commitment to educate more young people to become global citizens and provide them with transformational intercultural experiences. We have quickly launched a special online intercultural learning program, based on our AFS Global Competence Certificate, helping close to 6,000 AFSers reflect on their shared experience, continuing their intercultural learning and processing uncertainty of the current COVID-19 situation.
The pandemic forces us to think fresh and fast. We are in the process of creating new virtual learning opportunities for young people around the world and strengthening our program content to really focus on the profound personal growth our participants experience on our programs and providing them with social impact skills and instilling in them the confidence to be a leader.
In uncertain times especially, cultural exchange must continue and will. Thank you for standing with AFS and supporting our mission.