One hundred years ago the American Field Service ambulance drivers in World War I dared to create change by transforming the very nature of volunteerism. Leaving the comfort of their homes, families, friends, schools and careers, these brave young men crossed an ocean to support victims of a devastating war more than 3,600 miles away. Their selflessness not only saved thousands of lives, it helped launch the international humanitarian aid movement of the 20th century.
In 1946, the AFS drivers dared to create change once again by transforming AFS from a wartime volunteer humanitarian aid program into a groundbreaking international secondary school exchange program with a noble vision: to help build a more peaceful world by promoting understanding among cultures.
The AFS Centennial celebrates the courage, spirit and vision of our founders—the volunteer AFS drivers of both World Wars. Our 100th anniversary tribute, which was held in Paris, France, where AFS began, honored the creativity and foresight of these committed changemakers, the original creators and beneficiaries of the AFS effect.
Held in November 2014, the Centennial Celebrations attracted more than 1,200 AFSers and supporters, representing 69 countries. Throughout the AFS World Congress meetings, the first international AFS Returnee Day and the AFS Gala Festivities, it was clear that AFSers are still inspired by our beloved motto and song taken from an ancient Sanskrit proverb:
Walk together, talk together, all ye peoples of the earth; then and only then shall ye have peace
But AFSers of all ages also know that this proverb represents only the first phase of our journey.
Since we started singing those words more than 50 years ago, AFS has evolved into an international education organization that provides enriched intercultural learning experiences through global study abroad programs, volunteerism and structured learning methods and reflection. By linking our “learning to live together” philosophy to the defining global issues facing humanity, the AFS Vision 2020 goals reaffirm and reinforce our dedication to prepare, build and empower an inclusive community of global citizens.
This commitment was reconfirmed to the world at the inaugural AFS Youth and Global Intercultural Education Symposiums held under the patronage of UNESCO at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris on November 8, 2014. At the symposiums, young AFSers engaged global luminaries in peace-building and education. Their agenda: to explore specific actions that learning to live together requires. These thought leaders also questioned who sets the agenda for educating global citizens and what values should prevail in this process.
So today, we would probably refer to the AFS drivers, and the many thousands of other volunteers in both World Wars, as intercultural pioneers and compassionate global citizens willing to work across cultural, language and national boundaries to serve people in need.
We sincerely thank our outgoing Chair of the AFS Board of Trustees Christian Kurtén for his dedication and steady leadership for the past five years. And we offer a heartfelt thank you and congratulations to the AFS participants, alumni, volunteers, families, educators, schools and staff for remaining true to the 100-year legacy of our founders and their vision to transform lives through international exchange. We believe the AFS drivers would be proud of the growing AFS global community dedicated to fostering a more tolerant, respectful and interconnected world.