Chapter 6: EDUCATION THROUGH SERVICE–East-West Workcamping
‘The establishment of East-West work-camping has been a collective effort. Through mutual concession and persistent trust, youth organizers in East and West alike have overcome the lethargy of their respective bureaucracies and methodological differences, not to mention their own personal suspicions. Like Columbus’s sailors, those negotiating the first exchanges ventured into uncharted seas with a sense of giddy drama. Yet gradually, and without disavowing their ideological affinities, the handful of pioneer organisations multiplied, bonds of friendship replaced earlier, solely business-like relations. The earth turned out not to be flat after all.
The number of volunteers taking part annually in East-West work-camping has not yet risen above a few thousand, yet it would be impossible to even a summary run-down of the projects that have taken place. One series will, therefore have to suffice to illustrate what has been achieved, the Tripartite Work-and-Study Project, known unglamorously as the ‘Tripe-Wasps’. In each of the three summers (1962-4) a work-and-study camp including one team from the USSR, UK and USA was organised, first in Britain, then in the Soviet Union and finally in America. Mornings were devoted to physical labour, afternoons to carefully prepared discussions. The AFSC, British Friends Service Council and Committee of Soviet Youth Organisations co-sponsored the services, each supplying 10 volunteers to each camp. Several volunteers attended all three camps.
The Tripartite Work & Study Projects wrought no radical re-orientation in the minds of volunteers. But that they could take place at all came as a surprise to some officials of the three sponsoring bodies. ‘The attitude of co-operation which does not hide differences and does not fear imperfections’ concluded an American volunteer, ‘is one of the most important experiences in the understanding that has developed. Understanding, after all, is not something that is acquired and preserved, but an active, restless thought process. Sometimes it is more perfect than others, but always it aims to strengthen the constructive relationship between men’.
Holding East-West workcamps has the advantage of placing participants squarely in the arena of the conflict they are attempting to allay. Russians find out that Republicans are not fire-spitting madmen and Americans see for themselves that kolkhozniki (collective farmers) are not down-trodden slaves.’
John Miller: ‘No Cloak, No Dagger’ Society of Friends, London, 1965
Russell Cleaver: ‘The Tripartite Work & Study Project’, The Friends’ Quarterly, London, January 1965
Margaret Rose: ‘One Camp, Three Nations, Many Friends’ Unesco Courier, Unesco, Paris, July-August 1965
Extracts from ‘One Million Volunteers’, the story of Volunteer Youth Service
By Arthur Gillette (a Pelican Original, 1968) (reproduced February 2002)