GeoVisions Blog

World War I Volunteers And Beyond

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Thu, Nov 11, 2010

Happy Veteran's Day!

This extremely short Blog post celebrates our Veterans, those who served and those who served and volunteered.

Veterans Day, here in the U.S., was established to commemorate the end of World War I.

AFS World War I VolunteersI served at AFS (The American Field Service) years ago and had the opportunity to interview many World War II AFS Volunteers, who basically drove ambulances on the field of war and I was able to walk part of the route the ambulances took from the field to the hospitals in Paris.  Of course, AFS was born from the volunteers of World War I.  I did a piece on those volunteers in 2007.  You can read it here.

My father died a few years ago, but not before he told me about being on a liberation team in Germany and the two camps he helped liberate near the end of World War II.  It took him almost 60 years to be able to talk about that experience.  On my desk, here in my office, I have a black and white photo of my Dad in his uniform and it is almost a habit that when I have to make a big decision, I look over at his photo for some strength...or guidance.

Our CEO, Kevin Morgan, wrote today on his Facebook page that "when my Dad died last year, I discovered he had been awarded the Bronze Star.  I got to read the citation describing him carrying wounded soldiers across the line of fire in Luxembourg. So, thanks to all the Veterans, who hopefully lead us to some kind of lasting peace!"

I think I'm happy ending this post right here.

Tags: AFS, History of Volunteering

Volunteer Abroad: An Exchange of Ideas and People

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Sun, Oct 25, 2009

Shaw once wrote, "If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas."

There are more organizations offering Voluntourism this year than last.  And more colleges and universities are providing their own volunteer experiences too.  That's always a good thing.  When I travel, I do my best to visit other organizations offering volunteer abroad or teach abroad programs.  And when I'm really stumped about what to do, how to respond to a crisis, I have found some them to be the best people to talk with about the problem.

The problem I have is with people wanting to exchange an apple with me rather than an idea.  I only really need one apple a day "to keep the doctor away" but I really need a lot of ideas.

If you type "exchanging ideas" in the little Google search bar on your Internet browser, two things come to mind.  1) You have a lot of time on your hands and 2) 5,440,000 results.  People are exchanging ideas on software features, hearing loss, medicine, art, and I even noticed someone called exchanging ideas a "circulation of knowledge."  If you type in "exchanging apples" a) you REALLY have too much time on your hands and b) most of the entries are either math related for grade school children or you'd better have an Apple computer.  But I guess, therein lies the point of Shaw's quote.

If, when we experience the miracle of spending time together we exchange computers or we learn that if Dick has one apple and Jane has one apple and after they trade apples, how many apples do Dick and Jane have?...we really don't walk away with much.  Unless I give you my old Mac Classic and you give me a new iMac.  But I doubt Shaw had any of that in mind.

Peace Corps LogoIn 1961, President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps with three simple goals:

Help the people of interested countries meet their need for trained men and women.
Help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
Help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

AFS Ambulance DriverIn 1914,  A. Piatt Andrew organized the American Field Service (AFS) whose mission was to transport wounded French soldiers.  By 1917, AFS had grown to 2,500 volunteers who had carried more than 500,000 wounded to hospitals.  127 AFS volunteers would lose their lives.

I have doubts that President Kennedy or Mr. Andrew were very keen on exchanging apples of any kind.  They exchanged ideas with others and you can see, here, only a couple of results.  They also believed in exchanging people, who could exchange THEIR ideas.  From there, the exchange never ends.

We continue to get testimonials from our volunteers who are exchanging ideas, in many cases exchanging sweat and tears, and whose lives and hearts have been changed forever and have changed the hearts and minds of their host communities forever.  It typifies what President Kennedy and Mr. Andrew knew would happen.  We are proud that you are a part of that.

I started this post with a quote.  I suppose I should end with one.  How 'bout Emerson.  "It is one of the most beautiful compensations in life...we can never help another without helping ourselves."

How many ideas have you shared today?  How many apples?

Tags: Reasons To Volunteer Abroad, AFS, Volunteering Abroad, Randy LeGrant, History of Volunteering

We Share AFS Roots...We All Do

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Thu, Feb 15, 2007

Last night I watched Fly Boys, a movie about U.S. volunteers traveling to France in 1914 to take part in World War I.  It’s a true story about the legendary Lafayette Escadrille, and tells the tale of America’s first fighter pilots.  The Lafayette Escadrille was a squadron (or Escadrille in French) of volunteer Americans established for active fighter pilot service on the Western Front.  Fittingly, the squadron was named after the Frenchman who served alongside George Washington.

Watching the movie, I slowly recalled that the U.S. did not even enter World War I until 1917.  For three years, American volunteers poured into France.

A group of AFS Ambulance drivers in WWI in France.Another volunteer organization operating in France during World War I was AFS—The American Field Service.  When you hear “AFS” today, you may know them as an international youth exchange organization, which is still active in more than 75 countries and is one of the largest volunteer based organization in the world…second only to the American Red Cross.  Back in World War I, you would have known them as volunteer ambulance drivers, recruited from colleges and universities around the U.S. to drive Ford Model T ambulances along the front lines, picking up dead and wounded soldiers.  One AFS driver wrote, “Though I did not want to kill I was willing to take a chance of being killed.”
Our global volunteer program here at GeoVisions has its roots in The American Field Service—the volunteer ambulance corps.  In fact, all global volunteer programs operating today owe gratitude to the AFS volunteer ambulance drivers in World War I.

I am lucky enough to have interviewed many former AFS volunteer drivers during my service there in 1992 and 1993.  Headquartered at an ancient château at 21 rue Raynouard in the Parisian suburb of Passy, the American Field Service had more than 800 volunteer ambulance drivers.

If you walk with me today in Passy, we would find an exclusive area of Paris, located in the 15th arrondissement on the Right Bank.  It is traditionally home to many of the city's wealthiest residents.  For Americans, we know that area best for being the home of Benjamin Franklin for the nine years that he lived in France during the American Revolutionary War.

A World War I AFS recruitment poster.Today at GeoVisions (and other such organizations), when we recruit college students to study or volunteer abroad, we go to colleges and put up posters and speak with students and their study abroad advisors.  From 1914-1917 the AFS actively recruited its drivers from the campuses of American colleges and universities with individual ambulance units made up exclusively of drivers from particular universities. There were Harvard units and Yale units among the hundreds of others, and they all worked without pay.  Ambulance driving required the volunteers to serve under extremely dangerous missions on the Western Front. In World War I alone there were 151 drivers with the AFS who were killed (21 of them from Harvard) and a number of others earned the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honor for their heroic actions.

Some of the AFS ambulance drivers who later became famous around the world were Dashiell Hammett, Ernest Hemingway, Archibald MacLeish, Sidney Howard, Maurice Ravel, Walt Disney and Ray Kroc.  And as I mention Hemingway, I am reminded that the primary character in A Farewell to Arms, like Hemingway himself, is wounded while serving as an ambulance driver in Italy and falls in love with his nurse in the hospital.  Several AFS drivers I interviewed met their future spouses in hospitals around Europe.

What would bring these young volunteers to the Front in World War I?  The automobile was so new that many of the young men had to learn to drive before they could serve.   Adventure, patriotism, doing what's right, signing up because others in the same school class signed up, and wanting to participate in what was of significance to the world at the time were all reasons for joining.

Here at GeoVisions, we hear many of the same reasons our volunteers want to help in Thailand, Vietnam, China, Peru, Argentina, Costa Rica, Namibia and other countries.

An AFS ambulance driver in WWI.As soon as World War I was over, returning drivers established homestay exchanges between American and French students hoping the cultural awareness would put an end to war.  But, when World War II broke out, AFS again provided ambulance service in France and North Africa.

I am proud to have been a very small part of the AFS and to have had the honor of meeting and interviewing two of the World War I and several of the World War II drivers.  You can imagine how proud I am of what we are doing at GeoVisions International with our global work and service programs.  But nothing makes me more proud than to see our volunteers abroad, walking the talk, rolling up their sleeves and making such a positive difference in the world.

One of the first published accounts of the American Field Service was written by Leslie Buswell in 1916 in a 155-page book…more a collection of letters sent from France.  I have included a photograph of Mr. Buswell below.  Quoting from Mr. Buswell’s book is a fitting ending to my monthly letter.

Leslie Buswell, AFS driver.“So the days pass ----Now, with the evening, comes, as often, a grateful time of stillness. I like to watch from my window the shadows lengthen as the sun leaves to them their part. A little later, when they have wholly obscured all detail, man will perhaps furtively begin some move to make the night unlovely --- but for the moment there is rest.”

“Sometimes --- when the day's work is done --- and there is a quiet hour here, I can understand now the lure of peace --- and so I am doubly grateful that those of you for whom I care most have chosen to work --- rather than to forget the struggle here. When I come back to you some day, we shall feel a greater peace and sympathy for knowing that with the same eagerness, if in different ways, we have tried to serve and to save those men whose heroism makes our best effort seem a very small thing.”

Leslie Buswell, 1916.  With the American Field Service in France.

Inspire the world, Inspire Yourself,

Randy LeGrant
Executive Director

Tags: AFS, Randy LeGrant, History of Volunteering