Quaker Voluntary Service is part of a long history of Quaker action and witness in the world. We want to honor that legacy and help our young adults see and frame where they fit into this story.
In this second video of our Quaker Service Testimonies video series, Pat Hunt shares about her lifetime of service working with AFSC international workcamp programs in many countries around the world, during and after WWII.
My name is Patricia Hunt, but I am called Pat by everybody. I live now at Kendal, which is a continuing care retirement community. I was born in Alberta, Canada, a family of four daughters of a pioneer farmer, who really would have been glad to have some sons to carry on. But as it has evolved, we’ve all one by one come to the United States and now live primarily on the East Coast. I started off through my early years in Seattle, Washington through high school after we left Alberta and ended up at Swarthmore College, which was my first step into becoming connected to Quakers.
Well, again through my brother-in-law, David, I learned that Clarence, who was then general secretary of the American Friends Service Committee, was in Mexico with his family to consider a possible program to meet the needs of Spanish refugees, who had fled to Mexico because of the civil war in Spain, and needed a translator. So I was happily recruited and got to know the family. Clarence took me under his wing. When I got back to the Swarthmore College, I was invited to AFSC events.
When I graduated from Columbia in ’47, I went to Finland under AFSC. I expected to spend a summer in the workcamp and come back to a job that I’d been offered as a result of my fieldwork, but the workcamp really I would say was my life-changing moment. At that point Finland, you may know, had suffered severely from the German war. They were caught between Germany and Russia, and they first had Russian invasion. Then they had German invasion.
And on the departure of the German troops in the last days of the war, the policy was a scorched earth policy. And I had heard that term but didn’t realize it meant every telephone pole, every well with landmines in it, every field, and the bridges destroyed. And this was in far Lapland. And as a result, the people had fled. To return to their little villages way off in this wild north, or wilderness north, the men coming back to start rebuilding their houses would be blown up by the mines that were in the wells or in the fields. So this was a double blow to a widow who lost even her husband who’d survived the war.
Just chronologically, after Finland, I was asked by AFSC to become a staff coordinator of the international workcamp program in Europe. I did that from ’47, which was the summer I was in Finland, through to ’49, two years. And in that period, I was the coordinator with the other peace workcamp organizations in Europe.
The workcamp movement started in Switzerland in between the two world wars by Pierre Ceresole, a pacifist. This was his effort to have an alternative service that was not under the military but equally as disciplined and as hard work and as committed as somebody who had gone to military—instead of under military, under civilian, the service civil. So it was civil service, and their model was pas des paroles mais des actes, meaning not words but deeds. This organization had branches in six or eight of the European countries, including England, and already had often had short-term, like one- or two-week, workcamps that coincided with workers’ holidays. So they often had working men primarily and Schwestern, or sisters as they called them.
In Korea, we started the relief program, which was a five-year rehabilitation of a provincial hospital that had been bombed by the U.S. Air Force in its war against the North Koreans. Then our work there was half the hospital work and North Korean refugee women, primarily, and children, widows. And I was working on the refugee side.
One year I worked part-time to set up the visa program, 1960 to ’61. The visa program was building on the international workcamps but recognizing the impracticality more and more of young people paying their own way, or alternatively AFSC having enough money to fund travel and expenses.
I think the design that you have come up with in QVS meets so many of the challenges. One, as I said before, useful work, and it is not physical labor now. But it’s skill, commitment, dedication, management, organization, things that you kind of grow up with in our society and our education obviously enhances. At the same time, making it practical so that people of all levels of income can participate.
That these organizations are willing to or need them as staff acknowledges that they’re valuable enough to be paid for in a regular way, not full salary but enough at least to enable them to be living together and working. So I think there’s a dignity in that on both sides, both the young person knowing that they are needed because they get money.
And secondly that the organization takes it seriously, that they’re here with a regular job to be done and requiring performance and standard of performance, which is important so that you live in this real world of the adult working world. It’s a step forward for a person to put on their resume. They’ve done something very practical.
But at the same time, the living together in a community of Fellows so that there’s a chance for worship together, talking together, listening to each other’s experiences, enhancing what you’ve l earned, bringing your problems to each other. I think that in itself is another learning, growing, and, in a way, supportive experience. I think all of that leads to an experience that is enhancing the individuals—and any of them who happen to be also Quakers certainly enhancing the Society of Friends by bringing this kind of leadership in.
There’s a new era ahead. We’ve got to face the challenge of what’s now here. And this is where we need young people with the energy and the insight and the knowledge in our meetings and in our society. And I think QVS is a hotbed of revolution, I hope constructive revolution because we really need some basic changes.
Filming by Oskar Castro
Interview by Christina Repoley and Oskar Castro
Transcription by Erica Schoon