History 1948

After the Second World War many non-governmental agencies all over Europe began to be active in reconstruction and in bringing relief to the many refugees forced to flee their homelands. For instance the Christian Movement for Peace (CMP) which had started in 1923 as a way to create reconciliation between French and German Christians adopted workcamps. Very many new organisations sprang up, many of which are still with us – Concordia France in 1950, IJGD Germany in 1948, MS Denmark as early as 1944 and Jeunesse et Reconstruction (France). In 1949 International Christian Youth Exchange (ICYE) was founded in the USA to bring about reconciliation between US citizens and Germans using medium-long term family stays and local voluntary service. The programme was adopted by other countries and ICYE (now “Cultural” rather than “Christian”) has grown into a global network with several branches in Africa.

In 1947 some of these organisations had grouped themselves together to create a ”Council for Education and Reconstruction”. Internationally it was becoming apparent that some form of structure was required to allow the growing number of these agencies to come together and cooperate with each other.

A great help in this direction came from UNESCO. During 1947 several discussions took about the ways to coordinate and upscale the efforts of volunteering in the field of reconstruction and reconciliation. This led to the organisation of a conference on work-camps in October 1947 where the need for a co-ordination was expressed, followed by the International Work-camp Organizations Conference on 22-23 April 1948, at UNESCO Headquarters. Delegates from 18 NGOs attended (1), coming both from Western and Eastern Europe and from the USA. Observers representing European and the United States Governments, and international youth movements, were also present.

At this Conference the Coordinating Committee for International Work-Camps, usually known as CoCo was proposed and accepted.

Workcamps were defined as “Small international groups of young volunteers who work and live together, in order to create an atmosphere of international understanding to preserve peace in the world”.

After its establishment, CoCo functioned as a coordinating centre, providing information about opportunities to volunteer and acting as an interface for the different member organisations. From the start, CoCo was given office space by UNESCO.

CoCo’s main focus was always the quest to achie- ve “change in the minds of men” by bringing to- gether people of different backgrounds. A concrete work project has of course its own timetable and objectives. At the same time the project serves as a catalyst for dialogue as it provides an opportunity to work together according to each person’s abili- ty and to practise living together. In such situations volunteers experience a new reality which can chal- lenge their habits and convictions as well as those of the local community.