Last month the AFS world came together in Paris for a remarkable string of events: the AFS World Congress meeting (3-6 Nov.), the AFS Returnee Day (7 Nov.), the “100 Years Young!” AFS Youth Workshop and Symposium at the UNESCO headquarters (5-9 Nov.), the AFS Global Intercultural Education Symposium “Learning to Live Together – from Ideas to Action” also in the UNESCO buildings (8 Nov.), the AFS Centennial Reception and Gala Dinner at the Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile Hotel (8 Nov.), and the Centennial Tour in France and Belgium (9-12 Nov.).
The AFS global network met in Paris to honour the courage, spirit, vision and legacy of the founders – the World War I and II ambulance drivers of the American Field Service, who later transformed the American Field Service from a wartime volunteer humanitarian aid programme into a ground breaking international secondary school student exchange programme. The legacy of the Drivers, AFS Intercultural Programs, remains committed to serving others through the 43.000 AFS volunteers supporting our programmes world wide. The events in Paris not only honoured the past, they also focused on celebrating the present, and on exploring and shaping the future, the direction, the thinking and the impact of AFS as we look ahead to the next 100 years. The Centennial of AFS is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build visibility and affiliation within the AFS global community, as well as with external AFS friends and supporters.
Courage, volunteerism and learning have been constants throughout the history of AFS, no matter how much their manifestation has changed to meet the needs of the times. Always having our three key areas in mind – intercultural learning, programme growth and volunteer engagement – the World Congress in Paris – the city where the American Field Service was born – focused on the form that these constants can take to meet the needs of the 21st century; adapting our programmes when needed; creating more—and different types of—volunteer engagement, and strengthening our identity as an educational organisation.
Leadership from almost all 59 the AFS Partner Organisations and Affiliates from around the world were present in Paris. EFIL was represented by its Secretary-General and various Members of the EFIL Board of Directors attended the World Congress and/or some of the Centennial events in Paris in different capacities. EFIL staff was well represented at the Dinner in Brussels, part of the well attended post World Congress tour organised by the two Belgian AFS Organisations, AFS Vivre sans Frontière and EFIL. EFIL was in charge of the last day of the tour, which included a visit to the European Parliament and the Parlamentarium in Brussels. Visitors were welcomed by MEP Ulrike Lunacek, an AFS returnee herself.