At present, 25 Action Reconciliation Service for Peace volunteers work in the USA – most of them in major cities such as Boston, New York and Philadelphia on the Eastern Seaboard or Chicago in the Midwest. There are also some ARSP projects in rural areas – such as the residential community in Innisfree (Virginia), where people with and without disabilities live together. The ARSP branch office is located in Philadelphia.
ARSP peace service in the USA represents a unique opportunity to discover life behind the scenes of a multifaceted country, thereby losing one’s own prejudices and stereotypes. Many projects that ARSP volunteers are involved in work with people living on the fringes of US society. These include homeless people in New York, women and children who have become victims of domestic violence and live in women’s shelters and undocumented immigrants. Roughly half of all volunteers work in projects associated with Jewish communities, caring for elderly survivors of the Shoah or participating in educational work against anti-Semitism.
The first US volunteers came to Europe immediately after the continent was liberated from National Socialism by the Allied Forces. US volunteers helped rebuild a devastated Europe. The first contacts to ARSP date from this time, with Quaker and Methodist churches playing an especially prominent role. In 1968, US peace churches and the United Church of Christ approached ARSP and asked for German volunteers to be sent to the USA so that peace service would not remain a one-way street. During the 1960s and up until the late 1980s, ARSP volunteers worked mainly in projects that joined with socially disadvantaged minorities to demand social justice. Partner projects such as the Farm Labour Organizing Committee (FLOC), a trade union that organises Mexican migrant workers, combined concrete demands for fair pay and better working conditions with social criticism. The international peace movement of the 1980s was another example of a transnational network that ARSP volunteers participated in: the movement saw US peace groups, ARSP volunteers and German peace groups work together. Community organising projects – still very much relevant today – are another such example. ARSP volunteers have long since exported community organising strategies to Europe.
It took much longer for the first ARSP volunteers to work in Jewish institutions. The USA is home to the largest Jewish community outside of Israel, and many members of this community have some link to Europe – about 150,000 Jews were able to escape persecution by the National Socialist regime by emigrating from Europe to the USA. It took years of confidence building before partner projects in Jewish communities stated that they were willing to work with volunteers from Germany. Today, these projects have become an essential element in ARSP’s activities in the USA.
The USA are part of ARSP’s international programme for volunteers from Germany.