Pierre Cérésole was the founder of the SCI (Service Civil International) and its international branches, including the IVS (International Voluntary Society) in Great Britain. Here, IVS explores his life.
Born 17 August, 1879 in Switzerland to a wealthy family, Cérésole was a bright and gifted young man with an aptitude for mathematics. After graduating as an engineer, Cérésole worked for a short period at a manufacturing company. Feeling unfulfilled by this work, Cérésole left to travel the world and he paid his way by taking up manual labor work. This hard work, with pick and shovel was to become very useful for Cérésole’s later work. By the beginnings of World War 1, Cérésole had forgone his family’s inheritance, giving it to the state.
A conscientious objector during World War 1, Cérésole opposed any support of the armed forces, including paying defence tax. This decision was to land Cérésole his first stint in prison and it was not to be his last brush with the law.
In 1919 Cérésole decided to devote himself to peace and social justice work. Seeing the aftermath of the first ‘Great War’, Cérésole saw a unique opportunity to recruit the young men who had served in the armed forces to rebuild war torn Europe.
Beginnings of SCI – Service Civil International
Cérésole recruited a number of volunteers from both sides of the conflict and set off to Esnes, near Verdun. This devastated area had been the site of a battle in the War. Many of the volunteers were German and Austrian, eager to work as a form of compensation to France. Together this group managed to clean up the area and rebuild new houses for the villagers.
Following up on his success in France, Cérésole again assembled volunteers to help in his native Switzerland, this time rebuilding areas that had suffered devastation after avalanches. Awareness of SCI as a prevailing peace organisation began to grow.
In 1928, Cérésole again raised the call for action and volunteers from 17 countries answered him. This time he led the group to Lichtenstein, which had suffered a series of Rhine-floods. Between the years of 1929 and 1938, 32 such work camps were held in France, England and Switzerland alone!
Meeting Gandhi and International Projects
Cérésole’s compelling calls for social justice eventually led to his crossing of paths with Mahatma Gandhi, whose ideas mirrored that of Cérésole and the two met as ‘brothers’. From the years of 1934 to 1937 Pierre travelled to the Bihar region of India to help with the catastrophe that had struck the country in the form of earthquakes. Pierre and his three acquaintances worked as ‘diplomats, architects, bricklayers and labourers’, helping the populace recover. Rajendra Prasad, the President of the Congress Party and future President of the Indian Union said, “The simple fact that European people, ‘sahibs’, are doing this type of humble work with Indian people is as such a revolution which is astounding for the passer by and which gives all its meaning and its value to the project”
The outbreak of the Second World War
Upon hearing of the war, and unwilling to watch Europe destroy itself for a second time, Cérésole illegally entered Nazi Germany, seeking to meet with the German high command and call for an end to the war. Unfortunately, he was captured and placed in prison. Cérésole died on the 23rd of October 1945, shortly after witnessing the end of the war.
After the Second World War, the SCI went from strength to strength, solidifying its reputation as an international organisation for peace.
Cérésole was a true visionary, born before his own time. He fought for many things that we today take for granted and did his best to improve the world for his fellow man.
IVS is still upholding Cérésole’s vision and fighting for social justice in over 60 countries around the world today. If you want to join in and help us spread peace then please get in touch.