International Service began with a simple act of solidarity. In 1952, when storms caused extensive damage along the east coast of the UK, young people from the Netherlands volunteered for the clean up operation. The next year, storms struck again, this time in the Netherlands. 1,800 people were killed in flooding.
Following these storms in the Netherlands, the United Nations Association UK (UNA-UK) – an organisation set up to advocate for the development of the United Nations – was spurred into action. It recruited 11 UK volunteers who gave their time and energy to help repair the damage caused by the storm and rebuild communities. They referred to this as their 'international service programme'.
After this, our overseas support and development work became known as United Nations Association International Service (UNAIS) – a separate arm from the UNA-UK. In 1998, we separated from the UNA on an operational level and registered independently as a charity. In order to maintain our long and rich history, UNAIS is still our officially registered name. But in practice, our working name has remained International Service.
Our story began when people in the UK went to help those in another country rebuild their lives following devastation. The spirit of this act informs who we are today: we still bring people together to create change in the communities that face the greatest challenges.
Since International Service was formed, the world has changed dramatically, and so has our work.
From our initial focus of helping to rebuild post-war Europe, we broadened our scope in the 1960s and 1970s. Our volunteers worked across the world, from Thailand, to Greece, to Paraguay.
In the 1980s and 1990s, we focused our work in Latin America, West Africa, and the Middle East. Our skilled development workers spent 2-3 years sharing their knowledge with our project partners. In 1998, we became an independent charity.
In the 2000s, we continued to innovate. We recruited development workers from within developing countries. This 'south-to-south' approach allowed people to share knowledge and skills within their countries and regions and set in place the foundations for a more sustainable future.
In 2011, we returned to our roots. We were one of seven British development organisations to deliver the International Citizen Service (ICS) scheme, a UK government-funded programme that brought together young people aged 18-35 from the UK and overseas to tackle the causes of poverty in developing communities.
We now work in partnership with local organisations, communities and individuals. We know that local people understand far better the complexity of the problems facing their community, and by working together, we can solve them to achieve lasting change.
We have worked in the Occupied Palestinian Territories for over 50 years, including launching a Literacy and Adult Education Office at Birzeit University in 1976. In that time, literacy rates of people over 15 years old have increased from 47% to 96.9%.
For many people in developing countries, formal employment is not an option. That’s why so many people turn to small-scale production and enterprise to provide for themselves and their families.
Same Difference worked with children living in some of the most challenging circumstances, giving them the tools to express and deal with the trauma they had faced.
Our work brings Paralympic sport to more communities, and supports Paralympians to complete on a global stage.
In 2013, we collaborated with Notts County FC and Npower to support Paralympic sport in Burkina Faso.