The AFSC was founded in 1917 as a combined effort by American members of the Religious Society of Friends to assist civilian victims of World War I. AFSC has more than nine decades of experience building peace in communities worldwide, having worked throughout the world in conflict zones, in areas affected by natural disasters, and in oppressed communities to address the root causes of war and violence.
AFSC’s mission grew from the need to provide pacifists an alternative to military service. The Committee sent men and women to France to provide care and shelter for refugees from World War I. After the war, the AFSC worked in Russia, Central and Eastern Europe fighting famine through agricultural reconstruction and child feeding programmes. Similarly, after World War II, the Committee supported civilian reconstruction efforts across Europe and in India, China and Japan. It has mobilised relief and rehabilitation workers in many subsequent conflict areas, supporting civilians on both sides of conflict. For example, during the Vietnam War, AFSC developed programs to help children and provided medical supplies and artificial limbs to civilians in both North Vietnam and South Vietnam. Over the last few decades, AFSC has established aid programmes in developing countries to address the disparity between rich and poor nations and to relieve the tensions that lead to violent conflict. In the US, AFSC conducts programmes to change government policy at the federal and state levels, and seeks to educate, train and advocate on behalf of different communities on issues around peace building, social justice and immigrant rights.
China has always been a central part of AFSC’s work. In the 1940’s, the AFSC provided support to the Friends Ambulance Unit, a Quaker effort which consisted of over 150 volunteer ambulance drivers and medical personnel from Britain, America, Canada, and China who provided emergency care and comfort to Chinese citizens affected by war. From the 1950’s to the 1970’s, AFSC lobbied for China’s inclusion in the United Nations, and for the United States to recognize the People’s Republic of China. From the 1980’s until present, AFSC has engaged in a variety of different programmes to promote better channels of communication between China and other countries, especially the US and Southeast Asian countries. These programs have focused mainly on economic development, empowerment of women, migration, conflict resolution, and sustainable development.