Friends have often tried to help those suffering as a result of war, poverty or natural disaster, or because of their beliefs. As well as dealing with immediate needs, they have often done what they could to help build futures that make such suffering less likely. They have sought to do this without discrimination and in ways that respect the recipients’ beliefs and way of life.
Missionaries and philanthropists over the centuries did much to develop the communities in which they lived. In the 20th century many Friends were caught up in conflicts, and much community development nowadays integrates peacebuilding with economic, educational and other initiatives.
Institutions of Relief and Service
Although Quakers were involved with relief work from their earliest days, it was not until the late nineteenth century that the first ‘official’ institution for relief was set up. Even then, such bodies tended to be disbanded when the immediate need was over. Only in the 20th century did Friends in several countries set up permanent Quaker service agencies, with relief as part of their work. Many Friends are also active in broader relief organisations such as Oxfam, which Quakers helped to establish.
Relief Given to Those Suffering for Their Beliefs
Quakers suffered widely for their beliefs in the 17th Century. Since then they have reached out to others suffering in a similar way, helping religious dissidents and political prisoners around the world.
Relief Given to Victims of Conflict
Quakers have long coupled their refusal to bear arms with the provision of relief to victims of conflict, regardless of which side they are on, if any. They have often remained involved long after hostilities have ceased, to help rebuild and develop devastated communities.
Relief in Response to Famine and Natural Disasters
Friends have a long history of responding to famine and other natural disasters. The Quaker response to the 19th century Irish potato famine was probably the first example of not only providing immediate relief but also supporting development to make future famine less likely. Today, relief and development go hand in hand wherever possible.
Relieving and Reducing Poverty
As well as responding to the acute needs of those suffering from the results of war or famine, Quakers have also taken a longer-term approach to reducing poverty.
Immigration and Refugees
Quakers believe that the testimony to equality should determine our treatment of migrants and asylum seekers. They have worked with refugees fleeing conflict or persecution, and have campaigned for fair treatment for migrants and refugees.
AFSC in WWII
From the outbreak of WWII until 1942, the American Friends Service Committee provided relief in southern France. When the US entered the war, American COs were prevented from serving abroad. They worked instead in Civilian Public Service Camps, some of which were run by the AFSC. AFSC gave considerable support to Interned Japanese-Americans.
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) was founded in 1917. It works with many partners, in the US and around the world, on conflict resolution and peacebuilding, alongside issues of economic, social and criminal justice. AFSC received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947, jointly with its British counterpart (then called the Friends Service Council).
Corder Catchpool (1883-1952) was a British Quaker and an absolutist conscientious objector who served time in prison during the First World War. He worked in Berlin between the wars, initially in relief and reparations, and later providing support for Jewish families persecuted by the Nazis.
Famine Relief Among Striking Miners in West Virginia and Pennsylvania
In the early 1920s, striking mine workers in West Virginia and Pennsylvania had been forced out of their homes and were living in tent cities. Welfare agencies had been pressurised by the mine operators into refusing to give aid. Quakers established a feeding programme for malnourished children and made clear their position that children should never be allowed to become the victims in such disputes.
Famine Relief in Ireland (1846 - 1850)
When Ireland suffered a terrible famine (1846-1850), Irish Friends appealed to Quakers in Britain and America to provide food and clothing. Soup kitchens were set up and a model farm was established to demonstrate efficient crop cultivation and help people to manage their holdings better. Altogether, during the Famine, Friends raised £200k in aid, a huge sum of money at the time.
Famine Relief Work in post-Revolutionary Russia 1921-1929
British and American Quakers played a small but vital role in the international relief efforts in response to the Russian famine of 1921. They were the first group on the ground, took the lead in famine relief around the area of Buzuluk, where they had worked during earlier famines, and remained until 1929 to help with reconstruction.
Famine Relief Work in Russia 1891-1929
Through the latter part of the 19th C and the early part of the 20th C, parts of Russia suffered a series of devastating crop failures resulting in widespread famine. Quakers repeatedly led relief efforts, but they struggled against resentment on behalf of both the Russian authorities and the public back home, and accusations that Russian troops were stealing supplies meant for civilians.
Floyd Schmoe (1895-2001) was born in Kansas but lived most of his life in the Pacific Northwest of the USA. He was both a forest ecologist and a marine biologist. In the course of relief work carried out in six separate wars, he was shot at, but never carried a gun.
Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU) in WWI
Quakers started the Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU) in 1914, at the beginning of the First World War. It was a way of contributing without bearing arms. Many Quakers were involved in its work, along with many non-Quakers. It worked with civilian and military hospitals, in France and Britain.
Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU) in WWII
When war began in September 1939, the Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU) was immediately re-formed, to provide opportunities for active service for conscientious objectors. They worked in Britain, mainland Europe and in Asia, providing relief and medical assistance of many kinds. FAU was wound up in 1946, after the war was over.
Friends Disaster Service
The Friends Disaster Services is a network of volunteers from across the USA that provides relief in the aftermath of natural disasters. The group is an outreach arm of the Evangelical Friends (or Friends’ Churches) in USA, but volunteers come from all branches of Friends. The FDS provides relief to any survivor, regardless of race, religion or ethnic persuasion.
Friends Relief Service in WWII
The Friends War Victims Relief Committee was revived for the fifth time late in 1940. A year later, it changed its name to the Friends Relief Service. Initially it focused on domestic relief in bombed out cities, but later it helped to provide civilian relief in mainland Europe. Its members were involved in the relief of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Friends Service Unit in Korea: 1952-57
In the aftermath of the Korean War (1950-53), The Friends Service Unit (FSU) – a joint arm of the British Friends Service Council (FSC) and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) – provided humanitarian and medical aid to refugees and others affected by the war.
Friends War Victims Relief Committee (FWVRC)
The Friends War Victims Relief Committee was an official arm of the Society of Friends in Britain, set up in times of war to relieve civilian distress in practical ways. The first FWVRC was set up in 1870, following the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. It was revived in Eastern Europe in 1876 and in the Balkans in 1912, and at the beginning of both World Wars. In 1941 its name was changed to the Friends Relief Service. In 1946, its work was taken over by the permanent Friends Service Council.
Friends War Victims Relief Committee in the Franco-Prussian War
The first official Friends War Victims Relief Committee (FWVRC) was set up in 1870, following the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. It undertook relief work among the civilian population of towns and villages devastated by the war. This was the first time the Quaker star - the badge of the Quaker relief worker - was used, and the policy of no discrimination between the "sides" in war was formally adopted.
Friends War Victims Relief Committee in WWI
The Friends War Victims Relief Committee was revived at the outbreak of the First World War with the aim of relieving civilian distress. It worked with refugees in the Netherlands and in France. After the USA entered the War, it worked with the newly-formed American Friends Service Committee in France, Serbia, Russia and Poland.
H Leslie Kirkley
H Leslie Kirkley, known as HLK, became General Secretary of OXFAM in 1951, and transformed it from a small local Oxford Committee into a leading national and international organisation, and one of the most widely respected aid agencies in the world. He was involved with many other charities, all supporting his vision for a fairer world.
Interaction with Tsarist Russia
(1698 - 1919) Several Quakers met Russian Tsars and their diplomats, and discussed many topics. There were significant impacts on Russian education, agriculture and health. Towards the end of the period Friends’ focus was on relief - for victims of wars, for communities suffering famine, and for minorities suffering because of their beliefs.
Involvement in the Middle East
The Quaker presence in the Middle East goes back to the 1860s, when the first Quakers from Maine, USA arrived in Lebanon and Palestine. A community of Friends grew around the schools in Ramallah and Brummana. The community has lived through many changes of rulers in that time, but has always striven to be a beacon of hope for the future.
Jerusalem and Gaza 1947 – 1950
Following the UN vote for a Partition Plan in 1947 to create independent Arab and Jewish states within Palestine, open war broke out in 1948. The war created a refugee crisis, both within Jerusalem and in Gaza. Quakers were at the forefront of relief efforts, and were among the first NGOs to work on behalf of the UN.
Kenya Friends Church Peace Teams: Resolving Conflict in Kenya After the 2007 Elections
After the violence surrounding the Kenyan elections of 2007, many Kenyans fled from their homes to refugee camps. Kenyan Quakers quickly set up a Friends Church Peace Team, led by Quaker Joseph Mamai. Early work concentrated on basic needs for food, water and shelter, but was soon followed by painstaking peace-building work: this eventually enabled many refugees to return to their homes in peace.
The Kindertransport scheme brought 10000 Jewish children to safety in Britain in 1938 and 1939, just before World War 2. British Quakers worked with British Jews to persuade Parliament to set up the scheme. German Quakers were largely responsible for arranging special trains and identifying the children and British Quakers and Jews found families to host them. Some went to Quaker families.
Les Secours Quakers – relief work in the south of France 1939-1945
When WWII broke out in 1939, the American Friends Service Committee was already active in the south of France. When America entered the war in 1942, Americans had to leave France, leaving behind a multinational group of volunteers – Les Secours Quakers - who fed and housed many refugees, helping many of them to escape France.
Origins of Oxfam (1942 - 1951)
In 1943, in response to wartime famine in Greece, Friends in Oxford helped to set up the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief . The following year, more than £10k was raised for the Greek Red Cross. Later, under the leadership of Quaker Lesley Kirkley, Oxfam became a major aid and campaigning organisation.
Peace Witness and Relief Efforts during the Vietnam War
Quaker action during the 1954-75 Vietnam War focused on three different areas – peaceful protest against the conduct of the war itself, counselling for American conscientious objectors of all faiths, and humanitarian aid to both North and South Vietnam. AFSC was also involved in many diplomats' conferences aimed at ending the war.
Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network (QARN)
In the UK, the Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network has worked on behalf of Refugees and Asylum Seekers since 2006, providing support, practical help and advocacy. They campaign nationally on the issues of indefinite detention of asylum seekers, detention of children and destitution.
Quaker Bolivia Link
Quaker Bolivia Link funds small community-initiated projects aimed at improving the quality of life of the Aymara people on the Altiplano in Bolivia, through community empowerment and the promotion of sustainable livelihoods. QBL receives support from Quaker groups in the US, Britain, Ireland and Germany.
Quakers and the Doukhobors
The Doukhobors were a Russian dissident sect who shared the Quaker commitment to pacifism. They also preferred to live as far as possible without interaction with external authority. Persecuted by the Russian authorities, they were helped by the Quakers to emigrate to Canada at the end of the 19th C.
Quakers in Germany since 1918
Many German Quakers protested openly against Nazi treatment of the Jews, and helped some of them leave the country. Quakers from elsewhere worked with German Quakers in the aftermath of World War 2. There are now about 400 active Quakers in Germany, and an important activity is their service agency, Quäker-Hilfe.
Quakers in Ireland
Quakers have had a long presence in Ireland, confronting issues of peace building and social justice. Particularly significant is their role in relief work during the Irish Famine (1846-50), and in mediation and community reconciliation during the worst period of sectarian violence (1969-1998).
Quakers in Korea
Quakers first came to Korea to provide humanitarian aid after the Korean War (1950-53). Several local Koreans became interested in Quakerism, including notably Ham Sok Hon, the ‘Gandhi of Korea’. Seoul Monthly Meeting remains a small but flourishing group.
Quäkerspeisung (Quaker feeding)
Quakers working in Germany during and after the First World War described children as desperately malnourished. British and American Quakers, supported by thousands of German volunteers, set up feeding centres across Germany. At its height in 1921, the Quäkerspeisung (Quaker feeding) programme provided food for one million children a day.
Rufus Jones (1863-1948) was a highly influential American Quaker academic. For many years he was professor of psychology and philosophy at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. He was one of the founders of the American Friends Service Committee. His influence enabled the two divisions of American Quakerism, which split in the mid 19th Century, to reunite after his death.
Anna Ruth Fry (1878-1962) was secretary to the Friends War Victims Relief Committee from 1914 to 1923. During this time, she travelled to every country in which the FWVRC worked, including making three trips to Russia under very difficult conditions.
The FAU China Convoy (1941 – 46)
One of the best-known arms of the FAU during WWII was the China Convoy. From 1941 it helped to bring supplies to landlocked ‘Free China’ and undertook considerable medical and reconstruction work, in very challenging conditions.
Women in the FAU
Women served in the Friends’ Ambulance Unit in both the First and Second World Wars. In the First World War, women served as nurses in the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Dunkirk and also with the Anglo-Italian Ambulance Service, making up ten percent of the total FAU personnel. In the Second World War, a total of 97 women served (one woman to every 14 men). Of these, 57 saw service abroad, in India, China, the Middle East and north-west Europe.