Volunteers are the driving force behind all of the exchange programs offered by AFS. They are the backbone of the organization: a worldwide network of people who are committed to increasing intercultural understanding and communication. The dedication and support of these volunteers makes it possible for AFS Participants to embark on life-changing journeys of personal growth.
AFS Volunteers contribute their time and energy to help people develop the foundation to become responsible global citizens. During this process, they also have the opportunity to take part in an intercultural learning experience. Through their work with participants and host families, volunteers can learn more about their own cultures, practice other languages, develop leadership skills and take part in community activities.
With only 750 full-time staff members, AFS relies heavily on a global network of volunteers to run successful exchange programs. There are more than 40,000 AFS Volunteers who are active at every level of the organization, from grassroots efforts within the community to policy development roles on national and international boards. For program participants, these people are the primary point of contact and support within the community. They recruit and screen candidates and host families, organize orientations and group gatherings, act as liaisons with host schools and even organize social activities.
In order to ensure that participants are supported throughout the exchange experience, volunteers are present in all the countries that AFS programs operate, as well as nearly all the communities with AFS activities or events. They are carefully trained and coached in the beginning by more experienced volunteers.
AFS began in 1915 as the American Ambulance Field Service (later known as the "American Field Service" or "AFS"), a corps of volunteer ambulance and camion drivers who transported the wounded during World Wars I and II. Following the wars, the organization pledged to carry on its mission of volunteer service – working to promote peace and tolerance in the world through cultural exchange experiences.
Since then, AFS has developed programs in more than 100 countries, and in the course of this expansion, spread the concept of volunteerism to new areas of the world. The same commitment to volunteer service that sparked the formation of AFS, continues to be at the core of the organization today, and the dedication of AFS volunteers has enabled more than 400,000 individuals to embark on intercultural learning experiences.