Servas is a worldwide cooperative cultural exchange network established in 1948 and composed of member hosts and travelers working together to foster peace, goodwill and mutual respect. Servas seeks to realize these aims by providing opportunities for person-to-person contacts between people of diverse cultures and backgrounds. Our mission includes providing approved US and international travelers with opportunities to be guests of Servas member hosts around the world.
This international community of friends works together on a volunteer basis to create a climate of mutual understanding and tolerance. Originally called "Peacebuilders," Servas now encompasses over 15,000 homes and institutions in more than 125 countries on six continents. Our members believe that by meeting new people in our own homes and sharing our everyday lives with them, individuals have the power to build the necessary foundations for world peace.
As a Servas traveler, you may seek homestay exchanges with overnight host families—typically for two days and nights—using the host list as your guide, or meet with "day hosts," who do not offer overnight accommodation but who are interested in meeting Servas travelers. During these visits, travelers are encouraged to participate in the life and work of their hosts and the communities in which they are guests. Servas host directories also contain information about local culture, peace and social justice organizations, and related activities. All Servas participants are encouraged to explore the cultures, outlooks, and problems faced by other members around the world in relation to their own experiences, both before and during the trip.
Servas members recognize the importance of personal relationships, the inherent worth of all people and the value of cultural differences. By fostering open person-to-person experiences between travelers and hosts, artificial barriers can be removed, lasting friendships can develop and social responsibility is encouraged. Servas is a special way of seeing the world— a place where there are no strangers, only friends you have yet to meet!
US Servas is a non-profit membership organization fostering understanding of cultural diversity through a global person-to-person network promoting a more just and peaceful world.
US Servas achieves its mission by providing approved US travelers with opportunities to be guests of Servas member hosts around the world and offering visitors to the US a chance to learn more about American people.
United States Servas, Inc. is a non-profit, non-governmental, interracial, and interfaith organization. Contributions are tax-deductible. US Servas is a branch of Servas International, the global coordinating body, incorporated in Switzerland. US Servas is a United Nations Non-Governmental Organization accredited by the United Nations Department of Public Information.
Over the past 60 years, dedicated peace-minded people have created the vital worldwide hospitality network known as Servas. A core group of international students and "Peacebuilder" families devised a system where those traveling in pursuit of cultural education or peace work could stay in hosts' homes for two nights. As the network grew, volunteers began circulating lists of participating households more regularly. Travelers who make use of this system convey their gratitude to hosts, not with money, but in honor, trust and service.
Servas members recognize the importance of personal relationships and the inherent worth of all people as well as the value of cultural differences. By fostering open person-to-person experiences between travelers and hosts, artificial barriers can be removed, lasting friendships can develop and social responsibility is encouraged. Servas is a way to unite those who believe that peace is possible, once these differences are explored on a personal level. Members accomplish these goals by opening their homes and hearts—welcoming approved Servas visitors in the cause of peace.
Members of the Servas "family" cover the diverse spectrum of people around the world. They may be working class, affluent, or facing larger problems, such as economic depression, severe environmental degradation, extreme poverty, or even violent conflicts. Visitors are invited to share in the home life and community of their hosts, to share their concerns on social and international problems, and to learn about one another's interests and pursuits, all in the context of mutual respect. Servas is a special way of seeing the world: as a place where there are no strangers—only friends you have yet to meet.
One may join either as a (day) host, a traveler, or both. The process is fairly straightforward but does require some preparation on your part, first and foremost, to determine if Servas is right for you. It takes about three weeks to complete the membership application process.
All national Servas organizations exercise great care in approving those who participate as hosts and travelers. Though specific membership policies vary from country to country, Servas organizations in most countries including the US require new applicants to have a personal interview and orientation with a trained volunteer interviewer, who may also consider character references supplied by the applicant.
If you are unable to host or travel at this time, you may still become a Contributing member of US Servas. Contributing members support the organization in a variety of other ways, financially as a donor and/or as a local volunteer. Contact the office for more information about volunteer opportunities with Servas.
All members receive newsletters from US Servas and Servas International, as well as periodic mailings about national and international conferences, local Servas gatherings, and other events. US members may also become voting members of the organization and participate in annual elections of our volunteer Board of Directors.
Membership is open to all who support the ideals and aims of Servas. Prospective hosts and travelers must have a broad identification with the goals of Servas, a keen sense of responsibility, and integrity. All US Servas members must sign a non-discrimination pledge, subscribing to the goals of Servas.
Servas was originally established with the goal of eradicating war and the social conflicts leading to war. Although Servas has pacifist roots, it has always welcomed anyone with a commitment to peace, recognizing that there are many avenues to achieving this objective. Recognizing that military personnel also sacrifice in the cause of peace, past and current members of the military are welcome.
Servas flourishes precisely because of the rainbow of differences among us. By understanding and exploring these differences on a personal level, we learn more about ourselves and the world. Servas accepts people from all walks of life who agree with our philosophy and sign the US Servas pledge:
"I/We understand and subscribe to the goals of Servas, which are to promote peace, the unity of mankind, and mutual understanding of the cultures, outlooks, and problems of the people of the world and we will accept Servas travelers of any race, creed, sexual orientation, or nationality, and seek to have a meaningful visit with them. I understand that Host Lists are to be used only by approved Servas members for their intended purpose. Using the Lists for any other purpose (e.g. as a mailing list) is ground for the immediate termination of Servas membership and possible litigation."
The organization was conceived in 1948 by a small group of pacifists, representing several peace organizations in Birmingham, England, who were joined by an American conscientious objector to war, Bob Luitweiler. While a student at one of Denmark's well known folk schools (Askov Hojskole), Bob studied cooperative communities and alternative methods for settling disputes. The founders were deeply committed to social justice and the prevention of another tragic World War II holocaust. They believed it was possible to build stronger foundations for world peace by helping concerned people meet and learn from one another.
This informal group formed a small Peacebuilders team, which later became the coordinating body of the European program. Volunteers were first found in countries of northwestern Europe who gathered lists of people who could offer free hospitality to approved foreign travelers. In grassroots fashion, staffed completely by the voluntary efforts of concerned people, the movement spread. It was hoped that, by traveling in an "open door" style, people would work together to develop new intercultural and service programs in their home communities. These relationships and the local projects they spawned would in turn become the building blocks of a more just and compassionate world.
The first hosts were mostly families wishing to help, but supporters were also found among ashrams, workcamps, Quaker and other cooperative communities. Their concern led them to establish a global network of hosts, which would make it possible for dedicated people of various nations to visit each other's homes, learning to know each other through shared experiences.
Meanwhile in California, "Grandma" Esther Harlan, a Quaker and dedicated disciple of Gandhi, expanded the hospitality system in North America using only her correspondence and index cards to compile a roster of people identified as potential Peacebuilders. Early US hosts included leaders in race relations; Quaker, Jewish, Protestant and Catholic leaders; leaders of cooperatives, peace leaders and village rehabilitation workers. From the dedicated efforts of a small group of volunteers Servas reached out to people all over the world. Within a few years, the movement had taken root in a number of other countries.
Here in the US, a medical social worker, Reva King, called together a New York-based working committee. Through her contacts with the Ethical Culture Society, the War Resisters' League, Churches, and personal friends, Reva built up the US host list. Among Reva's many accomplishments was to secure federal tax-exempt status for the US branch of Servas, enabling the organization to raise funds in order to pay staff and rent a permanent office space.
This new hospitality system came to be known by several names: Peacebuilders, Work-Study-Travel, and Open Doors. The name "Servas," meaning "we serve" (in the sense of "we serve peace") in the universal language Esperanto, was later adopted to highlight the spirit of international mutual service which characterizes this movement. Today, with hosts in more than 135 countries, Servas has become a global program of more than 15,000 member hosts and thousands more travelers. Servas members are educators, artists, laborers, business people, students, retirees, scientists and social activists—as broadly based as society itself.
Volunteer national committees have expanded into countries around the world and provided bridges of understanding between people of many languages and cultures. Servas has never rejected anyone because of his/her ideology: open mindedness and a commitment to cooperation are the only criteria for membership. As it has grown Servas has become more inclusive, rather than exclusive, but it has never relinquished its goal of striving for world peace by providing opportunities for people of all cultures, races and backgrounds to meet and share their mutual concerns.
All over the world, dedicated peace-minded volunteers form the backbone of this grassroots organization. In the US, hundreds of volunteers handle most of the day to day work, serving as area representatives, interviewers, board members, and as members of national working committees. A small national office staff are our only paid employees.
US Servas' primary source of income is from member contributions. Travelers pay an annual membership fee. Participation in the Host and Day Host Programs is free, though hosts are asked to make a voluntary contribution annually. These fees and other donations help offset the administrative costs of processing membership applications, producing and distributing host lists and newsletters, convening local gatherings, and other activities. Donations from other sources are welcomed.
US Servas is exempt from Federal Income Tax under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and is incorporated under the Laws of the State of New York. Contributions to US Servas are tax-deductible. The Certificate of Incorporation, bylaws and audited annual financial reports of the organization are available upon request.
Servas membership fees and policies vary from country to country. US Servas bases its fees on the expected costs for administrative expenses and its financial commitment to Servas International. In most cases, each country is expected to pay Servas International for the stamps affixed to every international traveler's Letter of Introduction. This provides the international organization with a small budget which minimally covers overhead expenses.
United States Servas, Inc. was incorporated in 1963 and has its headquarters in Arcata, California. A national Board of Directors, which meets quarterly, insures that the activities of US Servas are in accordance with its goals and bylaws. The US Board also coordinates national committees, membership policies, conducts long range planning, and cooperates with other service organizations. It communicates with Servas International and other national groups for exchange of information about hosts and travelers and news of mutual interest.
Servas International is composed of national committees (branches or chapters) and their individual members. In each country with ten or more hosts, Servas is organized around a volunteer national secretary who works alone or develops a working committee responsible for establishing local membership policies and procedures. The main governing body of Servas International is the General Assembly, which meets face-to-face every three years at an international conference to which each national branch is entitled to send one delegate plus observers.
The Servas International general secretary, president and treasurer are elected by this body along with two other officers to form an Executive Committee (Exco), charged with carrying out decisions made by the Assembly between meetings. Also elected by the General Assembly are the peace and social justice secretary, host list officer and newsletter editor(s). Exco then appoints three chief representatives to the United Nations to be based in New York, Geneva and Vienna, an official archivist, and other officers, called area coordinators, to serve as representatives of various geographical regions.
Servas is committed to the United Nations and its goal of world peace. In 1998, US Servas became a Nongovernmental Organization accredited by the Department of Public Information. Since 1973, Servas International has served as a United Nations NGO associated with DPI and also has consultative status with the Economic and Social Council. This association provides our members with direct access to the world organization and its constituent bodies. In these roles, Servas has the opportunity to address UN committees, suggest agenda items, and request circulation of views. US and International Servas representatives work at the UN to review issues from a global community perspective and originate and support efforts to achieve a more effective world organization.
War is the multiplication of many individual acts of violence and indifference. The destruction war causes is often indiscriminant, leaving in its wake a trail of death, misery and ecological disaster. Many countries today are at war or experiencing violent internal conflicts over social issues, such as political or religious intolerance, human rights abuses, racism, indigenous peoples' rights, extreme poverty and the exploitation of labor and the environment.
Servas members seek viable non-violent solutions for resolving conflicts on every scale, from the international arena to our own homes and communities. Servas visits can play a vital role in bringing harmony to a troubled world by helping people explore different cultural perspectives and ways of life. In the context of the ancient guest-host relationship, our members invite outsiders to share in their daily lives during brief homestay visits. It is on this person-to-person level that Servas seeks to foster change. Hospitality and cultural education are our weapons against the spread of misconceptions which can lead to mistrust, antagonism and war.