Boarders part of long tradition


The AFS inter-cultural exchange programme is alive and well at Waitaki Boys’ High School, which is this year hosting several pupils from around the world for the first time.
AFS, one of the world’s largest not-for-profit volunteer-based organisations, provides inter-cultural learning and volunteer opportunities for pupils, young adults, teachers and families through international exchange.
While AFS has been in New Zealand since the 1940s, its roots go deeper.
The foundations of AFS lie in the American Field Service, a volunteer ambulance corps formed in World War 1 and active during World War 2.
It was the ambulance drivers’ belief that personal interaction and friendships between people built international peace and understanding. That belief formed the basis of the organisation’s student exchange programme, which began in 1947.
Waitaki Boys’ senior master Ken McCallum said the horrors of the World War I were the reason the organisation was established in 1914.
“America wasn’t in the war until 1917. A lot that were coming back [to Paris] from the Western Front were that appalled, they wanted to do something about it.
“The wounded were carried in by ox cart or Paris taxi. They decided to build ambulances and first aid trucks … they were assimilated into the military first aid side of things.”Today, the organisation has thousands of pupils posted around the world.
Four of those are at Waitaki Boys’, where they live at the boarding hostel.
“We’re doing a bit of a new project for AFS this year,” Mr McCallum said.
“English-speaking countries are very much in demand for hosting, so AFS have tried a new thing which is hosting at the school hostel.”Mok Senmin, of Malaysia, Daisuke Furata, of Japan, Ilmari Jylha, of Finland, and Tiago Fonseca, of Brazil, live at the school’s hostel.
They said differences between New Zealand and their home countries ranged from food to the seasons and social interaction. However, all were enjoying their time in Oamaru and loved the school.
AFS NZ, one of the earliest partner organisations, celebrates 70 years of existence next year. It will be marked in Oamaru, which has strong links to the organisation.
A replica American Field Service ambulance, using a 1917 Model-T Ford chassis, was built by Oamaru man Tom Stevens in the 1990s.
The replica, which has toured the world and was refurbished about five years ago, is one of only two working models left.
The other, an original ambulance, is owned by a former AFS student based in the United States. Another, non-working, model resides in a French museum.

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