The Volunteers Curriculum helps young people explore the work of committed global citizens over the past 100 years

by Nicole Milano, Head Archivist and Historical Publications Editor, AFS Intercultural Programs

In this article you will:

  • Find out more about AFS Intercultural Programs’ free secondary school curriculum that highlights volunteer efforts of World War I, explores global citizenship education today, and encourages students to engage in local, regional, and international volunteer service.
  • Take advantage of an effective lesson plan to help students understand the relevance of global citizenship and how they can become more active in the world around them.

AFS Intercultural Programs’ free secondary school curriculum, The Volunteers: Americans Join World War I, 1914–1919, helps students analyze the history of World War I through the lens of U.S. American volunteer service. Volunteer activities include the courageous work of men and women who coordinated humanitarian relief efforts in war-torn regions and provided other types of aid. Also included is the story of the volunteer American Field Service ambulance drivers—the founders of AFS Intercultural Programs. In addition, the curriculum highlights global citizenship education today, and encourages students to engage in local, regional, and international volunteer service.

The curriculum includes 22 lesson plans within six broader topics, ranging from women’s volunteer efforts to literature and art created as a reaction to the devastation of war. While developed primarily for secondary school students, the lessons can also be used with volunteers and students in other age groups, depending on classroom needs.

For example, Young People, Volunteerism, and Global Citizenship: From World War I to the Present showcases how AFS transformed into an international intercultural learning and exchange organization—and remained a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating global citizens.

Poster intended to recruit volunteers for the American Field Service, 1917. Courtesy of the Archives of the American Field Service and AFS Intercultural Programs

Through the lesson plans in Young People, Volunteerism, and Global Citizenship: From World War I to the Present students learn about the concept of global citizenship and the humanitarian work of young volunteer global citizens in different historical contexts. The lesson also help students explore what they can do as volunteers.

Click on the following links to learn more about three activities from The Volunteers curriculum:

1. Understanding Global Citizenship

This activity invites students to tackle the meaning and application of volunteerism and global citizenship in their own communities. Students reflect on quotes from a variety of well-known individuals (including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malala Yousafzai) involved in changemaking and volunteerism, and how actions by others can relate to their own lives. Students can also understand the link between past and present volunteerism and global citizenship, demonstrating the global learning implications of the historical material.

2. AFS Intercultural Programs: A Case Study on Volunteerism and Global Citizenship

In this activity students review and analyze the work of AFS as a case study of one humanitarian organization created in World War I, and dedicated to volunteerism and global citizenship since. Students will reflect on the motivations of volunteers to engage in volunteerism in the past and today, and discuss how individuals and organizations can engage with the world around them.

3. Think Globally, Act Locally! Engaging with the World Today

In this activity students identify contemporary global and local issues that can be addressed through volunteerism and global citizenship. They will then create a mission statement for an organization of their own making, and exercise their creative skills to develop promotional material meant to target potential volunteers for their “new” organization.

Participants at the AFS Youth Volunteer Forum held in Buenos Aires, Argentina in April 2015. Courtesy of AFS Argentina & Uruguay.

This curriculum was developed by AFS Intercultural Programs, together with a distinguished Curriculum Development Committee of renowned historians, educators, and archivists, supported by the General Representation of the Government of Flanders to the USA and created in partnership with the U.S. National World War I Museum and Memorial and Primary Source, a non-profit resource center dedicated to advancing global education. The curriculum received an official endorsement from the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission, and was awarded the 2016 C. Herbert Finch Online Publication Award from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference.

For more information about The Volunteers: Americans Join World War I, 1914–1919 Curriculum, visit For more information on resources related to global citizenship education, visit the Teacher Toolkit created for the project.

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