SERVAS was initiated in 1949 by Bob Luitweiler, a United States’ conscientious objector. While traveling in post-war Europe he grew to believe it was possible to build a foundation for world peace by creating opportunities for people to meet and learn through visits in each others’ homes. During his travels he began sharing not only food and places to sleep with his hosts, but also shared in their daily labors. At that time, many had been cut off by political and military barriers for years, and the wars had created not only vast damage to landscapes and homes but to people’s psychological and economic stability. Many who were at first hesitant to take Bob up on his offers of help soon began to trust him as he took up work along side them, asking nothing in return. Often these at-first-suspecting people later invited him into their homes, shared their food, and gave him a place to sleep. These were the seeds of a growing trust and of servas .
Volunteers who first took up Bob’s idea were found in countries of northwestern Europe. There they began compiling lists of people willing to offer free hospitality in their homes to approved travelers. It was hoped that, by traveling in the open-door style, people would build links between groups and individuals seeking to create a peaceful and just society. A group of leaders from several pacifist organizations in England came together to give sound roots to this budding hospitality system, which was at first known by several different names: Peacebuilders, Work-Study-Travel, and Open Doors. The name SERVAS (which means “we serve (peace)” in Esperanto was later adopted to denote the spirit of international mutual service in the cause of peace, which characterizes this movement.