The Origins of the IBO
The IBO was founded in 1953 by father Werenfried (Philipp) van Straaten, a priest that is known for his humanitarian work. Setting up the Building Organisation was a gesture of reconciliation and an attempt to achieve fraternization of all people and nations.

Directly causing the Building Organisation’s establishment were the huge needs in Europe in the years after the Second World War. 17 million Germans who lived in the Eastern European countries at that time were driven away from their homes after the war, because of their ethnic similarity with “the enemy”. The refugees stayed in barracks camps, subterranean bunkers and slum dwellings in Germany. They lived here in complete distress, extreme poverty, and without any prospects.

Van Straaten considered this situation a disgrace. Seeing the miserable conditions and horrible fate of these people, he realised that a dignified life is only possible with suitable accommodation. Van Straaten understood that the problems could not be solved without help from the outside world. He sent out a message to Belgium youngsters, asking them to come and help building homes for the displaced families.

Although the war had caused a lot of hate and suffering, a hundred students from Flemish Jesuit Schools spontaneously registered themselves as volunteers to build the first settlement for refugees in the area of Münster in Westfalen. Soon the activities were spread out over the rest of Germany. Large numbers of volunteers did chores and helped building numerous houses, churches and schools for the poor and homeless.

In the years to follow, volunteers from other countries also joined the Building Organisation and the activities were extended with help to other socially disadvantaged and ruled out groups in Europe. To be able to coordinate and follow-up on the activities better and onsite, offices were set up in the multiple countries where the Building Organisation was active. The number of volunteers kept on growing and the work area increased further.

In 1957, the first projects outside of Europe took place. Development co-orparation became an important pillar within the organisation. At the 10th anniversary in 1963, the IBO received congratulations of the pope, a dozen of cardinals and several Heads of State (amongst who President Kennedy) and in 1972 the organisation received the prestigious Albert Schweitzer prize for her dedication to humanity.