In the service of others

Rachel Elion Baird works to build a global community through Servas International.


Rachel Elion Baird is a multitalented conceptual artist and author who uses a range of media, plus poetry and music, besides having a full-time healing practice. She is also a delegate for Servas International, a global peace-through-dialogue organization founded in 1949 in response to World War II. Part of an international network “to help build world peace, goodwill, and understanding,” Servas International is made up of “15,000 households in over 100 countries.” Baird says of their host-traveler program, “living with someone in their home country helps in growing cross-cultural connections in other parts of the world, so that region ceases to be the ‘other.’ Then you can spread that awareness to your community.”

A decade ago, Baird was planning a trip to Scotland when a friend in the Servas host program told her to check out their program. “Such a great way to travel as a solo traveler, because everyone is vetted, you’re a guest in their home, they feed you and show you around, you engage in meaningful conversations,” Baird says. In fact, when she spends a month in Scotland now, it is with her friends she met as Servas hosts; “Most are world-traveled and peace activists. It’s a global network, and wherever I travel, I try to stay with Servas hosts.” She adds, “As a traveler, not only are you enriched by cultural exchange with the host, but you get a local’s viewpoint of the area,” leading to discovery of things no outsider would find on their own.”

Although Baird has never lived in Scotland, she has spent up to “four or five months at a time there,” and has been involved with the Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre through presenting her interactive art installation, the “Embrace Project,” at the Fringe Festival with more than 100 volunteers (found through the Peace & Justice Centre), now “incorporated into her two-hour Peace Yoga Workshop.” Baird says, “I’d love to do it with the high school.”

“The Embrace” begins with volunteers who pick a partner and “embrace each other like you would an infant, cradling them, listening to their breath, the rhythm of their heart. As you hold that person, you start to become aware of them letting go and processing, and finally, the wave quiets, their breath quiets to a steady, soft rhythm and the cycle is complete. You then switch roles so each member of the team gets to be both the embracer and the embraced one.”

She has done this with two people, in groups such as with counselors at the Findhorn Foundation, and on Holy Isle in Scotland. One of the things Baird found amazing was even in a large group, everyone completed processing at the same time, part of how humans entrain to one another.

One of the Peace & Justice volunteers mentioned to Baird that Servas had a “U.N. [United Nations] arm” about five years ago, she says. “I started getting emails from Servas about taking a position maybe as peace secretary or getting involved more, and mentioning the Commission on the Status of Women Conference (CSW), and that’s how I got involved.” The second largest annual U.N. event is the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW); this year’s theme is “Women in Poverty.”

“The U.N. body politic will be there making statements and legislation around this year’s theme and their contracted agreements, reviewing conclusions from the reports and NGO [non governmental agency] statements prior, and the agreements made during the conference,” Baird explains. “The second component is, which organizes side events related to the themes, studies and implementation, and organizes the entire commission. The third component runs parallel commission events by ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council] NGO CSW related to the theme, with more spotlights on specific regions, projects, and issues, detailing their civil society lens and on-the-ground solutions and implementation of civil society participation. You may hear the specifics of the horrors of war at one event, or personal stories at another. This is where the recognized NGOs such as Servas International may hold physical, hybrid, and virtual events relating to the conference.”

Servas International also presented a policy statement on the theme to the United Nations. Baird’s involvement at the commission is focused on indigenous communities and the global ocean. Baird, who is part Hawaiian, says, “All my life I’ve been connected to indigenous communities near where I have lived. [At last year’s CSW] I decided to attend every panel on indigenous communities in the world.” What she noticed was “who was missing … the United States of America was completely absent.” So she spoke with Servas “about creating a parallel panel for this year’s commission.”

In 2024, Servas sponsored three panels, and Baird spearheaded the panel on indigenous communities in the U.S. and Canada, which she also moderated. She included for her panel a native Ojibwe speaker who works in language reclamation, a Diné (Navajo) activist from the Southwest working for land and water rights, and an elder from the Stoney (Nakoda) Nation in Alberta, a survivor of the forced residential schools.

“The panel provides a platform for indigenous women to speak about women in poverty, issues, sources, solutions, and a collective vision for the future,” Baird says. ”I just wanted to provide global visibility for their voices. There are 10,000 delegates from all over the world at this conference. It is a great opportunity to be heard. There [were] other panels at the commission this year dealing with the prevalence of disappearances of indigenous women in the U.S. and Canada.”

Baird arrived in NYC on March 8 to coordinate “the delegates who arrive from all over the world, many having never traveled to the States.” This year Servas International noticed the schedule had little on peace, “at a time where we really need to hold that vision and talk about global solutions,” so they hosted a “Let’s Talk About Peace” meet-up during the conference for attendees “to connect about this important issue” and learn about Servas International. Meet-ups provide valuable time to take deep dives into a topic. “As a yogini, I personally believe that peace is a state of being we need to cultivate individually, which spreads to friends, family, community, world,” Baird says. “It is not the opposite of war, or related to war, but as there is so much continued violence and strife, including the obvious increased armed conflicts this year; the human right to live in a state of peace is so very compromised right now, and statistically, women and children are overaffected by war.”

There are 17 sustainable development goals of the U.N. (, and those goals, Baird says, “are kept in mind in everything the U.N. does, and they have meetings to plan based on these goals.” Baird looks forward to sharing “what the U.N. does, their mission, why you should care,” as well as explaining how nonprofit organizations work with the U.N. when she offers local library talks this spring. She hopes for more awareness and participation, especially from young women and girls.

“A lot of people don’t understand the structure of the U.N.,” Baird says. “They see votes on the news, but the U.N. is not just the Security Council. It has many arms, and a lot of things happen besides the Assembly. Governments are held to the fire behind the scenes, because they actually sign agreements they’re required to fulfill to maintain membership. They also have an open-door policy to nonprofits because they want to hear from regular people, what you want them to do, and what needs to be done, and they’re really open to feedback from humanity, whereas most governments are not.”

Baird adds, “If we don’t envision a different future, if we only focus on fear and the negative, that’s what we perpetuate, so it’s always important to ask the question, ‘What do you want to see happen from here?’ to encourage their path out of the [negative] situation, their path forward.”

One of the things Baird loves about these conferences is “there are all these spontaneous conversations where we’re dialoguing freely with people from all over the world about your heart’s desires. You start to get agreement and vision, and next thing you know, organic collaborations are forged — that is how community builds from desolation into a better future.”

Keep an eye out for Rachel’s local library talks in mid-April and early May. Learn more about Servas at Learn more about Rachel Elion Baird and her offerings at,, and Her Kirtan group Bhakti plays on-Island at Pathways Arts, Chilmark, on Sunday from 12 to 1 pm on April 14.