International Voluntary Services

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International Voluntary Services
FounderMennonite, Brethren and Quaker churches
TypePrivate international development organization
Area served
16 countries

International Voluntary Services Inc. (IVS) was a private nonprofit organization that placed American volunteers in development projects in Third World countries. IVS had volunteers in Algeria, Bolivia, Ecuador, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Laos, Nepal, South Vietnam and other countries. Despite the organization's roots in Christian pacifism, it operated on a nonsectarian basis, accepting volunteers regardless of their religious beliefs.[1][2]


1st decade (1953–1962)[edit]

Mission Statement, 1953
International Voluntary Services is a private, non-profit organization designed to promote "people-to-people" cooperation in improving health, productivity and living standards and fostering better understanding among peoples. It is a mechanism for uniting the energies of individuals and private organizations, and of providing program direction and administrative services for foreign service projects. Some IVS projects are sponsored and supported entirely through private contributions and others may be operated in cooperation with governmental or international agencies.[3]

With this declaration, IVS was founded in 1953[4] by Mennonite, Brethren and Quaker organizations. It began a 50-year history of international development. The first project was when two young men were sent to Egypt to help improve poultry and dairy farming among the farmers of Assiut.

An office was opened in Iraq, and teams worked in village sanitation, nursing, home construction, and agriculture. In Nepal, a training school was set up for local community development workers. In Liberia, a large team of teachers taught at the elementary level. And in Vietnam, a very successful resettlement and agricultural development was begun. Other country locations that were started in this period were Jordan, Cambodia, Laos, and Ghana.[3]

2nd decade (1963–1972)[edit]

Vietnam and Laos were main focuses of the IVS program during this period, and although all programs in southeast Asia were closed by the mid-1970s, approximately 800 volunteers had served there in the proceeding 20 years. Groups here worked in both rural and urban settings and by the late 1960s had become entangled in the turmoil of the Vietnam war.[3] Eleven volunteers were killed or died in accidents during this period and three were captured and imprisoned by the North Vietnamese.[5]

The first volunteer to lose his life was Peter M. Hunting, a 1963 Wesleyan University graduate, who was killed in an ambush in the Mekong Delta in 1965.[6] He is the subject of a memoir and magazine article by his sister, the author and radio essayist Jill Hunting.[7] Jill Hunting writes in her memoir that volunteers in the Vietnam war zone were aware of the risks they took, with one volunteer reporting "thirty different attempts on his life that he never mentioned to anyone while he was in Vietnam."[8]

In addition, there were programs in Syria, Gaza, Algeria, Sabah, Sudan, Morocco, Zaire, Libya, and Yemen.[3]

3rd decade (1973–1982)[edit]

By 1975, all volunteers had been pulled out of mainland southeast Asia. This ended the "Indochina" period of IVS. This change was followed by expansion in other regions around the world. In Bangladesh, volunteer teams worked with agriculture, silviculture, and horticulture, as well as health and family planning. Disaster relief became important later in the program. A clean water project was undertaken in Madagascar, and IVS moved into Latin America. Locations included Ecuador, Bolivia, Indonesia, Colombia, Mauritania, Papua New Guinea, Botswana, and Honduras.[3]

4th decade (1983–1992)[edit]

This period of IVS saw a transition from an earlier model where young people from North America were sent all over the world, to one where a smaller number of professionals were placed in locations. In some regions, skilled and educated locals, whose skills were not being utilized due to underemployment, were recruited to volunteer in the program. By the 1990s over 80% of IVS staff and volunteers were host country nationals or internationals. In addition, IVS began working with other aid organizations in regions, supplying volunteers to these existing programs.[3]

Programs that began during this time period include Zimbabwe, the Caribbean, Ethiopia, Cape Verde, Mali, and an HIV/AIDS education program among sex workers in Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia.[3]

5th decade (1993–2002)[edit]

Financial concerns became severe during this period, ultimately forcing the organization to close. Several changes were made to avoid this, such as restructuring to work in partnership with other PVO organizations, placing self-funded volunteers in other national NGO organizations, and nearly abandoning the original vision of grassroots volunteerism to fund and support foreign organizations.[3]

When the eventuality of closing IVS became unavoidable, the organization committed itself to establishing its remaining operating programs in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Bangladesh as national NGOs. This goal was achieved with the creation of Fundacion Mingo/IVS and IVS Bangladesh. The Caribbean program had already converted to this model in 1984, to form Caribbean Advisory and Professional Services.[3]


Although IVS was private, it accepted financing for some of its projects from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and its predecessors, the United States Technical Cooperation Administration and the United States International Cooperation Administration. While steps were taken to broaden the financial base, this dependency became a critical problem later in the organization's history. The organization never developed a strong fiscal support system.[3]

During the fifth decade, financial difficulties increased. The Cooperative Agreement with USAID ended, significantly reducing the amount of money coming in through grants. Later, when USAID policy changed to fund programs based in foreign countries, rather than Washington, D.C., even less financial support was coming to IVS.[3]


Anthony Lake, who became executive director of UNICEF in 2010, served briefly as head of IVS in the 1970s. Wendy Chamberlin was an IVS instructor at the College of Education in Laos during the early 1970s. She went on to become the U. S. Ambassador to Laos and to Pakistan, and is currently the President of the Middle East Institute.

One of the most notable IVS volunteers was Edgar "Pop" Buell, a farmer from Steuben County, Indiana, who volunteered to work in agricultural development projects in Laos in 1960. Buell later became a senior USAID official in Laos and managed humanitarian relief to the Hmong people during the "Secret War" in which the Hmong, with backing from the United States Central Intelligence Agency, fought communist Pathet Lao forces.[9]

In 1967, four senior IVS staff members in Vietnam, including country director Don Luce,[10] resigned to protest American policy in the Vietnam War, which they believed undermined the humanitarian work that IVS was trying to carry out.[1] The four also drafted a letter to President Lyndon B. Johnson calling the war "an overwhelming atrocity."[11] Signed by 49 IVS volunteers and staff members, the letter received front-page coverage in the New York Times.[12]

Thomas C. Fox, IVS volunteer (’66-’68, Vietnam) wrote about his experiences as a volunteer in Tuy Hoa, Vietnam on Jan. 2, 2018 the “New York Times “67” newsletter. In a first person article entitled “The Camps,” Fox outlined the neglect and poverty he found in the Ninh Tinh and Dong Tac camps for the war displaced farmers. He wrote about the difficulties he faced getting subsistence supplies to these Vietnamese. Fox was one of the signers of the 1967 IVS protest letter and accompanied Don Luce to the US Embassy in Saigon to deliver the letter to then US Ambassador to Vietnam, Ellsworth Bunker.[13]

In 1971, two IVS volunteers in Vietnam, Alexander D. Shimkin and Ronald Moreau, were terminated by the organization when they became sources for a New York Times story by Gloria Emerson about the forced use of Vietnamese civilians by South Vietnamese officers and their American advisers to clear land mines near the village of Ba Chúc.[14][15] Shimkin was killed the following year while covering the war for Newsweek. Moreau later became Newsweek's correspondent for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He died in 2014.[16]


IVS was dissolved in 2002.[17] It is considered a precursor to the Peace Corps. The archives of IVS are at the Mennonite Church USA Archives.[3][18] Archival materials of Charles F. Sweet, an IVS volunteer who served in Vietnam during wartime, are available at Cornell University Library in its Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections.[19]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b Paul A. Rodell, "International Voluntary Services in Vietnam: War and the Birth of Activism, 1958–1967," Peace & Change, v. 27, no. 2, April 2002, pp. 225-244.
  2. ^ Russell D. Brackett, Pathways to Peace, Minneapolis: T.S. Denison & Co., 1965, pp. 317-319.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l International Voluntary Services. International Voluntary Services: 1953-2003. Harpers Ferry, WV: International Voluntary Services Alumni Association, 2003. Print.
  4. ^ Registered in the District of Columbia, February 16, 1953, as a domestic nonprofit corporation, File no. 223090[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ Stuart Rawlings, ed., The IVS Experience: From Algeria to Viet Nam, International Voluntary Services, 1992, Washington, D.C., dedication page.
  6. ^ Besides Hunting and Shimkin, the other volunteers were: Michael Murphy, Laos, 1966; Max Sinkler (Vietnam?), 1966; Frederick D. Cheydleur, Laos, 1967; Martin J. Clish, Laos, 1967; David L. Gitelson, Vietnam, 1968; Richard M. Sisk, Vietnam, 1968; Chandler Scott Edwards, Laos, 1969; Dennis L. Mummert, Laos, 1969; Arthur D. Stillman, Laos, 1969. Source: Roger Young's Northwest Veterans Newsletter, retrieved August 20, 2010. Also found at [1].
  7. ^ Jill Hunting, Finding Pete: Rediscovering the Brother I Lost in Vietnam, Wesleyan University Press, 2009, 324 pages ISBN 0-8195-6923-2 and Jill Hunting, "A Lost Brother's Lost Words," Washington Post Magazine, March 18, 2007.
  8. ^ Hunting, supra, Finding Pete..., p. 13.
  9. ^ Timothy N. Castle, At War in the Shadow of Vietnam: U.S. Military Aid to the Royal Lao Government, 1955-1975, New York: Columbia University Press, 1993, pp. 83-84. ISBN 0-231-07976-1
  10. ^ Luce's formal title was "Chief of Party."
  11. ^ The full text of the letter appears in Don Luce and John Sommer, Viet Nam: The Unheard Voices, Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1970, pp. 315-321. ISBN 0-8014-9103-7
  12. ^ Bernard Weinraub, "Volunteer Aides in Saigon Dispute: American Welfare Workers Say U.S. Officials Press Them to Support War; Volunteer Groups and U.S. Aides Clash in Saigon," New York Times, September 15, 1967, p. 1.
  13. ^
  14. ^ Gloria Emerson, "Villagers Say Saigon Perils Their Lives," New York Times, January 10, 1971, p. 1. col. 6.
  15. ^ Memorial website in honor of Gloria Emerson: A Letter from Ronald Moreau in Islamabad (Newsweek Magazine) Tuesday, September 28, 2004.
  16. ^ Ahmed, Fasih (May 16, 2014). "Ron Moreau (1945-2014)". Newsweek Pakistan. Retrieved July 20, 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  17. ^ Hunting, supra, Finding Pete..., p. 31.
  18. ^
  19. ^ Guide to the Charles F. Sweet Papers, 1953-1990.

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