International Voluntary Services in Vietnam: War and the Birth of Activism, 1958–1967

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This paper explores the evolution of the largest non-governmental organization to serve in Vietnam, International Voluntary Services (IVS), from the perspective of three of its volunteers. All had served for substantial periods and were in positions of responsibility by September 1967, when they resigned in an open letter protesting American policy sent to President Lyndon B. Johnson. The letter was the product of their experiences and discussions, and expressed sentiments shared by an overwhelming number of their fellow volunteers, many of whom signed the letter in sympathy. Upon publication in the New York Times, the letter became a subject of controversy in Saigon and Washington, as the resignations were the first protest from within the American community in Vietnam. Perhaps as important, the resignations were the culmination of a process of reflection and growth that led the signers to a new understanding of social responsibility and activism.

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... This affected subsequent relations between countries, including the orientation of international aid and service programs that were established in the same period (Canadian Oblate Missionaries and Volunteers (COMV), 1970; Kirby, 1973;McCarron, 2000;Waldorf, 2001). Development provided colonial nations a means of continuing engagement with the post-colonial world (Beigbeder, 1991;Bell, 2000;Hearn, 2002;Rodell, 2002). For instance, international development agencies were established by the Swedish government in 1962, the Canadian government in 1959, and the United States government in 1961, to continue engagement with erstwhile colonies and partly in response to the emerging realities of a bipolar world. ...
... Corps, established by State agencies as part of "grassroots" international diplomacy (Grusky, 2000;Hiebert, 1996;Hiroshi, 1999). The Peace Corps' three prong-goals articulated at its inception remain the same today: to help the people of interested countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained workers; to promote a better understanding of Americans among the peoples served; and to promote a better understanding of other peoples among Americans Center for Social Development Washington University in St. Louis (Coleman, 1981;Foroughi, 1991;Rodell, 2002). However, host countries often perceive the Peace Corps as a program focused on communicating American ideals, concerned disproportionately with benefits and learning for the volunteers (Hartzell, 1991;ISVS, 1969;Howland, 1997). ...
... The civil rights, citizen participation, and anti-war agendas of the 1960s and 1970s heightened people's interest in the relationship between developed and developing countries (Helms, 1990;Law, 1994;Kin'ichiro, n.d.;Pinkau, 1979;Rodell, 2002;Thompson, 1979;Williams, 1991;Woods, 1981;Zimmerman, 1995). The citizen participation agenda increasingly influenced the orientation of international development agencies programs. ...
... Yet paradoxically, while the US Peace Corps initiative, which served as a model for the Nigerian Technical Aid Corps (TAC), was founded in an age of American renaissance -the 'Camelot years' under President John F. Kennedy -(i) 'to help the people of interested countries and areas in meeting their need for trained workers'; (ii) 'to promote a better understanding of Americans among the people served'; and (iii) 'to promote a better understanding of other people's among Americans' (Coleman 1980;Foroughi 1991;Rodell 2002;MacBride and Daftary 2005:6-7), the Nigerian version was established in an era when Nigeria faced daunting economic, social and political challenges. More than ten years of oil boom from the early 1970s to the early 1980s, when oil revenues quadrupled and accounted for over 90 per cent of export earnings and 80 per cent of all federally collectible revenue, came to an end in the mid-1980s. ...
... In another variation, the youth may be from a single nation with service placements possible in multiple countries, for example, Peace Corps, American Field Service, and the American Jewish World Service. These may be sponsored by governments, serving a diplomatic as well as development function (Cobbs, 1996;Daftary & McBride, 2004;Rodell, 2002). The youth could be from multiple nations with service placements in multiple nations, for example, Cross-Cultural Solutions and Heifer Project International. ...
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When youth are involved in their communities, they typically do so through institutional structures. We construe youth service as a type of long-term, intensive volunteerism or civic service, which takes a range of institutional forms including service-learning, national service, and international service. We define these forms as having common operational features, and summarize what is known about them and their effects on youth and the individuals and communities with whom the youth are engaged. We identify directions for future research, including issues of server inclusion and impacts on the served.
International voluntary service (IVS) has a significant and growing presence worldwide. IVS is a policy and program tool used for international development aid, humanitarian relief, and promotion of international understanding. In the last century, forms of IVS have proliferated, while research on scope, effectiveness, and impacts has lagged behind. We propose a typology that addresses duration, nature of service, and degree of “internationality.” Further, we identify IVS networks and support organizations that bolster the capacity of IVS sending and hosting organizations, and in this process create large and little recognized international institutions of cooperation. Building on the typology, we suggest program, policy, and research implications to advance knowledge of the role of IVS, its role in global civil society, and impacts it may have on human conditions and cross-cultural understanding.
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