International Voluntary Services (1953–2002)

by Gary Alex

A Legacy Of America’s Global Volunteerism explores the history of international volunteerism through the story of International Voluntary Services, Inc. (IVS), an American 501(c)3 private voluntary organization founded in 1953 to provide volunteers for international relief and development programs. Paul Rodell (Peace Corps/Philippines 1968–71)) and 12 former IVS volunteers and academics, experienced in international volunteerism, tell the history of IVS as an organization, share insights on international service, and analyze lessons for future volunteer programs.

Formed in a time of global uncertainty and change, this public/private initiative provided volunteers for 1,419 assignments in 39 countries over its 50-year existence. The foreword by Ambassador Wendy J. Chamberlin, a former IVS volunteer in Laos, reflects the appreciation most alumni have had for their opportunity to serve. Voices of individual volunteers give field-level insights on volunteer program programs and issues. The book is relevant for those interested in the challenges of overseas work, as well as those interested in learning more about the evolution of international voluntary service and its role in international development and foreign affairs.

Initial chapters describe the formation of IVS as a partnership between the U.S. foreign assistance agency and churches with international programs. In the 1950s, volunteers worked on rural development programs in the Middle East, where unrest followed the formation of Israel, and in Indochina, where communist insurgencies were active. After IVS withdrew from Indochina in 1975, its corporate strategies evolved as IVS expanded into South Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean, aligned country activities with Peace Corps, and increasingly recruited local volunteers to implement programs.

The following chapters draw upon individual volunteer stories that highlight the responsibilities and risks they faced, the rapport they developed with people of different cultures, and the impacts of their services on people they served. Volunteers also impacted local capacity development, development strategies, and international goodwill. Ultimately, their experiences had major impact on their own future careers.

Additional chapters explore partner organizations with which IVS had relationships. The historic “Peace Churches” provided a model for IVS and subsequent volunteer programs; the formation of the Peace Corps was influenced by IVS; and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has continued to fund international volunteer programs. A final chapter analyzes IVS experiences as an organization and their implications for future international volunteer activities.

The IVS story is complex. The international environment of the 1950s was fertile ground for idealistic, young volunteers; however, a great deal changed over the years as the need for humanitarian services, foreign assistance strategies, and the pool of potential volunteers increased. Since formation of IVS, opportunities for international voluntary service have expanded greatly in the Peace Corps and many diverse private organizations. Insights from this book may help future volunteer programs adapt to the changing global environment with innovative approaches to meet needs of volunteers, funding sources, and host countries. This is the core story of this book.


A Legacy of America’s Global Volunteerism: International Voluntary Services 1953–2002
edited by Gary Alex, Mike Chilton and Frederic C. Benson
Peace Corps Writers
September, 2022
$20.00 (paperback) (Kindle to come)

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  • Some plan, others, stumbling, drift along with tides.

    My old poet and philosopher pal Lawrence Fixel with a wry look as he copied a then current phrasing of a younger generation would say ‘keep on truckin’ where anther might say follow your bliss.
    I, during the darkest AIDS times, wrote a song lyric with the refrain “put a blanky on your wanky/ if you wanna to do me” and looking for a composers found none with the composure to execute the cool music.
    So, stumbling on while following your dreams, keep on truckin’ with your right eye cocked to the sparrow.
    My parents Ruth & Jack hoped–she for some medical issue, he for an attorney (2 of the 4 types those days, teacher and preacher being the other two): I surfed-in.

    Surf on.

    (C) Copyright Edward Mycue

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