Wednesday, September 23, 2015
So this evening I’ll be hosting a book signing to promote The Fortunate Few, IVS Volunteers from Asia to the Andes, a book I wrote over the last couple of years and that was published a few months ago. It will be held at One More Page Books, a great little store that promotes local authors and kind of gives the finger to Books-a-Million and Barnes & Noble, but not in a nasty way. Personally, I don’t consider B&N or BaM to be real book stores. Mostly, they sell novelties and useless crap; they have large magazine racks and overpriced espresso, and they just happen to sell books, but probably would prefer not to.
It’s been years since I’ve done of these. I’m not sure how many people are going to show up, but I’ve allotted twenty books and four bottles of wine to the evening. I hope no illiterate drunks come.
It struck me that I don’t have that much to say about the book. It took me almost three years to write it with the assistance of a committee that, after a year, I began calling The Gang of Four. G of F members were vastly helpful and made great suggestions, but they also changed their minds on the structure of the book when it was almost finished, all the while assuring me that making the changes they wanted “shouldn’t take any time at all.” But it did.
The book itself has some historical value. It’s about mostly young men and women from largely agricultural states who, generally after college, decided to sign up with International Voluntary Services, an organization created in the early 1950s to assist developing countries and show the people there that Americans were good guys—and gals.
The volunteers were sent to countries they often had to look up on an atlas. Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Algeria, Sudan, were not the household names they would one day become. The men and women were sent there with basic language skills and often dropped off with little concept of what they were supposed to do. So they worked. They dug ditches and wells, they built schools, irrigation canals and water [umps. They taught basic English, electrical engineering and suggested agricultural techniques untried in the area. They lived with the locals, and in some cases married them. Eleven of those serving in what was then known as Indochina perished, some due to the conflicts raging there. A few became prisoners of wars and a couple of those spent years in camps.
The volunteers wanted to be apolitical, a difficult thing made even harder since the brunt of IVS funding came from USAID, the United States Agency for International Development, a decidedly political entity. Additionally, a lot of the IVSers had been raised within the various peace churches—Mennonites, Quakers, Mormons and such—and were morally opposed to the US war in Vietnam. They often felt their efforts to work with the people they’d been sent to assist were undone by US policy.
The Fortunate Few, IVS Volunteers from Asia to the Andes, is mostly the voices of the volunteers, many of whom are getting older now. They did amazing things and shouldn’t be forgotten.
If you feel so moved, go to your local library and ask them to order the book. It’s good reading; you’ll learn a few things. I’m not at all sure that an organization like IVS could exist today, which is a shame.
Hopefully, the knowledge of and appreciation for the accomplishments of these remarkable men and women will not fade too quickly.