In response to:
A Special Supplement: A Visit to Laos from the July 23, 1970 issue
To the Editors:
While I would agree with most of what Noam Chomsky says about the International Voluntary Services (IVS) organization in his “A Visit to Laos” [NYR, July 23], I do feel that in fairness to the organization, and to the present as well as prospective members, an up-dating of the situation should be made.
Mr. Chomsky has said that IVS volunteers became involved with American-sponsored, politically motivated counter-insurgency programs. Thus IVS is an instrument of American foreign policy in Laos. To a great extent this has been true. However, it should be pointed out that while perhaps we were contributing to political objectives, we were at the same time assisting villagers to implement programs which were beneficial to themselves.
Political involvement was never the intention of IVS. Admittedly we are inevitably a part of the international politics which dictates much of what happens in Laos, but the direction of our efforts has been to minimize political involvement and to accentuate assistance to the human development of the Lao people. Our efforts in this regard have been intensified over the past several months following the assassination of two IVSers in August of 1969.
In general, the IVS which Mr. Chomsky speaks of in his article is the organization as it existed a year or more ago. His article speaks little of the organization as it is today. The majority of our volunteers teach at several of the Teacher Training Colleges in Laos. We have other volunteers who work with local government officials and the villagers helping them to increase rice production, grow vegetable gardens, raise fish, prepare more nutritious food, conduct social research, coordinate skills training programs, and various other things designed to better the quality of life of the Lao people.
Many changes have been made in IVS over the past several months, However, the task of accentuating our role as a private, volunteer organization is still not completed. Further, it is possible that our goal of assisting the Lao people to achieve a better life cannot be significantly advanced in a war situation much beyond where we are today. But the same appeal of the country and its people experienced by Mr. Chomsky leads us to continue searching for ways in which we can best serve the needs of the Lao people.
James E. Malia
September 24, 1970