Posted by: viaprograms | October 12, 2009

VIA Vietnam Program Early History

1966 VIA summer volunteers work with Vietnamese high school students to build latrines outside Buon Me Thuot, Central Highlands.

1966 VIA summer volunteers work with Vietnamese high school students to build latrines outside Buon Me Thuot, Central Highlands

New faces in the VIA office have prompted the entire staff team to undertake a tedious but much-needed process of spring cleaning and reevaluation. This spirit of “out with the old and in with the new” led me to an obvious starting point: clearing out the decaying cardboard boxes of files folders and graying photographs under my desk.

Most of what I found was merely old volunteer report forms, notes from previous program directors’ tours of posts, and unmarked photos of people I didn’t recognize. Poofy hairstyles was a running theme. Nearly all of it was transferred immediately to the growing pile of rubble in the middle of the office floor, until I got to the back of the boxes and discovered three file folders with documents from the programs VIA sponsored in Vietnam in 1966 and 1967. After reading over a few of the reports, typewritten letters and yellowing official documents, I decided that the rich early history of the Vietnam program needed to be further explored.

2010 marks the twentieth anniversary of the VIA Vietnam Program in its current incarnation, and as an anniversary project I have decided to try to write a brief historical narrative of the program’s early years. This will include both stories and background from the 1960s program as well as the impetus for starting the program up again in 1990. My initial document scouring has uncovered little-known information about the program’s connections, financial support, and concerns in the 1960s as well as a rich collection of personal reflections by the participants. I hope to interview a number of VIA alumni and former staff members from the 1960s and 1990s to hear their perspectives on the program and learn the feelings and rationale behind some of the actions I’ve read about in reports. I hope to weave their voices into the factual information I’ve found in the documents to create a kind of oral historical narrative about the program’s early days. The goal is to publish this document in the spring of 2010.

If any readers have knowledge of the VIA programs in Vietnam in the 1960s or the early 1990s, please contact me at I hope to interview former volunteers and would appreciate connections with those who have lost touch with VIA since their service in Vietnam.

-Lillian Forsyth, VIA Vietnam Program Director

For more information about VIA’s program in Vietnam, click here.


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