When Timothy Evans started the Andean Children's Foundation in 1982 to do development projects in Bolivia and Peru, he never expected his project director in Bolivia to one day call and plead: "Don't send any more volunteers."
Evans, a Salt Lake dentist-turned-development-specialist, could understand the complaint. The director had ended up spending more time chauffeuring and baby-sitting college student volunteers than doing his work.And this director was not the first to decide volunteers were more trouble than help in international-development work. Mother Teresa's organization accepts no volunteers, Evans said. And Dominique Lapierre, author of "The City of Joy," a book about Calcutta's poor, wrote that people's offers to help were generous but not usually realistic.
"Unless you are a doctor or an experienced paramedic in the fields of leprosy, tropical diseases, malnutrition, bone tuberculosis, polio, rehabilitation of physically handicapped, I think your generous will to help could be more of a burden for the locals in charge than anything else," he wrote.
But Evans wasn't willing to give up yet on volunteers. He had seen the dramatic changes in Americans' lives as they were exposed to the poverty, hunger and disease of the Third World, not as abstractions in books or pictures on television but as everyday factors in the lives of real people with whom they ate, slept and worked.
Even if the volunteer efforts were not the most efficient way to help the people of the Andes, they were crucial to changing the First World's attitudes about the Third, he thought.
And Evans was not convinced inexperienced volunteer help could not be made useful to recipients as well.
So he, along with Dan Judd, president of the Children's Foundation, and James Mayfield, who runs the international development administration program at the University of Utah, started a new group - the Center for Humanitarian Outreach and Inter-Cultural Exchange.
CHOICE, they decided, would provide grants not just of money but also of manpower to organizations needing help. The requesting organization would help to identify a specific short-term project where unskilled - and even some skilled - volunteers could be of assistance. It would be like a mini-Peace Corps.
They would make sure the short-term projects addressed real needs by sending specially trained development workers - called rural development facilitators - to live in the target villages for several months before the arrival of any volunteers.
Borrowing an idea from Earth-watch, an international environmental group, th CHOICE organizers decided the volunteers would not only donate their vacation time but would pay for the program. Under the changing federal tax laws, at least part of those donations would be deductible.
For their first project they decided to provide a hand-dug well for a family in the village of Villa Anta, high on the Bolivian altiplano between La Paz and the Chilean border. The death of the family's 3-year-old daughter Hilda five years earlier from drinking contaminated water had led to the Andean Children's Foundation's development of a new hand-dug well technology that had been adopted throughout the altiplano. But, ironically, the Plata family had not yet benefited from the new type of well, because of the remote location of their village.
Evans and Judd needed about eight people. They started spreading the word. Within two weeks they had more than 20 volunteers who insisted on going. Faced with this unexpected excess, they quickly organized a second project - completing six-room adobe school house in the village of Sora Sora.
Economically speaking, both projects were far from efficient. The well cost about $100; the school, $3,000. Each participant paid $600 to $1,200 for travel plus $250 for expenses. It would have been much cheaper just to send money, and the villagers could have done the work better themselves.
But efficiency wasn't the main purpose, said Evans and Judd. The villagers got a dramatic demonstration that people from the United States cared and were willing to get their hands dirty to prove it. The volunteers learned from the villagers such skills as adobe brick-making. Despite language barriers the two groupsmade friends, and the Americans saw what a difference a few hundred dollars can make in the Third World.
Jill Heyes, a registered nurse from Salt Lake City, was one of those who went, along with her physician husband Ed, daughter Kimberly and Kimberly's fiance, David Anderson.
One of her most vivid memories of the experience was waking up one morning and realizing she was lying bundled up with wool hat and gloves on a straw mattress inside a brightly painted mud hut.
"I just remember thinking, `What am I doing here and what am I supposed to learn from all this?' You really do question yourself. You want to help."
She had spent the day before with a 14-year-old Aymara Indian girl, Julia, learning to herd sheep. It was a quiet day, she said, and she thought about the differences between the lives of her own 14-year-old daughter at home and this girl.
"She would never be able to experience Symphony Hall. Perhaps we wouldn't know if she would ever even be able to go to school. But she knew everything abou outdoor cooking and slaughtering a lamb and knitting."
The trip has prompted some participants to plan further development work. Mrs. Heyes said her husband has been invited back to La Paz to lecture at a new hospital there.
The next CHOICE trip will be Dec. 1-14. Two projects are planned. Volunteers will help build a lavatory and shower for the people of Achacachi, Bolivia, and take part in an information exchange between Peruvian and Bolivian islanders from Lake Titicaca about the Indians' respective experiences in tourism management and rural development.
Four volunteers have already signed up, but two to four more are needed, particularly someone with construction skills and someone who speaks Spanish and ha legal training.
Other trips are also planned in the coming year. One group will go to Mali i March; a second, to Egypt in June; and a third, to Sri Lanka in September or October, said May-field.
Just as the first trip filled quickly, the organizers expect future trips to easily find volunteers. "It's amazing the number of people who have indicated adesire to pay their own expenses to go and work in a rural setting," Mayfield said.