IVEPers Noemi from Czech Republic (1999–2000) and Nitaya Jayeu from Thailand (1999–2000) on the organic farm in Grand Bend, Kansas.
Photo/Laurie Hesed

IVEPers Noemi Lachmanov from Czech Republic (1999–2000) and Nitaya Jayeu from Thailand (1999–2000) on the organic farm that served as their placement in Grand Bend, Kansas.

We were an intentional community on 80 acres, owned by the Dominican Sisters of Great Bend, Kansas. Our family of five had lived there for 11 years, and we'd had several volunteers join us for varying lengths of time when I learned about IVEP through our local Mennonite church. We all discussed it and thought it was a wonderful opportunity to meet, live, work with and be in relationship with young people from other countries. We appreciated that we could write up who we are and enclose pictures, detailing the type of work that goes on at an organic Kansas farm, that people could choose to be with us, and we could embrace them. We had no idea how much our lives would be changed by these 16 IVEPers from 1999 to 2009:

  1. Mary Ann Fuertes from the Philippines (1999–2000)
  2. Noemi Lachmanov from the Czech Republic (1999–2000)
  3. Nitaya Jayeu from Thailand (1999–2000)
  4. Julie Anne Joy Ty from the Philippines (2000–2001)
  5. Obeth Rumabar from Indonesia (2001–2002)
  6. Zukiso Majuba from South Africa (2001–2002)
  7. Carmencita “Tamen” Mondaya from the Philippines (2002–2003)
  8. Melanie Tschannen from Switzerland (2002–2003)
  9. Margaretha Menufandu from Indonesia (2002–2003)
  10. Treasure Dlamini from Swaziland/Eswatini (2003–2004)
  11. Noemia Dinis from Mozambique (2003–2004)
  12. Sarlotha Mandosir from Indonesia (2004–2005)
  13. Bismar Masabi Cuellar from Bolivia (2006–2007)
  14. Phally Sok from Cambodia (2007–2008)
  15. Charles Dhliwayo from Mozambique (2007–2008)
  16. Matias Payano Encarnacion from the Dominican Republic (2008–2009).

Sixteen IVEPers over the course of 10 years deeply influenced us and gave us new insights into how unique our world really is. One came with a master's degree in environmental issues, some came with little or no English, nearly all were happy to be of help in any way they could with gardening, bringing in hay from the fields, cooking, helping with the animals — whatever needed doing each day. Some were able to help us build a straw bale art center. Most helped with planting, caring for the gardens and harvesting for our CSA (community supported agriculture) project.

We were able to offer each volunteer their own little apartment, all on a seven-acre complex of houses and outbuildings where two families, a few Dominican sisters and other volunteers lived. We had communal meals together each noon and ate on our own in the evenings.

We began with just one IVEPer and were glad to be able to expand to two volunteers at a time for several years. I think it helped to have another person to process the experience with as they were learning English and adjusting to a new country and a new life. They deeply enriched our community life. Our own children grew up with young people from other cultures as friends. Several had wonderful talents to share with us like dances, songs or foods from their cultures, and many were mystified by life in the United States, where there is so much affluence and excess in many forms.

All joined in our church life as well, further exposing rural Kansas to the people of other countries. There were two who admitted to us their embarrassment at working on a farm and digging in the soil. They had hoped that in coming to the U.S. they would be given skills they could take back with them to their home countries and be able to get good paying jobs. They only stayed a couple of months until another placement was found that was more to their liking. There was another time we received someone who had not been in a nurturing environment and was sent to be with us. That became one of the longest lasting relationships. I am still in contact with six of these volunteers. Thanks to Facebook, I can easily share photos and see their families, comment and hear their thoughts and visit about how our lives have changed. IVEP provided a rich opportunity for us to be connected to amazing young people from all over the world.

Note: In more recent years, IVEP participants have been placed in various settings based on participants' college/university degrees and their experiences in order to follow visa requirements. Placements on farms are still an option for those with professional skills and education which matches agriculture work.