Mayfield's Tools of Choice
by Nettie Bagley
Political scientist James Mayfield applies his principles for international aid abroad.
To say that exposure to international affairs has altered James Mayfield's path would be an enormous understatement. His early experiences in overseas countries through the military and by virtue of a Fulbright scholarship led Mayfield BS'58 MA'59 to teach International Studies at the U, and to commit himself to organizing volunteers who help improve rural communities worldwide. Through his experiences, he has developed a philosophy of international aid which stresses creating self-reliance. "It's very simple," Mayfield says. "We will not go into a village to build a school. But if there's a village that's trying to build its own school, then we will organize an expedition. On the basis that it is really the village's project, we've been quite successful."
With that outlook, 20 years ago he and Tim Evans ex'72 founded CHOICE (Center for Humanitarian Outreach and Intercultural Exchange). Following his recent retirement, Mayfield began devoting himself fully to the organization. From working for organizations such as the World Bank, USAID, and UNICEF, he maintains that villagers were being provided aid instead of skills to build self-reliance, and that non-governmental organizations are better able to help villages sustain themselves. And CHOICE fits into that category non-political, non-denominational, non-profit.
He tells how, quite by accident, the organization began. "It was a village in Bolivia that was trying to build a school, and the government had said, 'If you will build your own school, we'll provide you with a teacher.' " The community was able to raise some money and build the foundation and mud-brick walls. But the villagers were unable to roof the school or install windows or buy benches or blackboards. So the Bolivians simply said, "Would you help us finish this school?" Mayfield and Evans solicited volunteers through a tiny newspaper advertisement. To their surprise, Mayfield recalls, more than 50 people offered to spend their vacations, pay their own way, and provide tools to held build the school.
Today, CHOICE volunteers for 20 or 30 international service projects a year. In the past two decades, the Salt Lake City-based organization has sent representatives to such countries as Bolivia, Guatemala, Mexico, Kenya, Egypt, Indonesia, Vietnam, Western Samoa, and with Tibetan refugees in northern India.
"I think I've got 20 more years of productive life," Mayfield says, as his recent retirement begins. "Sixty-five is maybe a good time to change careers." When he speaks of changing careers, he talks of expanding on the work which he has done for many years. With his professor emeritus status, he will continue to teach occasionally in the Political Science Department. But he intends to spend much of his time raising funds for and organizing expeditions to help rural villages become self-sustaining over the years to come. He has gradually engaged his students, moving from expeditions to internships and giving his Masters of Public Administration students hands-on field experience. Some choose to stay beyond the six-month requirement, and some continue to volunteer following graduation. Throughout the world Mayfield has made friends and acquaintances some of whom are former students who e-mail him with requests on behalf of villages for which they volunteer. His only wish is that he were better able to hire more on-site rural development facilitators (RDF's). RDF's are local Bolivians, local Indians, local Indonesians who want to become employees of CHOICE, and make a five-year commitment to work in a cluster of 15 to 20 villages focusing on five areas: primary health care, literacy programs for children and adults, micro-enterprise activities, preservation of the environment, and enhancing the local culture with a sense of pride and dignity.
"Someone once told me that a fighter aircraft costs $30 million," he says. "And I thought if someone would just give me one fighter, that would be wonderful. Then we could have 300 RDF's, and the impact would be incredible." He has recently written a book, One Can Make a Difference, which details his inspiration for and accomplishments through CHOICE. And, he says, "many of my heroes are in the book."
It is too soon for Mayfield to retire. There is a "fighter" to be acquired, volunteers to train, and villages to be made self-sufficient.
Nettie Bagley BA'59 is Continuum editorial assistant.