A Writer Writes: Twice in the Life of Prudence Ingerman–Bolivia & Ecuador

 

In January 1961, I had been kicked out of Jefferson Nursing School in Philadelphia for “unprofessional behavior” (Singing in coffee shops with folksingers was not approved of. After I calmed down I became a volunteer teacher’s aide at the little Quaker school I had attended so that’s where I was on May 1st. All during high school, I had participated in many weekend workcamps led by David Ritchie in south Philadelphia, working with families there to paint a room in their homes. I really liked meeting people outside my Quaker world who were different and interesting so I figured that the Peace Corps experience would be like a two -year weekend workcamp adventure, and I was not disappointed. I do know that my Peace Corps application number was # 103. My brother in California applied at the end of that week and his application number was more than 1,000.

In June of 1961, I drove to Cambridge, Mass, to seek my fortune; I worked as a Nurse’s Aide at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge and on March 1, 1962, I received a very surprising call from Washington PC office to see if I would be available for training in Oklahoma starting March 16th for the first Peace Corps group (1962-64) to Bolivia. Of course, I said yes and then went into a madhouse of packing up, farewells, fingerprinting and preparing for the best adventure of my life.

In Bolivia, I surveyed a community in Tarija for its health needs. Then I helped open a hospital in a small northern community, San Borja, assisting a Bolivian doctor in 16 major operations using only Novocain and no gloves or masks. One was an emergency appendectomy on my co-worker, Peace Corps Volunteer Patty Schwartz, RN who is still quite alive in Baltimore. My last site in Bolivia was starting a school and a shoe-making shop in a leper colony – Los Negros. I was there the day Kennedy was shot.

Thirty years later, four adopted children later and 22 years on a farm in Ontario and an amicable divorce, I was accepted as a Peace Corps Volunteer to Ecuador (1992-96). My site was Tarqui – a semi-tropical village of  50 houses and five bars. I stitched up lots of drunks with no anesthesia and delivered two babies on my kitchen floor.  I made my own furniture. I also created and painted 13 health-related murals in the tiny health center, initiated cooperative gardens ( and wrote a book on this which Peace Corps used for training), facilitated workshops on infant stimulation,  led a children’s chorus of 22 voices and raised money in a  benefit concert for a beloved older woman who had fallen and needed money.

Partway through my second year the Peace Corps asked me to fill in as a Technical Trainer for the next Health project,  so I did that for no pay, and then when I completed my Peace Corps time, I trained the next group of Health volunteers ( this time for pay !!)

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