“Letters from Nurses in the Peace Corps” is a remarkable document that Peace Corps once preserved and is now no longer available. (5/7/18)The booklet records some 12 letters from Peace Corps nurses serving during the 1960s.
The letters are comprehensive and give detailed descriptions of where the nurses were working, the problems they encountered and how they were solving those problems. Evidently, the booklet was used for recruiting purposes. One hopes that it also was used to evaluate and improve programs. The nurses write as individuals, but all refer to their groups. They also speak of the “girls”. Remember, back in the 60s, we were all girls! Here are some excerpts from those letters.
Gail Singer – Niger, reported
” In my student days…we heard over and over again how a nurse must be practical, adaptable and creative; how she could carry the basic principles of cleanliness, sterility, and ingenuity to any corner of the the world and give good nursing care. I only now am finding out what these words meant…In Niger’s only school of nursing, I am teaching 60 students – all male.”
Ruth Reese – Malaysia, “Birth in an Iban longhouse is a community affair.” Ruth goes on to describe her first experience attending a birth and how it helped shaped her plans for community health education.
Margaret V. Silkerberg – Kabul, Afghanistan,
“My assignment is to get the Operating Room of a 65 bed mternity hospital in good running order…I began to work immediately, that means to clean systematically everything…If I remember correctly, it took us about two months to get the place in shape…while cleaning and repairing were going on, I arranged ‘classes’ for our little group, and they turned out to be the highlight of each day.”
Cindy Tice – Dacca, East Pakistan. “I have just finished a series of classes for the second year students on Pediatrics and Pediatric Nursing.”
A description of programs in Turkey:
“In Turkey, Volunteers work primarily with third and fourth years students…the Volunteer nurses lecture on basic nursing arts and conductfollow-up sessions on the wards where they give practical demonstrations of the subject matter and supervise the students’ practice. It is not easy to begin or change nursing education in Turkey.”
Vicki Johnson – Carpina, Pernambuco, Brazil
“I have submitted an outline of the classes I want to give to the personnel, to the hospital director. These included the following: (1) a course in aseptic techniques (2) a brief course on OB theory (3) totally nursing care (4) basic nursing skills – injections, cauterizations, dressing changes, etc. (5) I want to teach the cooks a little about diet preparation and nutrition. Finally, I have asked the director to give some classes on anesthesia. This he has agreed to, but somehow I think I’ll end up doing it, as he rarely has time to give classes…”
Rita Heimkamp – Trinidad, Bolivia, wrote “…eventually we hope to make up a procedure manual so that when in doubt the nurses and new practicants will have something to refer to”
Lucille Lombardi, Cuzco, Peru.
“Lucille, after gathering information on methods is helping the Chilean nurses of Cuzco accomplish what they feel is an important step.” (Please note: I do not know if Chile had sent nurses to Cuzco in the 60s or whether some idiot at PC/W though that Cuzco was in Chile.)
Pat Vessel wrote from Sucre, Bolivia:
“Our first day at the hospital? Well, as that page in my diary began, ‘God help us’….Now as we go into our second year, each of us has a ward, one medical, the other surgical, of 16 bed capacity each…Each of us has two students from first or second year of nursing. We teach them, by example,nursing arts, as we know them. This phase of our work is going really well…”
Linda Salsman – India, wrote of how her attitude had changed during her service.
“Perhaps I learned by mistake and example, realizing after, instead of before, maybe I became accustomed to India, maybe I grew up a little, maybe I began to think more of others than myself; perhaps I began to realize India’s need more than my own.”
Margaret Michelle McEvoy -Sokode, Togo described the public health work done by Peace Corps nurses and Peace Corps Doctors. Dr. Richard Koenegsberger and Jean Hewitt, R.N., started a Schistosomiasis clinic. Dr. Nick Cunningham and Margaret set up clinics in eight schools to vaccinate and treat. She, as did the others, described in technical detail the work they did, but concludes:
“Some frustrations arise because the notion of work and long hours is mostly regarded as the better part of lunacy…My complaints seem as nothing, however, as I consider the poignancy of having a little one come up in the morning, curtsy, salute, and say ‘bonsoir monsieur.’ It makes the banged-up knees, the school program, the never ending line of brown backs to ‘inject’…an alive and important experience. Our job is almost baffling in its simplicity. It has been profoundly gratifying.”
As Peace Corps embarks on a brand new program with the Global Health Volunteers, it is important to remember and honor the legacy of those who went first.