Letters from Nurses in the Peace Corps

Letters from  Nurses in the Peace Corps was published in 1967 as a recruiting brochure. It currently is not available on the media website of the Peace Corps.

When the transition to the new website, PCLive, is complete, then this digitalized historical document and others may be once again available online on that website.

I have copied some letters here. As the work of Peace Corps Volunteers, particularly women, is under discussion, I wanted to show their Peace Corps work, in their own words.

Letters from Peace Corps Nurses

A 1967 Peace Corps recruiting brochure



It was a quiet Sunday when two young girls from the nearest longhouse came to fetch me to deliver a baby — my first such opportunity in six weeks of health work among the 13 longhouses at our community-development center. Birth in an !bah longhouse is a community affair. Children freely come and go to satisfy their curiosity; women exchange stories of their deliveries; men perform rituals. The expectant mother is not lonely.

When I arrived, the patient was sitting on a grass mat in front of her floor­ level hearth. She wore only a sarong tucked loosely around her abdomen . She held on to a strip of leather-like bark hanging from the ceiling. No expression of pain crossed her face throughout this long labor as she gave birth to her first child.

While waiting, I observed a blood-letting ceremony in the next room. A man pricked an area on the back of a prone woman. He placed a small tin lamp over the bloody spot and a jar over the lamp, as he mumbled prayers to smoke the evil spirits from her body.

Various rituals were performed on my patient. The most frequent one was this: a man took a cup of water, muttered a prayer over it, placed a knife between his teeth, bit upon it, touched it to his forehead, sipped water three times, and then had the patient repeat the same procedure, after which a women rubbed !ban medicine upon her abdomen.

When the patient wanted a bath, gourds of water were poured over her head and she was given a dry sarong.Women frequently pushed upon her abdomen to speed up delivery. The time finally arrived. My health assistant, who travels with me as interpreter of languages well as customs, was not with me now. I had to communicate in my elementary !ban and in sigh language.

As the women pushed, I “caught” the baby beneath the sarong. The women immediately began binding the mother’ s abdomen with long strips of  leathery bark. When they finished, the mother sat with her back to the fire. She must maintain this position for three consecutive days and nights without sleep, and for two to thre weeks during the day to protect her baby against the evil spirits. (Often, a mother dozes the second or third night and her back is badly burned.

I was permitted to cut the umbilical cord with my scissors rather than with the bamboo stick customarily used. The mother poured water from gourds over the baby as she bathed it.

She handed it to me for the naming ceremony. I was supposed to have brought it a shirt or bright piece of cloth for its first covering, but I was unaware of the custom. All I had with me was my Peace Corps bandage sling, so I used that to swaddle the baby. A little egg yolk was smeared with a cock’s feather on the forehead of each of us concerned with the delivery. This was followed by a drop of water. The baby was given the Than version of my name, “Rus.” This was only a temporary name.  A permanent name would not be given for three to six months, and even this could be changed if the child became ill or some bad luck affected the household.

Someone beat bamboo sticks to let those outside know the sex of the new baby. A bowl passed to solicit for donations — usually 10-cent pieces (worth about 3 cents U.S.). The money was divided among those aiding in delivery. With my coin, I bought candy at the Chinese shop on my way home.

The mother and baby progressed without any complications.  I learned that the mother was not allowed to eat anything for three weeks except ginger tea and rice with salt. On the third day, when the baby’s cord dried, both mother and infant bathed in the river, a practice they would continue two or three times daily unless they were sick. On my last visit, the baby still had its first swaddling clothes, the Peace Corps sling, thrown across it as it slept on its own little grass mat.

I foresee a great challenge in my health work among the Ibans, in trying to break adherence to adats (customs) such as these, which have been followed for countless years.”


It was the students’ second week on the wards. The time had come to put into practice some of the techniques they learned during their first month of preliminary training. Off in a corner of the ward was our armoir (closet) brimming over with shiny new bath basins, towels, wash cloths, soap and talc.

As I gathered the students together, I wondered about the reactions of the people around me. How would the staff feel about us doing procedures that they never have time to do? How would my students, all male, feel about doing personal hygiene? How would the patients react to this type of personal care? I chose four patients and assigned two students to each one. They were to do a bed bath and make the bed. I assured them that I would be there to help and to answer any questions they might have. They looked very young and very bewildered. One cast a glance at the nurse giving medications and I felt I could read his thoughts. That was something familiar; what he was about to do was strange and new.

They went to our closet and gathered their material. Then to the utility room for water. “Asino l’eau,” (There is no water) they all cried half in French, half in Djerma, the local language. The first obstacle of the day — our ward was on the second floor and when the people on the first floor use their water, ours doesn’t run.  I quickly dispatched a messenger with a plea to “hold off” on the water for a few minutes. They filled their basins and carried them to the bedsides. Two minutes later one was back . “My patient said that water makes his leg hurt.” I returned with him to hold man and managed with my still-broken French to discover that he was simply afraid of what the student was about to do. A simple explanation solved the problem. I returned to the utility room and pretended to be occupied while my students went about their tasks. After what seemed like an eternity they began to call me. Vennez voir, Mademoisel le. C’est fait.”

I went to inspect. In the ward were the four old men, their faces beaming. “A ga bori?”  (Is it good?) I asked. “A ga bori, Madam, a ga bori,” they responded in unison. The manoeurvres (orderlies) came to see.
A ga bori” they said and began to laugh. The head nurse came. He began to laugh and so did the staff nurse and the doctor.  Then we all laughed.

It was a pretty funny sight. Each of the four old men were covered from head to toe with a thin coat of white talcum powder. The students had, literally, not left anything out. I realized that the next lesson to be taught would have to be one on economy, but it was a beautiful sight to see and most important of all, everybody was pleased.


In Niger’s only school of nursing I am teaching 60 students — all male. Thirty of them are older men who have previously worked in bush dispensaries and will spend two years at the school to become Niger’s first state registered nurses. The other thirty are seventeen- and eighteen-year olds, with six years of primary schooling, who will spend a year at the school and then be sent up-country to run small bush dispensaries.

When I first arrived at the school and found three large closets overflowing with shiny modern equipment I thought my job would be easy. My students soon taught me my first lesson — “This is all very nice,” they said, “but we’re going out to the bush and won’t have any of this equipment. I took my four-hundred-page Mt. Sinai Hospital procedure manual, shelved it, and set about reworking procedures to fit Niger.

To begin with we found that:

  • dental care can be given with small squares of old sheets tied to a bamboo stick;
  • the type of dried grass sold in the market, when wet, makes soft washcloths;
  • enamel trays can be sterilized by flaming them with a 90% solution of alcohol;
  • the goumbo (local soup ladle) made from a dried gourd (cost 5 francs or 2 cents) can be marked off and used as a measure.
  • Calabashes (large scouped-out sun-dried melon rinds) make excellent bath basins, especially for babies;
  • old pagnes (the cloth worn by the women) cut up into squares and tied on with string made colorful diapers; and when rolled into the shape of a doughnut take the place of air rings in the prevention of pressure sores.


Poor nutrition is the major cause of the 50% infant mortality rate in Niger. After spending an hour with several of my students at the local market while looking for vegetables that are available in the bush and can be made into a nutritious puree, we found some large bunches of leaves that look like spinach, selling for 5 francs a bunch. The students were familiar with the plant and said it was used in sauces, but was not good for babies. I decided to try it so we bought 5 francs worth of the leaves, 25 francs (one large goumbo full) worth of fresh milk, and two lumps of sugar, then returned to the school for demonstration. We boiled the milk and cooked the spinach and then mashed it up with a mortar and pestle used for grinding millet, the staple food of West Africa. We mixed it all together and tasted the results.

“A ga bori” they said. For 35  francs (13¢) we had enough puree for about five babies.


Now our task is to assemble all that we have learned and adapt it into a procedure manual that can be distributed throughout the country with a title such as Practical Guide to Nursing in Niger or maybe How to get the Most Out of Your Calabash.


Each place is different; what I may state about my experiences may contradict those of other nurses working in a similar department.

My assignment is to get the Operating Room of a 65-bed maternity hospital in good running order. This department consists of two rooms, and is staffed with four midwives that have had one year of midwifery training. Apparently, those girls worked well, and therefore were promoted to the operating room assignment. They have alternating shifts: three on day shift, one on night shift, with one nurse on call. In winter time, the night shift lasts from 5 pm until 9 am the next day, with four hours sleep during the night. In sunnner, the shift runs from 6 pm to 8 am the next morning. It is impossible for an Afghan girl to be out at night (furthermore there is no public trans­portation), and for that reason these odd hours were established. It is a rough schedule. The hospital offers no comfort.

To dwell upon my impressions when I first arrived would be a futile attempt. I began to work immediately — that means to clean systematically everything. At first, I had no help with that chore, then gradually the nurses began to scrub too, each day a different spot. If I remember correctly, it took us about two months to get the place in shape. Each week, on Fridays, the holiday of the Afghans, I scraped the centimeter-thick calcium layers off from the coils in the water sterilizers. By now, this became a dear habit.

With the initial cleaning, repairs were carried out; light fixtures, doors, broken windows, ceiling lights, spot light, autoclave, everything and anything. Linen had to be sewn; material (muslin) was available.  The different items were measured out and tried out.

This accomplished, the entire set-up was changed. The two operating rooms now have the appearance of small, American type places.

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. One nurse was always the patient, and we tried draping, table set-up, getting ready for an operation, and moving her around for positioning. I sometimes handled them roughly to make them understand and appreciate the patient’s feeling. All in all, we had a lot of fun together that way, and what began in seriousness ended in gaiety.

I made use of everything in the hospital that could serve the purpose. Except for an oil stove to heat the O.R. in winter time, we got by with what the hospital or the Medical Depot had at their disposal.

Seven months went by this way. Lately, I have begun to place emphasis on the ethical aspect of our work, and to stress the importance of systematic and disciplined working habits.nI challenge their own resources by asking them how to improve the set-up. Each time, one of the group has a good idea, I am more than pleased. As a reward, the idea is tried out immediately.

Soon after my arrival, I suggested that one nurse be alternatively placed “in charge,” for a period of two months. The Director of Nursing accepted the suggestion. Ever since we have worked that way. Each nurse now gets a chance to become acquainted with the tasks of this job, the responsibility, the challenge.

Still, much more has to be accomplished, and it seems that the real difficulties are arising only now. It is a challenge to make them grasp what importance time has, to make them understand that all of us have responsibilities that we have to accept, that it is important to do a job well, for the job’s and our own sake, that human life is precious and that we have to be sympathetic and com­passionate. This is a huge task. At this point, I begin to question my ability to put that across to people to whom obviously these are foreign concepts.

After one year, I will pick up this subject again, and let you know how I made out in the second phase of my assignment.


After one year Margarete writes:

To bring ends together, I have to continue where I left off. The four mid- wives in the O.R. have become aware of the importance of their work, of the importance to do this work right. This is noticeable in their work performance, conduct, appearance, behaviour. They make suggestions, they are critical, they see the shortcomings of other departments and staff members. I believe each one of these girls enjoys the work in the O.R. and would not want to change. Our place is clean and neat; linen, instruments and other items are wrapped and sterilized. Our facilities do not permit a different arrangement. We have mostly emergency operations — C-Sections and related cases. Without any problem, we are ready “to go” in no time, and without anybody getting excited about it.

With student nurses, we conduct classes, demonstrations, explanations, and close supervision.  The four midwives take an active part in this program according to a plan set up.

Endless conferences with the O.R. nurses dealt with personal hygiene, grooming, behaviours, cleaning, washing, care of instruments and gloves, supervision, and what not. Conferences were, with a very few exceptions, always carried out in a group. I sensed that this was a better way of handling matters. On such occasions, one feels the impact of the complexity of dealing with strange people of a different culture, with a different way of thinking. These meetings did all of us a lot of good; they established confidence among each other. I never failed to ask them for any complaints they may wish to express, and that they may have toward me. There is a warm relationship among us; we not only work together, but we also laugh a lot together, particularly during our English classes.

All circumstances taken into consideration, I think I did that which was possible to be done.

It is not like home where everything is available and everything handed out. Here one has to be resourceful, always pushing, always checking up on every­ thing, on the most trivial and simplest matters in order to get somewhere.

This is stimulating and exhausting. I will be sad to leave them.


My last letter was all about vacation. But when I returned to Dacca the first week of August, I stepped into a very busy, all consuming job. This letter will be all about work.

To begin with, a new group of students have begun training. This is the second group since we started work.  They are 23 in number now and from villages and towns all over East Pakistan. The average age is 17- or 18-years old and they have all finished 10th grade.

The girls finishing their first year of school took trial examinations at the end of September. Soon now the Pakistan Nursing Council will give them final examinations in basic nursing and medical sciences.  The written exams are essay-type and each is three hours long.  There will also be oral exams emphasizing practical aspects (setting up equipment, making beds, identifying instruments, etc.)

I have just finished a series of classes for the second year students on Pediatrics and Pediatric Nursing. They had most of their lectures from a doctor, and about all that was left in the course outline for me was the normal growth and development of children. I managed a bulletin board display and  some movies to liven up my lectures. The films were from the British Infor­mation Services.

I’ve had very little time to spend on the ward these last couple of months. The milk and biscuit program continues to function in the hands of the ward staff with some supervision from me. The ward continues to be too crowded for isolation of any patients or reservation of an area for play. One of the staff nurses did equip a side room for doing dressings and treatments. It has held its own against the squeeze of children very well. UNICEF equipment is coming to add to it.

UNICEF equipment is also coming for a ward laboratory the staff doctors have gotten started. I am looking forward to the nursing equipment included in the same donation. I don’t think the Pediatric nurse in charge of the ward is quite as happy. She will have the job of keeping the equipment from getttng lost and broken, getting repairs made, and keeping the inventory. I’ll just have the fun of teaching the students how to use it and incorporate it into Pakistani nursing care.

In Turkey, Volunteers work primarily with third and fourth year students (equivalent to juniors and seniors in high school) who, upon graduation, become the Turkish equivalents of our R.N.s . The Volunteer nurses lecture on basic nursing arts and conduct follow­-up sessions on the wards where they give practical demonstration of the subject matter and supervise the student ‘s practice. It is not easy to begin or change nursing education in Turkey.


Out of our group of 14 nurses we have only lost two, and the cause in both cases was a good one, that of marriage The other 12 are still plugging along at a snail’s pace (but a realistic one). Being pioneer nurses in a country that doesn’t even know what nursing is all about has been a very difficult, yet very interesting , situation.

We arrived here in November, and our February conference was really a sad one. We were all so disillusioned and didn’t know quite how to put up with the situation. We had another con­ference this summer in July, and the realism which we had all developed was really remarkable. We no longer hoped to revolutionize nursing in Turkey in a period of two years.”

Some courses given by Volunteers are not formally structured — they are planned and executed by the Volunteer nurses on the basis of what they want.


The functionarios ( 7)  are all educated by experience  There is not one wh0 has finished high school. Of the three midwives, one is trained. And now here are my plans. I have submitted an outline of the classes I want to give to the personnel to the hospital director. These include the following : (1) A course in aseptic technique, (2) a brief course on OB theory, (3) total nursing care — I am just going to introduce this concept rather subtly in each class, (4) basic nursing skills — injections, catherizations, 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 .

The problems here are not large, but the kind of problems that take time and patience to solve.


I have salvaged flour and sugar bags and cut them up to make individual packets in which syringes can be sterilized. The extra needles we are ster­ilizing in long, narrow pill bottles with cotton at the bottom and a cotton plug at the top. As far as catheters go, I have been making trays out of the Caritas cheese cans by cutting them in half, height-ways, and then turningover the rough edge. The catheters will also be wrapped in either a cloth or paper covering, and included will be gloves and cotton balls. It will all be sterilized as a unit, the outside wrappers serving as your sterile field and the can as a container to collect the urine. We are doing it in this fashion for lack of kidney basins or anything similar. We have translated cleaning and sterilizing procedures for syringes, needles, catheters, and rubber gloves. With this beginning, eventually we hope to make up a procedure manual, so that when in doubt, the nurses and new practicants will have some­ thing to refer to. This will cover everything from work schedule and proper method for charting, to individual procedures. A copy of this manual will be placed in each nurses’ station.

I find that I really enjoy figuring out how I can do or make something out of the existing supplies, as poor as they are. Don’t know if I told you about the Kardex we rigged up. We used old X-rays and electrical tape — making the corners with tape and triangles of the X-rays. Then we used scraps of paper to make the cards.    The form was in ink, the indications in pencil so as to be easily erased. And just as in the hospitals at home if there was a one-time order or special prep, such as for surgery, an exam, etc., we’d write it on a small piece of paper and stick it in the corner — when the order was completed, it would be charted and thrown out.   They finally learned how to work with it and both doctors and nurses found the extra bit of work to be helpful .


Last year the registered nurses of Cuzco initiated the founding of the first nurses’ association here in Cuzco.

At present they are interested in setting up in the hospital, in written form, the functions and responsibilities of all personnel in the nursing field like the director of nurses, supervisors, head nurses, staff nurses, nurses with specialties like supervisors of the operating room anesthetics, etc. Also to include the practical nurses and nurses’ aides as they form the larger part of nursing personnel .

They also are interested in an evaluation system of nursing personnel and a system of advancement in the pay scale of position.

Lucille, after gathering information on methods, is helping the Chilean [sic] nurses of Cuzco accomplish what they feel is an important step.


The main reason that I wanted these girls to see nursing as practiced in the States is because here the nurse is looked down on so. These poor kids come into nursing knowing that they will never be considered more than ser­vants. For this reason they don’t really have much incentive. Frankly, I don’t blame them! The problem is much greater than I, of course, and I don’t expect to be able to change it much. But that isn’t going to stop me from doing what I can. I am sure that just our presence helps here. I can see from the way these girls regarded the Peace Corps nurses from the first group in Bolivia that there is a little change.

There are times in my work that I am severely tempted to give up the ship. Then I remember those wonderful, awe-filled days when I was a student, and the little secrets to good nursing care that our instructors gave us, and how we treasured them like the most precious gems. When I look at these girls I see all the nursing students  in all the world; eager, hopeful, wonderful . I know I must keep trying.


Our first day at the hospital? Well, as that page in my diary began, “God help us.”

Is it possible that just being a GRINGA can be such a monstrous thing? I guess so, if you’re fresh from the campo (country), superstitious by nature, and the first one you see comes at you with an I.V. injection. You can imagine the reaction then when we started giving baths, making beds and giving oral hy­giene, etc.

Feeling strongly that we could be more effective presenting a united front in a smaller area, we set out to change two of the worst wards in the hospital into model wards. These we felt could then be used as demonstration wards during the school year.

The patients are used to having us around now. They fuss when we don’t give them their meds; they’ve found being clean isn’t too repulsive a thing and they like the mouthwash so much, they started drinking it on the sly. Now, as we go into our second year, each of us has a ward, one medical, the other surgical, of 16 beds capacity each. Each ward has a 7th year med student who acts as intern. 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 and we have no doubt that, with time, they will be even more so really model wards.

Shortly before the new school year started, a registered nurse from Spain arrived to take over the position of Assistant Director of the School of Nursing. Collaborating with her we have seen some of our fondest hopes of the school realized. For the first time in the history of the school, the girls are being taught a course in Professional Ethics. Also, for the first time a course in nutrition is being taught. Judy, as professor of this material, has really done a lot to cement our relations with the girls.

Then, the girls never had a specific uniform before this year. Stockingless, hair hanging down and a sweater hanging out, they presented quite a motley crew. Since the 25th of May they have been in uniform. What a wonderful sight to see them marching down the plaza in Sucre’s Independence Day parade . . . in uni­forrn, white shoes and stockings, navy cape and a new cap designed by the Senorita Garriel to cover the most gargantuan of hair-dos. And what a dif­ference  this uniform has made in the girls. There’s pride in their step.

They are accepted and realize they are a part, an important part, of the Univer­sity family and the Medical School.   And they are beginning to act accordingly.

We have found change a hard and painfully slow process to effect. But more important, we have discovered that with patience, will-to-win and trust in God, we can succeed.


First I want to go back to when I first arrived in India. I know now that many of my actions and feelings were detrimental to becoming a successful Peace Corps nurse. Other actions or feelings were not. 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.  I don’t know what the deciding factor was, I must know there was a change in attitude, not in the Indian people, but in me. We need to bridge the gap between India and ourselves; let them know we are on their side; work with them, not over or against them. As far as what area is best for nurses, schools of nursing, hospitals, public health? It is all individual preference, as each one has a great need for nurses who can be successful.


My introduction to public-health nursing in Sokode, Togo was the Polyclin­ique: an amorphous, sighing building of a diaper-yellow color, bulging with soft women in brightly hued clothes walking over each other to be first in the consultation room, dusty children in khaki school uniforms picking their sores and searching around for used bandages, and fat babies making puddles under the benches. I decided what I was going to bring to the Polyclinique was “organization.”

With flawless logic, wild gestures, stern stares, rope barriers, and a three word Kotokoli vocabulary, I tried to teach these happy people the meaning of queues. They giggled.

In my second month in Sokode, I was told I could run the school health pro­gram.  There were schools — eight of them — little health, and no program.

School nursing: it is latrine-building, innoculation-giving, stool and urine­ collecting.  It is also parent-cajoling, milk-mixing, film-projecting, and knowing how to change flat tires on a motorbike.

There is no formal starting place; you just plunge in. Rarely have the children been seen by a doctor. They have not been immunized. Since there are no latrines in the schools or in the town, infecting parasites are every­ where. The nearest river is infested with schistosomes, and of the 800 students we studied last school year, 200 had schistosomiasis and were urina­ting blood. Of the same group, 124 had ancylostomes (hookworms), 129 had ascaris (roundworms), 86 had amoebic cysts in their stools.

Catholic Relief was distributing large quantities of powered milk to the schools. No one knew how to mix it, and the children either ate it in pow­dered form or rubbed it in their hair. Those who managed to get some home mixed it in polluted water, got sick, and gave milk a bad name in the commu­nity.

In our milk program we used the simplest ingredients imaginable: a 20 litre bucket and clean hands.            We taught first the teachers and then a team of older children how to mix the milk and distribute it. This time the project worked. The students adored the milk and we had to have a “milk-mustache check” to see that some wouldn’t come back for seconds before all had had firsts.

Simultaneously a schistosomiasis clinic was started. One of the Volunteer pediatricians, Dr.Richard Koenigsberger (San Francisco), and a public-health nurse, Jean Hewitt (Lambertville, N.J.), treated the children whom we found during school physical examinations to be infected. News spread fast, and the children started coming in on their own. The treatment consists of 14 shots on up until the patient produces three negative urines. A good percentage of patients were faithful to the treatment for all its demands.

When Dr , Nick Cunningham (Springfield Centre, N.Y.) and I first started doing physical examinations in the schools, we gave each child a questionnaire on his eating habits, his past illnesses, and what he thought was wrong with him. We got back compositions from the students telling us how their heads would turn mysteriously every time they had to open a school book. Some of the responses were note-in-a-bottle messages like “Help help O you of the Health! They are giving us rotten water to drink! There are worms in the soup!” To the question: “How many times a week do you eat meat?” the answer was invar­iably, “Grand jarna is!” — a big NEVER. This year we decided that questionnaires invited too much creative writing, so we dropped the idea.

Anyway, we started off by examining 12 children per afternoon. There are 4,000 schoolchildren in Sokode, and going at that rate we saw only 800. Under new procedures this year we are examining 100 children an afternoon and pas­sing 250 children a week through the laboratory.    The laboratory technicians come to the school, and the children line up, each holding his stool specimen in a match box with his code number attached. They dutifully urinate into test tubes and submit fingers for blood tests. After all the data are collect­ed, we call in the parents, a class at a time, and treat them en masse, referring the children to various clinics and explaining the importance of building la­trines.

Our problem is still a long way from solution. Until the community starts its own latrine-building program, deparasitizing is of questionable value. (But as our lab technician said, “Every child deserves to be dewormed once in his life.”)

Last spring we were given permission to vaccinate and immunize. Winny Evans (Philadelphia), the third public health nurse, organized a crash program so that we could do the children before school was out. In the two months left in the school year, 600 lycee students received diptheria-tetanus-typhoid immunizations, in a series of five shots, and 2,500 primary-school children received diptheria-tetanus imnunizations, in a series of two shots. We were pleased with our results, and Winny then organized a summer program to immu­nize the pre-schoolers in the town, one quarter at a time. The chief of each quarter arranged matters so that on the appointed day his drummer was sent out tam-tamming the news around the streets. Mothers from other sections heard and came too.

We stationed ourselves at a school, and so many women and children turned out that we called in the police to keep order. They came, took one look, and fled. We tried closing the doors, but babies were dropped in through the open window. At one point, I looked up and saw Winny Evans, helplessly waving her syringe in the air, being carried off by a group of women. After her rescue, we then locked the doors, nervously smoked cigarettes, and listened to the acre of screaming women. Winny, always deadly calm when everyone else gets hysterical, announced that the “aims” of the program would have to be re­viewed before we continued. I decided to review the “aims” of the mountain­ climbing course, so I could plot my exit over the roof. But fortunately, our luck was with us that day, and a torrential rain clattered down upon the women, scattering them into empty classrooms. One brave policeman returned and blocked a doorway, then let the mothers out one by one. Thus we managed to finish the afternoon .

The following day we hired seven students to work with us, shout health-edu­cation tips to the mothers, keep them in line, and record the names of the children.

Life is very busy, quiet, and full. I moved some time ago into a little house a l’indigene with a thatched porch built by the Boy Scouts (in ex­change for a guinea-hen dinner and guitar music) and four students — one Kabre, one Kotokoli, and two Moba — whom I house and feed. In exchange, they chase bats, fill lanterns, draw water, and pick mango pits out of the one flower bed.

But life here is not always one happy Kotokoli grunt after another. (The greeting is: Alafia! ya, hum! hum! hum! hum! the descent indicating the position of the knees as you crouch closer to the ground and land in a fetal position. )

There are a few things which are terrible: one is night guard-duty at the hospital, which means you are usually up for 24 hours.   This happens every sixth night or so. You cover the whole hospital, except maternity and surgery, alone. As you walk from building to building, your lantern strikes obstacles such as frogs and an occasional snake. There is no electricity after 11 o’clock, and putting in a chest tube or doing a spinal tap by flash­ light is an experience to remember.

Some frustrations arise because the notion of work and long hours is mostly regarded as the better part of lunacy, and you have to get used to doing things on your own. This is especially true of neurotic things like keeping records or sterilizing syringes.

The opportunity for creative nursing is endless. When we have Togolese count­erparts to work along with us and see what it is we are trying to do with pre­ventive medicine, our programs may continue after we leave.

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, mon­ sieur.” It makes the banged-up knees, the school program, the never ending line of brown backs to shoot, or brown bottoms to swat, an alive and important experience.  Our job is almost baffling in its simplicity. It has been pro­foundly gratifying.


The most remarkable feature of the remarkable record of the Peace Corps is the unsung success of the women volunteers. Their durability in the field has recalled Florence Nightengale’s declaration from Crimea, “I can stand out the war with any man.”

A bold thesis that women have perhaps outdone the men in their overseas as­signments enjoys some probationary support within the Peace Corps. The claim is difficult to prove, but the success of women is marked by the fact that they now number 40 percent of the total enlistment. They were less than one­ third at the outset.

The female volunteers have proven themselves by every yardstick of courage. They have worked alone in the wilderness of Ghana; they have lived in Brazilian slums never before visited by foreigners; they have made shoes for the deformed feet of lepers in a Bolivian colony; they have endured the heat of battle in the besieged rebel stronghold of Santo Domingo,

The male volunteers who worked with the Peace Corps nurses through the first weeks of the Dominican explosion concede that the women came through with greater poise. “I wish for a while that the nurses would break down a little,” said one of those volunteers later. “The way they bore up and kept going was tough on the guys.”

The nurses modestly disclaimed their heroic demeanor. “If you’re a nurse, you’ve had experience in emergencies,” said Arlene Serino of the Bronx. “You know what you’re doing and you have plenty to do so you just keep doing it. The Peace Corps boys were caught without anything to keep them busy until they came to help us in the hospital.”

Most of the women have managed to make an advantage of the limitations that their sex imposes on them. They frequently take lodging with families and thus gain access to community life. If they live alone, they make homes of their mud huts and adorn them with curtains and other familiar drapings. These cozy initiatives, rarely imitated by the men, are given as reasons for the fact that women seem to adjust more quickly to the new life.

Patience and love of children are qualities that go down well in primitive societies and have enhanced the acceptance of the women volunteers. When the men are asked at the end of their Peace Corps service what lessons they have learned, they reply in a variety of ways, some idealistic, some pompous, and some pragmatic.

The women volunteers invariably respond that they have profited by developing new opinions on how to raise children. This clear-eyed sense of purpose may be the root cause of the ladies’ success abroad. The American woman is fre­quently maligned by foreigners, but these contemporary Florence Nightingales are a credit to the culture that produced them.


You must be a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years old. There is no upper age limit. Good health is a necessary pre­requisite, but Peace Corps standards are flexible.

Married couples with no dependents under 18 are encou­raged to apply. Both must, however, qualify as Volun­teers. They will be assigned to the same project.

You do not have to know a foreign language.

Don’t be deterred because you think you lack the neces­sary skills. Many people tend to underestimate their capabilities.

Submit a Peace Corps Volunteer application. Submission of an application in no way obligates you. Your final decision will come at the time you are invited to train.

Take the Peace Corps Placement Test. There is no pass­ ing or failing grade.It is a tool to aid the Peace Corps in evaluation your abilities.

YOU WILL TRAIN  . . . at an American college or university. Perhaps half of your normal 10 to 12 week training per­ iod will be concentrated on the language of the country in which you will serve.  Modern laboratory techniques will give you working fluency in one of 42 different lan­ guages, from .Amharic to Swahili.

A NORMAL TOUR . . .  including training, will last from 24 to 27 months.  If you choose, you may extend your service up to a year, or re-enroll for another two years in the same, or a different country.

YOU WILL BE PAID . . . an allowance to cover food, clothing, housing and incidentals. Medical care and transportation are provided by the Peace Corps. For the duration of your service, you accumulate a readjustment allowance of $75 monthly. You may allot from this allowance in some instances. The allowance is subject to U.S. taxes only.

MILITARY OBLIGATION . . .  is not satisfied by Peace Corps service. However, Volunteers are deferred for the dur­ation of their assignments.

TO OBTAIN AN APPLICATION . . .  request one from Peace Corps, Washington, D.C. 20525; from the Peace Corps Liaison Of­ficer on your college or university campus, or from your local post office.


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  • HI! I just applied to the Peace Corps and I have been searching for information on maintaining my nursing license while serving. I am just graduating from nursing school and am hoping to take boards in January. I’ve contacted several Peace Corps reps. and they have said it’s basically a personal issue if I want to maintain my license. If you can point me in the right direction or have any information I would really appreciate it! Thank you for your time.

    • Hi G, I wouldn’t be at all deterred by this licensure consideration. In fact, in many cases maintenance of a professional licence is required by the host country health authority.

      I would get in touch with your state licensing board, and ask about deferment of interim requirements. This is widely done. Think about all the nurses going into the military. If they’re disinterested or uncooperative, contact your US Senator or Congressperson, and ask for their intervention. Usually they have a staffer specifically assigned to constituent problems like this. State Governments do, too. In fact, when you contact your state health dept, you may very well find yourself talking to a former PCV.

      When talking to the Peace Corps agency about things like this, the local recruiter you talk to may not be able to handle a question like this. You need to take it up with PC Washington, which has staffers specifically qualified to advise. They also can appeal to a state licensing board. Phone the Director’s Office, at their central number.

      If everything fails, contact ME, and I’ll see what I can do to help. jat123@cybermesa.com

      John Turnbull Lower Canoncito, New Mexico

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