Review — I HAD SERVANTS ONCE by Kristina Engstrom (Philippines)



I Had Servants Once: Peace Corps Volunteer Tell All
by Kristina Engstrom (Philippines 1962-64)
Levellers Press
219 pages
October 2019
$25.00 (paperback) Order from the publisher.


Review by D.W. Jefferson (El Salvador 1974–76 and Costa Rica 1976–77

First of all, this is a great memoir because Kristina Engstrom has led a very interesting life involving traveling to many countries and working for and with many different organizations doing very useful work, primarily in the public health field. From her Peace Corps service as a teacher in the Philippines from 1962 to 1964, to her work as a trainer of female PCVs who would vaccinate Afghan women and girls against smallpox in 1968, to her extensive work as an international consultant in various public health related gigs from 1984 onward, Engstrom has had a highly productive career. And she describes her experiences with impressive honesty and candor.

As stated on the book’s jacket:

I Had Servants Once is an exploration of educational improvement and disease prevention as it is happening in various places around the globe; beyond that, it is a marvelously detailed, often hilarious, story of the coming of age of a world citizen.


The author’s discussion of the important role Peace Corps volunteers played in the eradication of smallpox is fascinating. In particular the making of the documentary, Once in Afghanistan, about the women who carried out the smallpox vaccination campaign in that country is a story that needs more exposure.

Leaving aside the fact that Ms Engstrom’s story is so compelling, I also recommend this book for the way she tells her story. The book serves as a primer of how to write a memoir. It is extremely well organized, well written and wonderfully illustrated with color pictures, maps, photocopies of original documents, etc. In a number of cases, the author includes journal entries she made at the time the events described in the narrative occurred.

Use this book as an example of what is possible to do in a memoir. We can all learn techniques from this memoir that will help us do a better job of writing our own. And even if you have no interest in writing a memoir yourself, this is a great story with many amazing experiences told in an engaging manner. What more could we ask for?

D.W. Jefferson was a Peace Corps agriculture volunteer in El Salvador (1974-76) and Costa Rica (1976-77). A blog about his Peace Corps years is at:  He is currently retired from a career in computer software engineering.

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