On the way to the hospital.

Volunteering in Bhutan, 40 years after Peace Corps

Name: Joan Cross
U-M Affiliation: Alumni

Where do you work?

InnerWave Neurofeedback Center

When did you serve in the Peace Corps?


Where did you serve (which country/countries)?

Fiji Islands

What were your main responsibilities as a volunteer?

Pediatric Physical Therapist in a school for handicapped children

Is there a specific person (or persons) who made a strong impression on you during that time?

My students with post polio who were past the point of therapy but liked to hang out in the physio room.

What was one of the most memorable moments you had as a volunteer?

My students with post polio would play soccer running with their crutches and swinging their bodies to get momentum to kick the ball. They had accurate aim as their frail legs flopped over their opposite shoulder after kicking the ball. They would also have running races up hill on their crutches as their legs dangled. I casually mentioned to them that with such good upper arm strength, they would make excellent swimmers. In Fiji, everyone learned to swim at the beaches by their villages, except children who had polio. One student, Sefania, took me seriously and started to work out at the YMCA. I returned 10 years later on my honeymoon and we had a reunion. Sefania came and put a sports gold medal around my neck. "What's this?" I asked. He said I told him he would be a good swimmer so he worked his way onto the Special Olympics swim team from Fiji to the Montreal Olympics and got a bronze metal. He thought he could do better and kept working out to go to next Olympics in Japan and received a gold metal. He said, "Thank you for believing in me." His story brought tears to my eyes. I didn't even remember what I had said, but the support and respect is what he felt.

In what ways did your Peace Corps experience affect your life and/or career decisions?

I realized how one never knows how much a kind word or simple respect can profoundly effect another person. I was on the steps of the Michigan Union at 2am when John Kennedy suggested his idea for the Peace Corps on a campaign swing through Michigan. I was in high school but that idea stayed with me and lit my way through University of Michigan so that I would have a practical skill to take with me into Peace Corps service. I then continued volunteering in my community and again overseas after my children grew up. I continued to work as a Pediatric Physical Therapist until I retired.

In what ways did your U-M education, both inside and outside the classroom, prepare you for your Peace Corps experience?

I learned to problem solve no matter what problem presented itself. I could read and learn what I needed to solve the problem at hand. UofM taught me how to think critically, lifelong.

What advice would you give to others who are contemplating going into the Peace Corps?

Go, be adventurous!

What is the value gained from the Peace Corps experience?

Openness to other viewpoints, cultures, perspectives. No matter what culture you are from, we all have common needs, desires, traumas, joys...

What lessons did you learn in the Peace Corps that you carry with you today?

Love thy neighbor; everyone is a teacher to everyone else, if you look hard enough. The lessons may be negative as well as positive, but they are all life lessons.

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