|1979, with Moon Sung, from Seoul, Korea to Buffalo, NY|
From 1977 to 1987, I made six to 10 trips a year on my off days to Korea, India, Afghanistan, Bolivia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Colombia and Thailand, taking donated supplies to orphanages and refugee camps and picking up children (two babies plus a couple of 'walkers' per escort) to bring home to the US. Sometimes I escorted children who had been in the US for medical care: some were severely burned, or had congenital heart ailments or other types of birth defects that could not be treated in their home countries.
|With Deepta, Calcutta airport, 1979|
After 12 years as a flight attendant, I quit flying for Eastern in 1987 and continued my volunteer work with Healing The Children, NE, Inc., as a foster parent, board member and volunteer administrator on dozens of international surgical missions. Along the way I had a family of my own, adopting one child and birthing two, and went on to obtain a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Connecticut. I can say with honesty that every choice I made in my life, personal, educational and professional, was influenced by the time I spent with AIA and Jodie in Atlanta during the 70s. Often I flew to Jodie's house to pack the many suitcases of supplies that we would take with us on our trips to bring back the children. Jodie had started her volunteer work with orphans in Vietnam working with adoption agencies and orphanages to help process the departure of hundreds of children as Saigon fell.
|Packing supplies at Jodie's, 1977|
At Jodie's, I could and did listen for hours about the last days of the Vietnam War, of desperate mothers leaving their children at the gates of orphanages, especially if those children were 'Amerasians' (fathered by Americans). There was no formula, no diapers, not enough cribs for all of the children in those last chaotic moments of 1975.
While volunteering, I met many of the personalities in these stories who continued their work of helping children in other countries after that war. I became friends with Cherie Clark who founded International Mission of Hope, first in Calcutta then, in 1988, in Vietnam. I escorted a pretty little girl named Sohini from Bombay to the US for Helkie Ferrie of the Canadian Kuan Yin Foundation. I met other women in other countries too who had in some way been moved to humanitarianism through their work with children and orphans in Vietnam. And finally, just two weeks ago, 35 years after first hearing about her heroic effort in Vietnam, I met Betty Tisdale, right here in Danbury, Connecticut!
|Betty and Audriana, May, 2012|
Betty now has a non-profit organization, H.A.L.O., for 'helping and loving orphans,' and she raises money to help a variety of NGOs around the world, one of those in Bogata, Colombia, Luz Y Vida, where Audriana volunteered. On June 1, Betty will travel to Afghanistan where she is supporting projects run by Parsa. Did I mention that she is traveling alone and that she is just shy of 90 years old?
A month or two after Audriana's trip, Betty came to our area to attend a fund raiser. She visited WCSU with Audriana and I had the most wonderful pleasure of having lunch with Betty followed by and an entire afternoon of conversation and stories at my home. We even checked in with Jodie - they serve together on the board of AIAA and on that afternoon Jodie was Betty's proxy at their meeting. Betty told me about her inspiration, Dr. Tom Dooley, and I told her that I had taken a three-month leave of absence from Eastern Airlines in 1981 to be a 'Dooley Girl' in Nepal (I volunteered on a vaccination team for the Tom Dooley Foundation/Intermed in Gorkha District).
Life does has a way of coming full circle. I met Betty and it was amazing. I offered to travel with Betty on June 1 (you know, so I could learn to be more like her!), but the cost to fly to Afghanistan is crazy. Anybody with frequent flyer miles out there? If not, all's well as I'll be traveling to the Himalayas next June with an anthropology/medical team organized by the Himalayan Health Exchange - I will teach medical anthropology on a three-week trek to remote villages in the Indo-Tibetan borderland. Must be that 'circle' again!
PS: Over the years my own feelings about humanitarian efforts in foreign countries by Westerners has taken shape - but that is for another blog!
Below, check out a clip about Betty from ABC News with Diane Sawyer and on the Nightly News.