|By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-239-147.balt.east.verizon.net - 22.214.171.124) on Wednesday, August 25, 2004 - 8:47 pm: Edit Post|
Kathy Kasprisin in Belize
Kathy Kasprisin in Belize
I want to share with RPCV's in Austin and others who may join us in the future some of what I have done in my life, so that they can understand who I am. I feel that my disability masks the person that I am inside. The disability limits me both physically and and in my ability to speak. Sometimes I need more time to respond. Essentially, though, I am still me. I am a person who loves adventure and wants to enjoy life living, loving, and contributing as much as I can.
I have spent 11 years of my life in the Latin Americas. My journey to Latin America began with the Peace Corps. These 11 years have significantly shaped me as a person. My history begins here:
I went to San Salvador for the Peace Corps in 1977 and was assigned to a project called the Organization of Animal and Plant Health (OIRSA), which was active in all of the Central American nations. My role in the project allowed me to follow my heart and my Auburn University journalism degree. I took photos of mad cow disease, insects, and viruses which could affect the common farmer's crop.
During those two and a half years in San Salvador, I quickly learned Spanish and many ways to survive in a country in the throes of a civil war. Just hiring a housekeeper proved to be a challenge. It turned out that the housekeeper whom my roommates and I hired was running a ring of thieves. She would hide her goods collected from the "colonias" (which means neighborhood) in her maid's room up in the attic. She was very good at organizing to say the least. However, she eventually got caught. The last I saw of her was in jail accused of supplying arms to the guerrillas. But that's another story. Suffice it to say my house was broken into by the military who smashed the door down and destroyed my house.
I opted for a third year in the Peace Corps but that was during the time of the FMLN guerrilla warfare in El Salvador. The Peace Corps building was blown away in the middle of my third year. With this incident, I was required by the Peace Corps to flee the country. So, I decided to go hitchhiking on sailboats in order to make my way back to Miami, and eventually home. I made it out of El Salvador to Costa Rica without any major mishap.
However, one night while I was in Punta Reina, a port town on the pacific coast of Costa Rica, I fell down the hatch of a sailboat and cut my leg, which became infected with gangrene. Social medicine is great. No kidding. In San Jose, they hospitalized me for four days and then they discharged me with 1,000 penicillin pills, and I was on my way. It didn't cost anything! Can you believe that?!
I still wanted to sail across the Caribbean Sea to accomplish my goal of sailing home to Miami. Whilst in El Salvador I had arranged to meet a boat in the Panama Canal. So, I had to go the San Jose airport to fly down to Panama in order to meet the boat. In the airport something marvelous happened! There was this Little League team that was flying to Panama to compete in a Central American Championship. One of the chaperones didn't want to go. So, he gave me his ticket on the condition I would take his place. Believe me, I was happy to chaperone!
I made it to the Panama Canal and met some guys who were sailing to Miami. They were too anxious to have me in their boat, if you catch my drift. So, instead of going with them I hung around the canal in hopes of finding a new ride that I felt safer with. While waiting for the right captain, I got a job taking boats through the canal. I had the most marvelous experience during this time. One time when we left very late, we had to spend the night on a lake that was in the middle of the canal. In the morning three or four rainbows were present as we were putting up the sails and gearing up to leave. Then, 1,000 parachuters jumped out of planes! Obviously, it was the Panamanian Army practicing, but it was quite a sight to see!
Eventually I found a captain who needed a crew member to go with him to the Contadora Islands. I decided to go with him for a little while instead of hanging around the Canal. When we arrived at the Contadora Isles another simply amazing thing happened. It was during the time that the Shah of Iran was ousted from his country. Lo and behold, he and his bodyguards came walking down the island path. We were there just sitting on the curb and drinking a beer when he walked by! The next morning while we were sleeping on the sailboat, the military boarded and said that we couldn't stay.
So, we sailed away to explore other islands and then we headed back to Panama. On the way back to Panama, the captain of the boat was drinking a lot. In the midst of the doldrums he passed out for what felt like days. So, with the captain being passed out I had to sit there for 24 hours manning the sailboat. Luckily, I had water to drink and I had a pole out for fish. When dawn was breaking, the Christmas winds came. These winds are a phenomenon which occurs at the end of every December in Central America. I saw the southern cross in the early dawn sky. It was so glorious that I left the tiller. First I made sure that it was staying on course, and then I went to the bow of the trimeran. I stood there and let my hair down to blow in the wind. Of course I was only wearing shorts. It was the most enlightening and the most freeing experience of my life!
When we got back to the harbor the captain woke up and he was in a foul mood to say the least! So, I jumped ship. It was Christmas Eve. I decided to go to the Panamanian Airport to make it home by Christmas day. I didn't have a ticket so I waited and waited and waited. With all of the U.S. troops in Panama there were a lot of people going home to the United States. I was on stand-by. Then, I finally got on because somebody didn't show. That in itself was a miracle! I arrived in Miami late on Christmas Eve and called my parents. They were so happy to hear from me they forgot to be angry.
Shortly after I arrived home, I planned to visit my favorite beach in Destin, Florida. I met my good friend and former roomate there. So, I went to Destin Beach with her instead of going to see my boyfriend whom I met in ORISA. I had it in my mind that I would join Carlos later. I went to the beach with her. While we were at the beach, Leigh got a phone call. Her father had commited suicide. This event changed my life. I moved with Leigh to Austin, Texas-for the first time.
I lived in Austin for three years, bartending during the night while Leigh was doing her internship in medicine at Brackenridge hospital. I was a carpenter during the day. Eventually Leigh and I came to the realization that I was only there to tide her over. To make a long story short, I had my own dreams to follow. Eventually, I went to the School of International Management and Training (SIT) in Brattleboro, Vermont to get a master's degree in Intercultural Management.
I did my internship for graduate school in Harlingen, Texas at Projecto Libertad. The professed mission of the Projecto was to get El Salvadorans and Nicaraguans who were escaping political persecution out of jail and to either put them in touch with the underground highway or find them safe houses to live in.
Eventually, some concerned church leaders who had their doubts about the mission of the Projecto got in touch with me. It seems that the church leaders uncovered something that didn't ring true with the mission that Projecto professed. It turned out that Projecto was running guns to the rebels in El Salvador and Nicaragua. When I found that out I approached the director of Projecto. After I contacted her, I was visited by two strange hooded men who put me on a bus to anywhere that I wanted to go--so I chose Austin. Where else?
In Austin I got a job landscaping. I found out about a program in the Dominican Republic at the LBJ School of Public Policy, and I knew it was the perfect opportunity to do my thesis, which had fallen through since I was ousted from Projecto. I had just missed the scholarship deadline for the program. So, I met with the professors responsible and literally begged my way in. I told them that if they would take me I would pay my own way. Of course I didn't have any money, but I knew that if they would accept me, I would find a way. As it ended up, I got the scholarship but wasn't aware of that until I boarded the plane to the Dominican Republic.
I lived in San Pedro de Marcoris, DR, which afforded me a job that was connected to the health department of the DR, and allowed me to meet more than my fair share of mosquitoes and lizards. It was a time of learning which I really appreciate. I went around to many health clinics in the south of the country. It was quite a challenge. I learned later in life, that it was a true disaster to be connected to a government.
When I returned from the DR, I was hired for a job with Planned Parenthood in Austin as the assistant to the director. The director was the type that had a fascination with doll houses. I couldn't relate, and was eventually fired.
During my employment with Planned Parenthood, I had to go Mexico to get my teeth fixed. I was going with two friends. One was from Peru, and had been an assistant to me in Harlingen. The other one was a dear friend from San Antonio, who I had known through Leigh. On our return to the U.S. Amalia, the Peruvian left us because she let her student visa run out, and therefore she had to cross the border illegally by herself.
Unfortunately, she left some Quaaludes in the back seat of the car, and when Emily and I went across the border, we were arrested and put in jail for what seemed like an eternity. Actually, it was somewhere between 24-48 hours. Emily's father was the District Attorney for San Antonio, so in the end we were able to get off with only a scolding. However, it came back to haunt me later on in life when I went back to El Salvador to work in development with Save the Children.
Save the Children hired me to go back to El Salvador to be a program manager. They had been advertising in the NY Times and the Washington Post for a year, but nobody would apply because of the war. I wasn't afraid to go back to El Salvador because I loved it there. The process was so long before I got hired, that in the meantime, I went back to Austin again! I was really developing strong roots in Austin.
I arrived in El Salvador on a Sunday before I was to start working for the Save the Children Federation. I was sitting in an outdoor cafe. Two bars down from the cafe where I was sitting, four U.S. advisors were shot. This was my welcome.
The politics of the war absorbed all of our lives. Even a movement to vaccinate the El Salvadoran children could not escape politics. I felt like the vaccinations were important, but Save the Children was trying to avoid making a political statement, so they did not get involved with the vaccinations.
The United States, afraid of the word "socialism," did not understand the plight of the El Salvadoran people who were sympathetic to the socialist party, Frente Farabundo Marti de Liberacion Nacional (FMLN). I decided that I wanted to participate in the vaccinations. I was curious to meet the FMLN guerrillas, and find out how the people were being treated. In theory, I approved of the guerrillas' ideas to socialize the country. The people were very poor--ruled by 14 elite families, some of whom were my neighbors--and socialism would improve their situation significantly. But the war created relentless violence, and the opposing military was unmerciful, creating many blood-baths and eventually killing Romano, the bishop of El Salvador, during mass.
The vaccinations were a huge source of propaganda for the FMLN--it was their statement that they were treating the people well. A group of journalists, the health ministry department, and myself left at the crack of dawn one weekend morning in the dry season to administer the vaccinations. We were going to the state of Cabanas where the FMLN was posted.
It seems like it was the Semana Santos (week of the saints/Easter week). Getting into FMLN territory was not easy for most, but after some time we were allowed to pass through because of our mission. The only reason we were delayed at all was because the guerrillas were suspicious of the journalists.
When we arrived in the town, there was an air of tension in the village. I'm not sure if it was because we were there, or if it was because the guerrillas were there-although the people supposedly supported them, and seemed somewhat comfortable with their presence. I went with the ministry of health to vaccinate all of the town's children while the journalists walked around, observing and asking questions. The vaccinations were an all morning event and turned out successful, with the people very appreciative of our presence. The guerrillas were very observant--looking for hidden cameras, but were not intimidating. They were aware of the propaganda that was being promoted in their favor.
After the vaccinations were administered, the town's people went to a church service. I remember it being a holiday, and I think they were the Semana Santos services. Some of the other journalists and I attended the service as well. They were conducted in the village's only small mud brick church, which was completely packed from wall to wall. Above the alter, at the apex of the church, was a large wooden cross. The most unusual part of the service was not the service itself but the fact that guerrillas were casually hanging around outside the church and at the church door.
When the services were over, the towns-people and the guerrillas were hanging around in the park . The park was dusty, scant of much vegetation because it was the dry season, and there were no trees. The temperature was in the 90's during the day. Children were playing soccer, and people were talking. It was a very peaceful moment intermixed with machine guns. I mingled with the towns-people. A woman was telling me that she was tired of the war, and although the guerrillas had good ideas, she could take the war no longer and just wanted peace. Too many people had been killed! I had the feeling that her sentiments were shared by many of the other villagers.
In the evening the guerrillas blocked the other radio stations and broadcast their news to the people. Virginia, a Chilean journalist contracted by Spain, who had been invited with the other journalists to attend the broadcast asked me to join her. The broadcast was typical propaganda about how the FMLN would raise up the poor and over throw the oligarchy. The atmosphere was more relaxed. I was sitting close to a wall where some machine guns and automatic rifles were randomly propped. For an instant, I had a notion that I could pick up one of the rifles, kill the leader, and stop the war--provide peace for all.
After the broadcast, we were told that it was not safe to leave. The guerrillas took us to a house where they fed us beans, rice, and a small piece of pork. They did not eat with us. The evening wore on and on. We were told hour after hour that it was not safe to leave. The people from the Health Ministries were scared out of their wits. The journalists and myself did not feel nearly as threatened. When it was early in the morning, we snuck out of the house and ran down the hill to the town. The guerrillas must have decided that it was okay for us to leave since there was no attempt to stop us.
After my work in El Salvador, I left Save the Children after 4 1/2 years to work for the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) as Director of the Belize Office. After 4 years, very hard, stressful but rewarding years working for UNICE, I was offered a permanent post. I was to go to Swaziland, but I never made it.
On January 3, 1993 I was swimming my mile, like I had everyday for ten years. I was swimming not far from shore, about 20-25 feet. A boat which was filling up with gas cut back too close and ran over me. The driver of the boat was drunk. The propeller sliced my head open. Soon afterwards, I returned to Austin for rehabilitation.
In Belize I learned how to scuba dive. In a year and a half, I dived 80 times. It was such a beautiful place for diving! I even went 180 feet down to the Blue Hole! Since my accident I have gone diving accompanied with a partner 3 times. My most recent dive trip was to the Cayman Isles from December 27, 1998 to January 3, 1999, 6 yrs to the day from the accident.
Prior to my accident I lived a total of 11 years in Central America (three in the Peace Corps and eight as a professional from the ages of 30 to 38). During that time, I had traveled to each Central American country at least 2-3 times. I also went to South America many times. I went to the alto-plano of Bolivia and Ecuador (2 times) to give training sessions in participatory methodology in development to promoters. I visited Venezuela twice to attend meetings about the roles that women play in development. Also, I went to Columbia two times to attend meetings in development and to make site visits.
Since my accident over 6 1/2 years ago I worked in a professional capacity once, for one year, as an Vista Volunteer in Austin at Advocacy,Inc. This job ended when the organization decided that they would not have volunteers anymore in the head office. It is very difficult for me to find a job now.
Due to this lack of employment, I am increasingly concerned about my ability to meet my financial needs. I receive a United Nations pension, and am therefore not eligible for many disability services. This pension cannot fund all of the bills that I have incurred as a result of my injury. Currently, I am dipping into my own savings for attendant care. I need attendant care 24 hours a day which results in a daily deficit of $144 and increasing. In addition , I have to hide my earning capacity (as if there was any) because if I work I can't receive my pension and I need my pension to pay my bills.
In addition, managing my own attendant care has become an incessant headache. In the past I received attendants from home care services. These home care services were not only expensive, charging me $13 per hour, but also provided me with inadequate, and incompetent care takers. The people employed with these services often did not care much about my situation, but seemed only concerned with receiving a pay check. In addition, the home care attendants were constantly changing, and I was always involved in the time consuming processes of training a new person. Presently, I have been employing university students, who are more competent, charge less, and are more stimulating. However, they are constantly coming and going due to their changing schedules. I am constantly looking for attendant care, and training new people.
Included in what I pay for attendant care is payment for my transportation needs. Public Transport is not very dependable for people like myself, who do not have a set schedule. It is possible to wait for this service for up to two hours.
I am also concerned about my rehabilitation. Because it has been 61/2 years since my accident, I am constantly struggling to find a professional physical therapist who is willing to work with me. One of my goals is to be able to walk. I am in need of a professional therapist to help me achieve this goal. I receive conflicting views about my potential to walk. One therapist feels that I will be able to walk, another feels that this is not an attainable goal. If therapy is not approved by a professional physical therapist, my insurance will not pay for it. I feel that I am still recovering and that therapy is essential to my livelihood. Currently, I am paying university therapy students from my own funds to assist me with therapy, but they are having difficulty helping me with walking exercises, a professional therapist is needed.
Housing is another area of concern for me. I am looking for accessible housing. I will either have to pay additional costs to re-structure an existing home or have one built to meet my needs. My current condition limits the amount of time that I can spend on locating accessible housing. It would be beneficial if there were a housing locator who specializes in meeting the needs of people with disabilities. In addition, I need a home that is in central Austin, close to the areas where I receive physical therapy at the YMCA, from the university students and at the complex where I receive medical care. Housing costs in central Austin have soared, and it is difficult to find an affordable home. (I used to be a carpenter and a friend of mine whom I used to work for has offered to build me a home at cost, if I could find a suitable lot.)
I have also found that although many buildings are accessible, there are a great number of buildings that I am unable to enter or need assistance in entering. In addition, some of the access ramps and curbs are too steep to allow me entrance without assistance.
This is just a small window into my history, my life as a volunteer and the challenges I now face. As you may be able to tell, I have always faced challenges in my life with determination, vigor, a little courage and a lot of conviction, qualities which I learned as a Peace Corps volunteer. I intend to carry on my life facing challenges in that same spirit.
Kathy S. Kasprisin
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When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:
This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?
Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."
In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.
Read the stories and leave your comments.
|By Gray Godwin (ppp-70-253-92-164.dsl.austtx.swbell.net - 126.96.36.199) on Friday, August 10, 2007 - 9:21 pm: Edit Post|
I need to know how to get in touch with Kathy. Any leads?
|By Anonymous (188.8.131.52) on Sunday, March 09, 2008 - 8:26 am: Edit Post|
where is she now and can I get in touch with her?