Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Volunteer who served in Nepal gets Carter award

More than a decade ago, inspired by the example of Lillian Carter, the mother of the 39th president, Dr Catherine Taylor Foster joined the Peace Corps at age 59 and spent two years aiding the poor in Nepal. On May 13, the Orland Park resident stood in front of a crowd of more than 400 at the Carter Center in Atlanta and accepted an award named after the source of her inspiration from Jimmy Carter himself.Nathaniel Zimmer writes for that Foster, a retired Army Reserve colonel with a doctorate in rehabilitative nursing, is 72.But she laughs when asked if she´s slowed down in the years since she got back from Nepal."Oh God, no," said Foster, who does volunteer work for the Hines Veterans Administration Hospital, Orland Grasslands Project, American Legion and Orland Park Public Library. "You should see my calendar for the next two weeks."A "stubborn, independent person" who freely admits "patience is not one of my virtues," Foster said she´s just not cut out for a leisurely retirement.If she has her way, she´ll be heading to Africa sometime soon with a group made up of former Peace Corps volunteers. On dozens of occasions throughout the years, she´s traveled oversees to assist teams of volunteer surgeons in Honduras, Romania, Mexico and India.Leprosy, snake bites, feverIn Nepal, Foster lived mainly in Bardiya district in the western part of the country, an impoverished agricultural area where there were "no cars, no phones, no nothing" and fields were plowed using water buffalo, she said.Foster worked in the district´s health center, venturing out into the countryside to provide supplies and advice in the company of a leprosy inspector.Sometimes reaching her destination involved a six-hour bicycle ride.There were outbreaks of measles and encephalitis, and in the monsoon season, she said, "the rain came down, and the cobras came up." Two people died from snake bites one day.People always ask her if she made a difference, Foster said.Her answer: "I know there are sick babies and children who lived through epidemics ... because I was in Nepal."She recalled one case, a toddler with a severe fever whom she was able to save with the simplest of techniques, a sponge bath. So primitive were the conditions in which she found herself that day that Foster could not find so much as a rag to wet, until the baby´s mother offered her a wool shawl. The garment was so dirty, Foster said, it instantly blackened the water into which she dipped it. ´Look up, not down´But as impoverished as the region was, it "had its own beauty." There were fields of rice, wheat and mustard. In the wind the rice plants "rippled like waves in an ocean."Traveling on a road between mustard fields, Foster would see "nothing but orange flowers" all around her.At night, the stars were undimmed by light or pollution."Look up, not down," was one piece of advice she gave the audience in Atlanta, which included her daughter and her son -- who lives in Orland Park with his wife and three children -- after receiving the Lillian Carter Award. The award is set aside for Peace Corps volunteers who, like Lillian Carter, serve after the age of 50 and continue volunteering once they return home. About one in 20 Peace Corps volunteers is older than 50.Foster has no reservations about recommending the Peace Corps to anyone facing retirement and searching for a new way to put their skills to use. "I´d say do it," she said.According to a citation on, Dr Foster became a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal (1996-1998) at the age of 59, building upon a lifetime of serving others. She´s a decorated Army nurse, a global humanitarian, foundation trustee, Fulbright Senior Scholar, and World Health Organization consultant."The greatest gift I could give to the Nepalese people was the benefit of my years of health and nursing experience," Dr Foster was quoted as saying. She worked alongside and educated local health staff and volunteers in treating and supporting patients, setting up clinics, and coordinating immunizations. "I became very attached to the country and the people and, in fact, returned to teach at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu," she said.Foster accepted an invitation to serve as a community health Volunteer after nearly 40 years in nursing and climbing to the status of colonel in the Army Nurse Corps, US Army Reserve.She has given numerous presentations about her Peace Corps experience and serves as a member of several Peace Corps and Nepali groups in the US. Dr Foster continues her goodwill at the age of 72, volunteering in her community of Orland Park, Illinois, and throughout the world. "Helping those in need has no age limits and no borders. Whether age 60 or 16, we have the power to make a difference, both near and far," she said.

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