By David Arnold
To assure that Volunteers had ready access to emergency medicine in the world’s remote and sometimes dangerous places, the U.S. Public Health Service issued medical kits to all serving Volunteers for their personal use. Thirty-five items were packed in each metal box. Contents included 100 Aralen tablets, 100 water purification tablets, 25 Band-aids, a small tube of Neosporin ointment, a thermometer, two ounces in insect repellant, a snake bite kit, a tourniquet, 50 tablets of Gantrisin, and five safety razor blades.
Peace Corps prohibited Volunteers who had no training from using any of the kit’s contents to serve the health needs of others. The agency also told them to turn in their medical kits before returning home. In 1966, two Volunteers at close of service claimed they lost their kits and shipped them home as keepsakes. In recent years both kits were donated to the Museum of the Peace Corps Experience for its growing collection of artifacts of the countries and cultures in which we served and of memorabilia of their Peace Corps service.
“I’d often notice children’s appalling dermatologic conditions, suppurating external/surface infections, burns which weren’t healing, ophthalmic infections, vitamin deficiencies, diarrhea, etc.,” Howard Whitaker (Iran 1964–66) writes of his kit.
“I began taking the medical kit with me on village visits and treating whatever cases I could,” he says. “Upon departure from Iran, we were required to return the kits; doing so was a condition of being cleared to depart. I simply claimed mine had been lost.”
Richard Baron (Somalia 1964–66) took a far more cautious approach. “I was sensitive not to take work away from local Shamans who were the main source of local medical care. That’s why my medicine kit is so complete today,” he said. Bar-on later took his medical kit to graduate school in Chicago. “Its companionship … was spiritually comforting and inspiring.
It softened my transition from Somalia to home.
A medical kit donated to the Museum of the Peace Corps Experience by H. James Whitacker, who claimed it had been lost in order to bring it home from Iran, against agency protocol.
The Museum of the Peace Corps Experience accepts artifacts from all countries of service at museumofthepeacecorpsexperience.org