Capitol People: Barbara E. Joe

Former Peace Corps Volunteer Continues Her Work in Honduras

The IHS 2012 brigade cuts up.

Barbara Joe has lived on Capitol Hill since 1969. She was a wife and mother, an accomplished professional and a community leader, and a founding member of Capitol Hill Amnesty International Group 211, to which she still belongs. She is one of those people who faces life’s challenges with determination and tenacity. First a divorce left her a single parent, then the tragic death of her oldest son in 1994 followed by the death of her Cuban foster son knocked the wind out of her. “I was a basket case for quite some time,” she admits.

It took her a few years to recover—“and never completely,” she says-- but, at 62, she left her job at the American Occupational Therapy Association to join the Peace Corps. “Ever since President Kennedy first announced the Peace Corps in 1961, I always had the desire to serve in the back of my mind.”

Peace Corps

Assigned to Honduras, Barbara’s main duties as a health volunteer were training midwives and local health advocates about HIV prevention, child survival (main killers of children being respiratory and intestinal illnesses), safe birthing (she helped deliver a few babies), nutrition, and prevention of dengue, malaria, and TB. She trained village women to carry on as volunteers after she left. Barbara is also fluent in Spanish and had been in Honduras as a small child where her father, an architect, worked in the Mayan ruins.

Barbara served an extended term of 3 ½ years as a health volunteer in El Triunfo and La Esperanza.  Her Peace Corps years are documented in her book,  Triumph & Hope: Golden Years with the Peace Corps in Honduras, (on Amazon.com in print and on Kindle, and on B & N's Nook). “When I was in Honduras I had a website. Every month I went to an internet café and wrote a letter to my daughter which is the substance of my book.” Her book’s title is a tribute to the two towns where she served. She also has a blog: http://honduraspeacecorps.blogspot.com.

Medical Brigade

Barbara has returned to Honduras eight times since 2004 as part of an all-volunteer medical brigade organized by International Health Service of Minnesota (IHS, ihsmn.org), serving villages around La Esperanza.

“The towns where we work have no electricity. At night village people entertain us using battery-operated lights. We set up our clinics in classrooms, depending mostly on daylight. People are so grateful and the work is so rewarding.”

During her trip last February, she says her “heart melted” when a family showed up at her medical brigade with their son, now able to eat and talk normally, a child she had taken years before for cleft palate surgery.

Barbara first discovered the IHS brigade while serving in La Esperanza with the Peace Corps. “IHS provides only general medical help, not surgery, except for minor wound suturing and cyst removal.”

Where the brigade travels, there are no phones or internet. “People are delighted to have visitors. We sleep in tents and travel on recycled American yellow school buses from village to village.” She laughs, “Last year, one bus was labeled Alexandria, VA, School District.”

Capitol Hill Life

 Between her trips to Honduras, Barbara works as a Spanish interpreter in the Washington area, mostly in hospitals, schools, and social service agencies. She is on the board of three non-profits and is writing another book about her Cuba and other Latin America experiences. What does she do to relax? “I hardly ever relax, although I consider interpreting work enjoyable.” The book she read most recently is a memoir, Two Years in West Africa in the Peace Corps, that she was reviewing for a website.

At 74, Barbara is a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Because of the tragic loss of her sons, she belongs to a support group for bereaved parents, The Compassionate Friends. She also attends masses presided over by priests from Catholic University held at the Dignity Center on 8th St. SE. Barbara has no car so her main form of exercise is walking. Her 100-year-old Capitol Hill townhouse is three stories so climbing stairs also keeps her in shape.

Donations Needed

Apart from her participation in the medical brigade, on her annual trips to Honduras Barbara also visits a residential school for the blind, a rehabilitation center, and a local health center where she once worked as a Peace Corps volunteer. She would welcome donations of used canes, folding walkers, crutches, splints or braces for children or adults, eyeglasses, unexpired medications, and items for the blind such as folding white canes, Braille paper, slates and styluses, and Braille watches. Contact her at barbaraj100@yahoo.com.  

How to Volunteer for the IHS Medical Brigade

“I serve as a medical assistant and interpreter and others have already volunteered to be general helpers for February 2013, but we really need basic medical folks first and foremost and, so far, almost no one has stepped forward,” says Barbara. Despite the name of the organization, it’s not limited to Minnesotans. Barbara has served before with people from Canada, Argentina, and Honduras, as well as other U.S. states. IHS is a non-profit organization with no paid staff, overhead, or office, only a website.

Volunteers must not only donate their time, usually 10 days, but pay their own air fare and an additional amount for food in-country and supplies and medications for patients. IHS volunteers also need to bring their own tents and sleeping bags and be prepared to live for a few days in primitive conditions (the way local people live all the time). Barbara points out that although there has been recent publicity about the dangers in Honduras, the instability there applies only to cities and drug routes, not to the villages where the brigade serves, where she says, people are very friendly and grateful for the help.

Pattie Cinelli, a fitness coach on the Hill, has been the health/fitness columnist for Hill Rag for more than 20 years. In addition to her column she often writes about outstanding Capitol Hill people. Please email her your story ideas or fitness questions to: fitness@pattiecinelli.com.


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