Alumni Spotlight: Bob and Maggie Greenberg

Bob and Maggie Greenberg
Volunteer Corps, Uganda and Thailand
Bob and Maggie Greenberg have participated in AJWS Volunteer Corps in Uganda and Thailand. They are retired health professionals who live in Corrales, New Mexico.

Tell us about your professional life before AJWS Volunteer Corps. What motivated you to volunteer abroad?

Maggie Greenberg: I am a nurse. I graduated in 1962 and had been accepted for Project HOPE [a global health mission], but I couldn't go. Then I got into career, marriage and children. I always held that desire to do international health work in the back of my mind. I taught at the College of Nursing in the University of New Mexico for 25 years. Most of those years were spent dealing with public health, community health issues, working with families and home visits out in the community. I really loved being in a totally different environment and looking broadly at the community needs.

Bob Greenberg: I was as an academic pediatrician at three different sites: Stanford University, the inner city of Los Angeles and the University of New Mexico. It was a wonderful life of teaching, clinical activities, research and administration, and when we retired I promised my wife that we would respond to her wish. It's been an absolutely incredible experience for both of us.

What type of work did you do on your volunteer assignments?

Maggie: In Thailand, the NGO asked us to set up a school health program for Burmese refugees. We did everything basic to set it up: developing the records that were pertinent for them in the way they wanted them to be used and teaching them regular normal health assessments—eye  exams, physical assessments, public health issues and things like that.

Bob: The wonderful thing was that it wasn't just going to work in a clinic; it was going to work with a group of people who are committed to a wide spectrum of services for the people that they're responding to. A lot was asked of us in terms of our skills and it was really wonderful. And we couldn't have gone if AJWS hadn't taken us as a couple. We wanted to share this experience together.

How has it been for you since you've been back, especially with the region in the news a lot lately?

Bob: It's been really upsetting. We have stayed in close contact with the people there; it's been distressing because many of them have family who are still in Burma or were going back. And when we went to [Thai border town] Mae Sot, we witnessed the refugee sites where 60,000 people have been living for years. You just feel a relationship to the protest army and to the people's struggle.

How has your perspective on service changed after going abroad several times?

Maggie: Our reflection on each of the experiences was that they were very educational and broadened our understanding of what happens there. It made us reflect on our life here. We live pretty simply, but they always make us more aware of how we're living in the world and what kind of footprints we're leaving.

Bob: We had previously volunteered with another organization, at a children's hospital in Cambodia. We've been in other places around the world and every time you go you just realize evermore how we're all interconnected. It's very important to me to reflect that our experience with AJWS was different from what I think a lot of volunteer organizations do, coming in with a preconceived notion of what they're going to "give." AJWS's concept is respect for the people who are struggling with program development and to try to give whatever one is capable of doing in concert with them. It's a much more collaborative, human and wonderful way to relate to people. We have a hell of a lot of respect for AJWS.