|Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors. --Jonas Salk|
Indiana Jones Meets Florence Nightingale: The Incredible Life of Linda Cruse--by Madeleine Lewis, syndicated from admin.virgin.com, Feb 11, 2016
How did you end up doing what you do?
I started my adult life young in today’s terms – I was a nurse at 18, had my first child at 21 and divorced at 28. I adored my career 100%, but it was difficult to pay the bills with a nurse’s salary, so I was lured into the pharmaceutical industry to sell products. I had a company car and subsidised mortgage, so I was able to take care of my children, but I became more and more miserable.
The one night I was driving home from a sales conference and I went blind – I later learned it was stress blindness. I managed to pull over to the hard shoulder of the motorway. All the while I was thinking, ‘My life is over; I will never see my kids again’.
I promised myself then that if my sight came back, I would find my purpose. I knew I’d gone completely off my path and become a really depressed and irritable person. I was very lucky, and my sight did return, so I developed my own personal development course – ‘Emergency Zen’ – which I still run. And then I started to work out what I really wanted to do with my life.
Nursing made my heart sing, especially the emergency side, and I had a lot of other life and business skills as well. I realised that I wanted to help people living under dire stress in the hell holes of the world – people who didn’t have a safety net. But it was only when my daughter went to university and my son into the Army that it became possible for me to follow this dream.
I sat my children down and asked, ‘Can I leave home now?’ and so I started my humanitarian career when I was 40 years old
Linda journeying with a Tibetan nomad caravan
What was your first humanitarian job?
I started in China where I did health and hygiene training in hospitals, and lectured at a university on purpose and hope. I learned a lot about the China-Tibet situation during that time, and worked in Tibetan refugee camps in India. There I discovered that despite the young people being very well educated, once they hit 18 they found it very hard to get work and there were lots of associated problems like high suicide rates and alcoholism. So I became a broker between the private sector and these young people, and created lots of opportunities for them to get experience as interns and into the job market.
The Dalai Lama heard about what I was doing and asked me to help deal with the issue of infant mortality – back in 2001Tibet had the highest rate in the world.
The Cultural Revolution had wiped out a generation of women and with that the messages that were passed down from mother to daughter. To address the crisis, all we had to do was share three messages.
For example, one of the issues was that Tibetan nomads only have what they stand up in. Pretty much everything they have hangs around their waist, including a knife, which they use to cut meat but also the umbilical cord, and this was responsible for infections and babies dying. So we collaborated with the monks to create a new ritual.
They encouraged women to get a clean knife when she became pregnant, and the knife was then blessed in a ceremony, wrapped up, and put in the woman’s pocket until birth. It was through working with the culture and community leaders that we created positive change.
Tsunami survivors camp in Thailand
You worked in the Asian tsunami in 2004 – what was that like?
I was doing a project out in Uzbekistan when I saw the news of the tsunami. I left immediately with a one-way ticket. Once I got there, I didn’t know where to go, but I found a taxi driver and weaved my way closer and closer to one of the worst hit areas – Ban Nam Khem. I’ve dealt with death since I was 18 years old, but for the first time in my career I thought I couldn’t do it.
I remember the sights, sounds, smells, going to the cliff edge and seeing bodies in the trees. But my old nursing matron came into my ear and I heard her say to me, just like she had in training, “It’s not about you, nurse. You’re here to serve other people, so pull yourself together”.
I slept in communal tents and heard people crying, their stories and their pain.
I remember this one little girl pulling on my skirt. She had lost 21 people – all the pillars of her life – and she wouldn’t talk to anyone. They had to keep all the children together because the sex traffickers arrived very quickly. Volunteers were doing art therapy with them and their grief was coming out in their paintings, which were all black.
I got a text message from my father, as they didn’t know where I was. My grandfather, father and I are all magicians and I realised that that’s what we needed here, to bring laughter and healing in a language that doesn’t need translation. So my father gave me the number of the Magic Circle.
Six weeks later a magician turned up – resplendent in bow tie and jacket, and complete with balloon animals. He went everywhere, entertaining the kids, the volunteers, went into schools, and he started to bring the lightness back. Winston Churchill’s granddaughter later came out with her mobile circus and stayed for three months.
After I’d been in camp for a few weeks I started to get a sense of what actually needed to happen for long-term recovery. Most of the people in the camps weren’t well educated and had been working in hotels which were now destroyed. I called a bunch of business leaders together and asked them if they’d like to help. I got the Admiralty in Thailand to lend me two helicopters and I took four business leaders and the British Ambassador flying over the areas destroyed, and talking to the people affected.
It wasn’t long before they realised that prior to tourism, the local communities had harvested rubber for a living. It only required simple tools and techniques. Within three months, those harvesting rubber were earning four times what they earned in the hotel industry. The private sector is the most under-used resource in disaster work. It was Prince Charles who taught me that. He told me if they just offer money, refuse them and ask for their heart, their soul and their brain – get their skills.
Using the entrepreneurial skills and acumen of business leaders to assist in solving some of the world's intractable problems is now what I do with my Be the Change Foundation. And I’m now working on creating a school of social entrepreneurship to help others use this model to create change.
What’s in your suitcase?
I only wear black, because it doesn’t show the dirt! I always carry incredible jewellery. It’s a magic trick – misdirection – they look at the necklace and don’t notice the rest. And then there are practical things – a headtorch, wet wipes, perfume or lavender (I work in places with lots of smells) and of course my laptop, which is my lifeline and has lots of pictures of my family, music and films. I don’t have a home, so if I buy something, I give something else away.
Do you have any rituals?
I think I’ve probably slept in over 1,000 beds, floors, couches etc. So my ritual is to set my sleeping space. I have a tiny glow-in-the-dark Buddha, and picture of the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela waving with great big smiles, and then some crystals.
The biggest sacrifice I’ve made in order to live this life is that at the end of the day I can be incredibly lonely. There is a lot of pressure, stress, and intensity, and I have to face that on my own. Having children young helped, and they are the loves of my life.
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This article originally appeared on Virgin.com. To learn more about Linda Cruse and her work, visit her website.
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