ORWELL — Frances Stone always knew she had a story to tell. It just took 40 years, a little literary guidance and the support from her family to put it on paper.
“Through the Eyes of My Children” is Stone’s account of her family’s Peace Corps service in the Philippines, from 1971-1973. The recently completed book, currently available on Amazon.com and soon in bookstores, chronicles the Stone family’s humanitarian and agricultural outreach to the Filipino people and also captures the clan’s adjustment to the culture and customs of their temporary home.
The many anecdotes, observations and accounts in the book are culled from Stone’s sharp memory, reminiscences offered by her husband Paul and their four children, and the more than 100 letters Frances Stone wrote to family and friends during her two years of service in the Philippines.
While many Peace Corps volunteers have penned books about their experiences, Stone hopes “Through the Eyes of My Children” offers readers a new, and even inspirational, take.
First, it is written in a straightforward and conversational style that the author hopes will appeal to young people and perhaps move them to join the Peace Corps. And second, the book details a six-person family’s experiences with the organization; The Stones’ service fit in a small time period during the early 1970s when the Peace Corps allowed families to serve.
“I wanted to do a book for young people about Peace Corps,” Stone, 71, said during a recent interview. “There are a lot of (Peace Corps) books out there, but they are all for adults. And there is nothing out there during the time that families were in Peace Corps.”
It was in 1971 that Paul and Frances Stone, then living in Virginia, considered the Peace Corps as a way of volunteering their skills to help struggling people in other parts of the world. Paul had earned college degrees in animal nutrition and animal sciences and was eager to get into agriculture. Frances had training in childhood development, and was getting lot of experience in that field with her and Paul’s brood: Daniel, then 11; Nancy, 8; Peter, 6; and Matthew, 3.
Both Paul and Frances were between jobs and were therefore ready for the Peace Corps adventure.
“We decided ‘It was now or never,’” Frances Stone said. “It was something we always wanted to do.”
The family submitted its top assignment choices to Peace Corps, with some African nations appearing at the top. But there were no agricultural openings in Africa, so Peace Corps officials suggested the Philippines, a collection of more than 7,000 islands in the western Pacific Ocean in Southeast Asia.
The Stones accepted the assignment with a little apprehension, as the Philippines did not have the best international reputation — it was governed by the notorious Ferdinand Marcos, who declared martial law during the time the Stones were there.
“It was considered one of the most corrupt countries,” Stone recalled,
Ultimately, the Stones were assigned to Bacolod City in the province of Negros Occidental. Paul was asked to help local farmers improve the nutritional content of food for their pigs using as much local produce as possible. Meanwhile, Frances worked at a community day care center developing more creative curricula for pre-school students.
The family knew immediately it was in for a big transition.
“The first morning at breakfast showed us how far we were from home,” Stone wrote in her book. “Breakfast was served cafeteria style, and there for us to think about eating were plates with pieces of cold fish — the heads, the bodies, and the tails were all served on separate plates. That didn’t even tempt us. We … all filled up on rice and bananas that, thank goodness, were always available. We didn’t starve.”
After living in a hotel for several weeks, the Stones found a home that they could afford to rent on a Peace Corps salary.
“The flimsy gate and smashed chicken wire fence around our house gave us neither security nor privacy,” Stone wrote. “But the neighbors thought it was fine because they had an excellent view of our activities and weren’t shy about watching us. We were the neighborhood novelty, live reality TV.”
Gradually, the Stones got the hang of everyday life in the Philippines. They haggled with market vendors, pumped their own water, and hopped from place to place in Jeepneys — small, open air, public transit shuttle buses.
CHANGE OF VENUE
After a year in Bacolod City, the Stones were ready for a change of scenery. Paul felt he was working with the more affluent farmers, instead of the poorer once, while the couple also wanted a better educational experience for their children.
But instead of cutting their Philippine odyssey short, they simply transferred to the mountain town of Baguio, where they would enjoy a more fulfilling experience. Paul landed a job teaching nutrition at an agricultural college, while Frances found what she called her “dream job.” She helped establish a school within a convent for poor children. The leader of the convent, Sister Helena, led Frances to an empty room in the church and said, “I’ll get you the kids.”
She did, and Frances Stone and her helpers dutifully taught children who showed up. The fledgling school eventually drew about 20 regulars who otherwise would not have had any education.
“I loved it,” Frances said.
“I began to understand how important my simple program of books, music, art, free play, and walks was to the children and even their parents, who were pleased to see their children happy at school and greatly appreciated the respect I showed both their children and them,” Stone wrote.
“I did not make them feel ashamed, and that was a really big deal in the Philippines. I was opening doors for the children. I offered them a freedom they had never known — the freedom to use their minds and figure out for themselves how they wanted to do something. For a little while, I also offered them control, consistency, and an acceptance that many had never known. They gained self-respect and respect for each other.”
The Stones left Baguio and the Philippines in 1973 and have never returned — not because they haven’t wanted to. They were busy raising their children, some of whom now have kids of their own. They are perhaps best known in the area — and throughout the region — for operating Stonewood Farm in Orwell, one of the state’s largest turkey producers. They acquired the farm in 1976.
Frances Stone credits several people, including Middlebury’s John Barstow, for helping her assemble her book, which she began compiling in earnest in 2006.
“I always had a dream of someday publishing a book to share with the public,” Stone said. “I finally got it done.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]