Florence Moon Enau: A Girl from La Jolla
by Chang Yi. Posted on April 10, 2012, Tuesday
When John F Kennedy became president, a new Camelot was born in the United States.
The spirit of global volunteerism promoted by Kennedy when he made the historical ‘Ask what you can do for your country’ speechinspired millions of young Americans to pick up their knapsacks and travel the world to volunteer.
One of them was a young Senior at San Jose State College – Florence Moon.
Florence was born in Toledo, Ohio. At eight, she moved with her family to La Jolla in California, the Sunshine State of USA. In 1961, she went to San Jose State College and was caught up in the new wave of social awareness and global volunteerism under the Kennedy government.
Growing up, her parents made sure that she did a good dose of community service together with her sister. She had been an active Girl Scout and was a candy striper who helped the Pink Ladies, a medical ladies auxiliary group,with hospital social concerns.
By the time she was in her senior year, she was more than prepared to volunteer in the Peace Corps (PC) officially established by Kennedy in 1961.
The Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) forms she had to fill were, as she puts it, “the most comprehensive character reference forms I ever filled in my life!”
She had to give the names of three referrals, who were in turn interviewed. The selection process for PCVs wasthat stringent.
Florence had a twinkle in her eye when she related her elation of receiving the letter of acceptance. She said that it felt like only yesterday when everything in her world took a whirlwind turn.
She knew there was a country called Malaysia from her geography lessons, but she still had to look at an atlas to confirm where she was really going! She then went for a physical examination at Moffat Field. She said with her trademark chuckle “It was almost like signing up for the Army.”
Orientation took place in Hawaii. Once on board the plane, she found several old friends onboard from La Jolla High School like Bill and Eleanor Revelle along with many other Californians.
Her high school had given her adequate exposure to international and multi-racial communities. She had already had a Japanese-American roommate in college and her experience with the American Field Service gave her plenty of opportunities to meet international exchange students in California.
Furthermore, California as a state has a big Chinese population in San Francisco. These factors helped her get ready for Peace Corps work overseas.
The orientation programme in Hilo, the big island of Hawaii, was run in an old school in the middle of a huge sugar cane field. The volunteers were given canvas cots. On colder days they had to put newspapers under their sheets to keep themselves warm.
It was made more traumatic for many married couples because their privacy was only provided by bedsheets hanging from the ceiling!
Makeshift showers provided only cold water which could be unbearable on cold November days.
Each day was filled with Malay language lessons with teachers seconded from Malaysia like CikguHajijah and Jimmy Layang (who would be her future husband) both of whom were from Sarawak.
There were talks on the history of Malaysia. The lessons on social customs and different races were interesting and inspiring. Physical exercises were a must and swimming was glorious for those who enjoyed it. However, it was a daunting experience for Florence who did not enjoy getting her polio or tetanus shots every Saturday!
Solo camping was also part of the programme, along with learning how to slaughter and dress a chicken. Nobody was spared as everybody had to do it.
She had to pluck the feathers off and dress the chicken ready for cooking. For those who had never seen blood, the experience was horrific!
Food during training was very simple and plain but they were all in good shape by the end of it.
During the three-month intense training she remembered a few volunteers quit the programme to go home. Some were also asked to leave by the authorities when they were found to be unsuitable for the programme.
It was during this training that she got to knowher future husband, Jimmy. She remembers being very impressed by himwhen hehelped the instructors slaughter a whole cow for a ‘luau’.
They went up a volcano on their first date in Hawaii. She did not realise then that that would change her entire life and that she would remain in Sarawak until today!
Her own family was very supportive of her volunteer work overseas. Her parents were well educated and had always been very positive with her decision-making. So when she finally said good bye, her father came to Hawaii to wave her off.
They flew Pan Am and saw Hong Kong, which she described was exactly like its depiction in the film “The World of Suzie Wong”.
They went to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur where they were introduced to more “real-world volunteers”.
Finally, they were sent off to their various posts and she landed in Kuching – all this in a matter of days.
As a volunteer in Kuching she was given work in the Sarawak School Broadcasting Service and had to share accommodation with Gretchen Miller at the back of the office. For two years she worked for Radio Sarawak and wrote the school radio lessons for Primaries One and Two. Her work included splicing tapes and getting teachers to use the programmes for their English lessons.
Weekends were spent travelling throughout the first division and she spent her holidays in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok.
She and Jimmy were engaged in 1967, marrying in the US in 1968. There, she went to work while Jimmy went back to his studies.
In 1976, the couple returned to Sarawak. Florence taught at St Columba’s Secondary School in Miri for a year. After their daughter, Suzanne, was born in December 1977 she quit teaching.
She was the Headmistress of Sri Mawar Kindergarten from 1985 to 2006. When she finally retired, she was already in her 60s. Jimmy, however, died in 2005.
Florence chose to stay on in Malaysia and is now living a very fulfilling life in Miri doing voluntary work.
She is a member of the Petroleum Women’s Club of Miri and Inner Wheeler Club of Miri. She tries to keep fit with aqua-aerobics and bowling. She also takes yoga lessons. She successfully edited an anthology of stories written by the Society of Writers of Northern Sarawak (Miri) and another edition is forthcoming.
Even today, it is easy to see Florence as the young energetic Peace Corps volunteer from California. She is still determined to make things right for people who are less fortunate than her.
She still has that spirit to speak her mind and put things in order for her friends and strangers. She often goes the extra mileto get things done!
Her American values from the 1960s continue to stay with her and asa Sarawakian relative has said of her, “She is the best among the best”.