(Editor’s note: It’s not often that a Nobel Peace Prize winner comes to speak to a group of people at your local community center. I decided not to pass up this opportunity to hear Jerry White, a man with a history of tragedy -- but more importantly a history of helping others survive their personal tragedies. I was not disappointed.
His thoughts have recently been compiled into a book entitled I will Not Be Broken in which he offers five steps to overcoming a life crisis.
The following is an article written by Kathleen Ganster, who had a chance to interview Jerry while he was in Pittsburgh (where his sister lives) to speak to several groups. ~~ T. K. Flatley)
Survivor Corps: Rise Above. Give Back.
By Kathleen Ganster
Jerry White sure knows how to keep an audience’s attention. He took his leg off and passed it around. But that’s not to say he needed something that unusual to keep folks listening to his presentation. When the Nobel Peace Prize co-recipient talked at a local event in Pittsburgh, everyone paid attention.
“I didn’t know there were hundreds of thousands of land mines left in Israel,” Jerry said as he described how, at the age of 20 in 1984, he stepped on a land mine while hiking with two friends. “I was lucky because one of my friends knew how to tie a tourniquet and the two of them were strong enough to carry me out of there.” The incident caused him to lose the lower half of his right leg, and caused severe wounds to his left leg and has since worn a prosthetic leg. “We literally prayed our way out of the mine field,” he said. As he told the gathering, “And my dear friends dropped me, not once, not twice, but three times,” he joked.
Jerry was a student in Israel when he had his accident, and spent the next six months in the country. “I was lucky because they have the best hospitals in the world.” he said, once again using the word lucky, a word others may not use to describe such an accident.
Telling the story of his accident, Jerry told of feeling sorry for himself, an emotion that was quickly nipped in the bud by a stranger whose name he would never know. “He walked in to see me, and was a double-amputee himself. When he asked me what had happened, he said, ‘Do you still have your knee?’ That is important when you need to be fitted with a prosthetic. I said, 'Yes.' Then he asked if I could still have children -- because that is a common injury with land mine accidents."
Winking at the crowd, Jerry said, “I told him, ‘I think so, I think it still works.’ He told me, ‘Then you just have a nose cold,’ and walked out of the room.” From that experience, Jerry explained, he soon learned he lost his leg, not his life.
Years after his accident, Jerry became a leader in the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, efforts that lead to the 1997 Nobel Prize for Peace. Through his work, Jerry has traveled worldwide, bringing attention to landmine accidents including accompanying the late Princess Diana, the Princess of Wales, on her last humanitarian trip. “She had the ability to draw people in and really listen to them. She was so full of empathy, just a wonderful human being,” he said.
Jerry read from his recently released book, I will not be Broken: Five Steps to Overcoming a Life Crisis (St. Martin’s Press, 2008). “This is the first time that I will be doing a book reading. I am usually so full of blarney and other stories, that I don’t read from the book,” he joked prior to his reading.
Jerry White pictured with some young amputees
In the book, Jerry chronicles not only his own story of survival but those of others who have survived war injuries, cancer, painful divorce and other tragedies. “When people ask why I wrote this book, I tell them that I have traveled all over the world, meeting survivors of all types. I noticed that some survivors seem to have evolved and thought, ‘What could we all learn from these survivors? Why are they not like those survivors who seemed to have de-evolved?’”
One of the things that Jerry is quick to point out is that he doesn’t consider himself a hero, just as most of the survivors in his book feel, he said.
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His work has also led him to co-found the non-profit organization Survivor Corps, an organization dedicated to assisting all survivors of war. “We started out as The Landmine Survivor Network, an organization to help victims of landmine accidents but over the years, we realized there were other victims of war that needed assistance -- child soldiers, war widows, and veterans.” he said. The name change of the non-profit coincided with the release of his book, according to Ricki Weisberg, Communications Manager for Survivor Corps. All net proceeds from the sale of the book go to Survivor Corps.
An important component of Survivor Corps is a support network for U.S. vets returning from conflict. “We found that once they were through medical services, these men and women needed something else. Rehabilitation also happens inside but they weren’t seeking the services they needed to heal that way.”
In addition to his presentations to students and community members, Jerry also met with those who work with veterans in the U.S. including in Pennsylvania. “We have talked with those who work with veterans in Maryland, Washington, and Portland and now, Pennsylvania. We have discovered that what they are doing in one place isn’t necessarily what they are doing in another, so we want to see what is working, and try to coordinate it.”
Peer networks are a big part of Survivor Corps, according to Jerry. “All survivors that we meet have something to share and we have found that survivors learn from other survivors. That is why the peer networks 0are so important,” he said. The veteran peer network is one that they are working to develop.
For more information about Survivor Corps or his book, I will Not Be Broken, visit www.www.survivorcorps.org.
Victim or Survivor? Choice Up to Us
By Teresa K. Flatley
Listening to Jerry White read from his book, I was intrigued by his descriptions of the traits that those who feel victimized by a tragedy have as compared to those who survive and move on. Since none of us will leave this world without experiencing tragedy -- a death, a divorce, an accident -- it seems like a good idea to find out what this man has to say.
Jerry comes by his research honestly, having spent years talking with survivors from all over the world. In I Will Not be Broken, he lists the following as traits of those who feel victimized by what has happened to them:
Resentment towards others
Blaming, not taking responsibility for their behavior
Taking, rather than giving
On the other hand, these are the traits of those who survive:
Face facts about what has happened
Reach out to family and friends
Get moving forward in their lives
This is just a taste of what Jerry presents in his book. I hope you will be intrigued enough to read it. All net proceeds from the sales of the book benefit Survivor Corps.