If Thomas Jefferson hadn’t been able to get Lewis and Clark on contract to explore the Louisiana Purchase back in 1804, Bill and Kathleen could have handled the job just fine if they had been around. I’m referring to a married couple who are now former Peace Corps volunteers from Samoa. They are a real force and have plenty of savvy to get any job done. They arrived with my group, Group 82, back in October of 2009. Unfortunately, because of medical reasons they had to return back to the United States in early August, but not before leaving a lasting impact on Samoa.
Bill and Kathleen had already proven themselves before they ever stepped foot in Samoa. They are both retirees who were and still are driven people who like to get stuff done and know how to go about it. They work well together. During their time here in Samoa they were assigned to teach at one of the largest schools in the country. While there they set up honors classes for the older students at the primary school who they knew needed that extra “push” to make it to the top schools following high school. They worked with their school to plant hundreds of fruit trees which will be around for years to come and provide a healthy option for students at lunch compared to the junk food served from the school canteen.
Bill and Kathleen also worked with their school to create a world map which now hangs out by the road in front of the two story school. It represents the similarities we all share as a human race and perhaps our desires to explore new places and ideas. And new ideas their students did explore! Bill and Kathleen brought music into their classroom on a daily basis which they had from their own travels around the world. Exposing the students to other cultures and familiarizing them with those countries on a map inside the room, gave those students a much broader horizon than the ones they’d known. When talking with Bill and Kathleen, perhaps one of their most exciting successes was obtaining a projector for the school on which students are now able to watch episodes of “Planet Earth,” giving them factual knowledge they would never have been able to grasp from the outdated text books and schemes provided by the school.
These are just a few of their many accomplishments while here in Samoa. But perhaps what they’ll be remembered for most by their fellow Peace Corps volunteers will be their friendship with us.
After arriving here in Samoa last October, the homesickness began to set in. Being away from family was hard, especially my parents who I am close to. I felt this gravitation and instant connection toward Bill and Kathleen, almost as if they were like a mother and father figure for me here, someone to talk to or give a hug to and feel perhaps a little bit more at home with. They were always willing to listen. Whether it was venting after a long day of language training or bouncing ideas off of for a classroom lesson, they were always there. In fact, Kathleen gave me my very first haircut in Samoa when she used a pair of clippers from someone in the training village. I’ll never forget that she was half through cutting it when the conch shell rang for evening prayer and we had to stop. I went to evening prayer at her host familie's house and they started laughing during prayer, thinking my hair was actually finished! Kathleen eventually got me put together and it looked great. When I had a button fall off, who did I go to for a refresher on sewing? Kathleen of course!
When I heard that they were going to have to leave I was sad to hear the news, yet I was so grateful for their help along the way and I think they knew that they were leaving a Kyle behind that was much stronger than the Kyle they met back in October. I owe a lot of that to their support and willingness to listen on those tough days.
Before they left they told me that they had a couple bags of food for me that they needed to get rid of. I didn’t have a chance to pick it up until after they had left. Once I started going through it I realized it was like Christmas morning in August! So many wonderful surprises and their generosity will certainly save me some money in the months ahead as won’t have to buy as much food. So a huge thank you for their parting gift. But I’d gladly give it all back to have them here with us again.
Bill and Kathleen will still be blazing a trail in whatever they may do in the years to come. They’ve already built three houses together, so who knows what’s next. Wherever their future leads them, I know that they’ll have a road map of how to get to the finish line, and together, they’ll change other’s lives along the way.