The toughest job you'll ever love is how Pat and Ardella Moran, a husband and wife duo from Wyoming, will always remember their Peace Corps experience. The couple returned from their two-year commitment with the Peace Corps on the island nation of St. Lucia in the West Indies changed in more ways than one.
Before joining the Peace Corps, the self-described "empty-nesters" had spent countless hours volunteering at shelters and inner-city schools, and had organized weeklong rebuilding efforts in the Appalachians and rural Mississippi. With all their children grown and scattered, joining the Peace Corps and extending that spirit of service was a natural progression for the Morans, who are both in their 50's.
"Internet research led us to the Peace Corps Web site promotion for 'married couples' and 'older volunteers,'" Pat said. Although the average age for Peace Corps volunteers is 28, the agency has increased its efforts to recruit older volunteersÃ³focusing on the previously untapped baby-boomer generation and retirees looking to "give back."
"A year later, the application process was complete and an invitation was received for the Eastern Caribbean. We asked ourselves, 'Is this a dream? Is there really a need for the Peace Corps in the Caribbean?'" the couple wondered. The answer, as the Morans quickly learned, is an emphatic "yes." For 45 years now, the Peace Corps has sent volunteers to the farthest corners of the globe to engage in cross-cultural relationship-building and sustainable development efforts, including the Eastern Caribbean.
Ardella Moran with youth from St. Lucia
Since the agency's inception in 1961, over 3,000 volunteers have been assigned to the Eastern Caribbean region, primarily providing job skills training and health services to youth. In collaboration with government ministries and non-governmental organizations, the Eastern Caribbean program has also integrated within its youth program information technology, disaster preparedness and mitigation, and HIV/AIDS education and prevention.
In St. Lucia, Ardella worked with the Ministry of Health's HIV/AIDS Foundation at the Soufriere Hospital with its clinic for sexually transmitted diseases. She also conducted classes in the community on prevention, stigma and discrimination, as well as care and support. Pat, on the other hand, worked in community development, helping to spearhead two major projects: a community bathroom/shower/laundry facility and the demolition of an existing structure to make way for a new youth community center.
Once the Morans settled into their day-to-day routines in St. Lucia, they realized they had more time on their hands than they were used to, and so they began searching other avenues to offer their services. The Morans met their unofficial "community partners" quite by accident. While Pat was attempting to get the bathroom facility built on Baron's Drive, a woman in a store noticed he had a letter with the words "Baron's Drive" at the top. She asked, "What are you doing with that letter?" He told her he was trying to help the community as a Peace Corps worker. She told him that her family is from Baron's Drive, and the two agreed to meet to discuss a possible partnership. Pat discovered that she was the president of Baron's Drive Youth Organization and her twin sister was the secretary.
"This proved to be just the spark Ardella and I needed to immerse ourselves into the complete St. Lucian experience. Their friendship, enthusiasm and talents would provide countless hours of productive yet enjoyable work. Through them, we developed additional responsibilities that surpassed our primary responsibilities," Pat said.
In conjunction with the Baron's Drive Youth Organization, the Morans helped conduct sleepover camps each August for 50 children from the poorest areas of Soufriere, but primarily from Baron's Drive. At camp, Ardella taught a life-skills class and Pat taught carpentry to 13 and 14-year-olds who are in their last year of school. In St. Lucia, students must take a test to go to high school.
Pat Moran with local children
"The children we worked with didn't pass that test, so they were finished with school at that point. Because many of them can't even read at a second-grade level and have little prospects for a job, we are hoping the carpentry classes and the life skills training will improve their lives, help to prevent some of the many teen pregnancies and make an impact on the spread of HIV," he said.
In conjunction with the Baron's Drive Youth Organization president, the Morans worked to help improve the reading skills of the youth in Soufriere. With donated office space and books provided by St. Cyprians Catholic School in Sunnyvale, Calif., they opened a community book lending facility.
In February 2005, both Pat and Ardella received small project assistance grants. Ardella's grant led to a Patient Education Center at the local hospital, and Pat's grant helped start the Soufriere Youth Steel Pan Training, which has provided approximately 50 out-of-school, unemployed youth, ages 16 - 23 years old, with employment opportunities. The program instills self-esteem, and in the near future will help these youth welcome thousands of tourists to St. Lucia each year with the sound of their music.
"The greatest thing of all in St. Lucia is the people. We were truly welcomed into the community and treated like family," Pat said of their experience. Last Christmas, the entire Moran family, including children and grandchildren, made the journey to St. Lucia to get a glimpse of Pat and Ardella's life there. Instead of exchanging gifts, the Morans hosted a Christmas party for the children from Baron's Drive.
During their time in St. Lucia, the Morans frequented the beach at least one Sunday a month, with the local children following them and begging for them to play all day. "At the end of a day like that, we would look at each other and say, "This is the Peace Corps? The toughest job you'll ever love."
Back in Wyoming, Ardella will work in the delivery room of a very small community hospital outside the Windriver Indian Reservation, looking for a community health position in the same area. Pat will enjoy retirement and perhaps go to school. They plan to host a cultural exhibit at a local school during Peace Corps' 45th anniversary celebration in March.
Last updated Jan 22 2013