Proud memories of the Peace Corps
EAGLE, Colorado From the time they heard John F. Kennedy issue his famous inauguration speech challenge in 1961, John and Katha Hartley were ready to answer the young presidents call to service.It just took a little while to work out the logistics.We said to ourselves we wanted to go into the Peace Corps, but at that time, they didnt take married couples, explains John Hartley. But we said, some day we will do this.Some day turned out to be from 1992-94 when the Hartleys, who now live in Eagle, joined the Peace Corps and were stationed on the island nation of Grenada. By the time the couple did their Peace Corps stint, John was 54 and Katha was 51. They had raised five children, with the youngest just finishing college. On a professional front, theyd both had successful careers John in business and Katha in education. But that early yearning to join the Peace Corps still held sway in their lives. In the early 1990s, the Hartleys realized there was nothing really holding them back from following their long-held dream.Weve never regretted it for a minute. It was a defining moment in our lives, John says.
Grenada is an island nation located in the southeastern Caribbean sea. The country covers 132.8 square miles and has a population of approximately 100,000. (For comparison, the city and county of Denver is 154.9 square miles with a population of 588,000.)When the Hartleys got off the bus where they were going to work, they found a welcoming party at the end of the road. The Hartleys were greeted with formal speeches and great excitement. The guests included Grenadas prime minister, and a group of women from a sewing collective. That business, which eventually became known as Unity Garment, was the designated work location for John.Still, the Hartleys found themselves facing huge challenges with few resources. But before long, John hit on a winning idea.He took a hot, cramped bus ride to check in with government officials at St. Georges, Grenadas capitol city. A fellow passenger suggested that John visit the minister of education. During that visit, John discovered Grenadas students are all required to wear school uniforms. However, the uniforms were imported. He suggested that a local Grenada business Unity Garment get that contract instead. The education minister was skeptical that the sewing collective could handle the order for 10,000 uniforms, but gave John a sample to take back to the shop. That night, the five women workers at Unity Garment tore apart the uniform sample and copied it. The next morning, John was back on the bus to the capitol to show their work to the education minister .Of course, he was stunned, says John. Unity Garment got the contract a job the shop still holds to this day.With a bit of lobbying. John negotiated a tariff wavier so Unity Garment could import fabric for the uniforms. That was a major breakthrough. That gave them a competitive advantage they never had before, he explains. Using his business background, he navigated the government processes and arranged for a line of credit from Barclays Bank. Those two actions provided a lifeblood for Unity Garment that lasted long after the Hartleys left the island. Thats why the couple point to the story is a prime example of the work that Peace Corps promotes. The whole idea is to get people to be self sufficient, get them to make money so they can feed their kids, says John.Today, the women of Unity Garment negotiate their own deals and travel to Trinidad and Tobago to shop for textiles. Unity Garment now employs 15 people who in turn support about 60 family members.
Kathas work also still resounds in Grenada. Her 17 years in education led to her assignment as a teacher trainer, where the Peace Corps figured shed make the biggest impact. The Granada teachers were hungry for help. One colleague, who became a close friend, had received a book about how to teach reading. That was her sole resource, aside from the womans intense dedication.When I was assigned to her school, we just flew forward, says Katha.English is the official language in Grenada, so Katha could easily share her teaching strategies. The teachers eagerly embraced the help. And when the Hartleys returned to Grenada to visit last month, one of those educators proudly reported that the schools Katha worked with now have the best readers in the country.Sometimes its the little things that make a big difference. At one school, Katha brought in a pencil sharpener the traditional rotary turn, non-electric model. In an environment where kids have to sharpen pencils using knives, it was a huge leap in technology. The principal was ecstatic, declaring that with a pencil sharpener in place, the school was really set to go places.
The Hartleys fondly remember the time they volunteered to have some people over for dinner and later learned they had actually offered their home to host a wedding reception. They tell about Alice Macintosh, the woman who they hired as a housekeeper but set on the path to entrepreneurship. One day John picked up a fabric doll at a local tourist shop and he brought it back to Alice. He asked if she could duplicate the item, she did. Since that day, the shop has clamored to stock every doll she produces.The Hartleys regularly correspond with their Grenada friends. Last year they traveled back to the island for a visit. Stopping by Unity Garment was a particularly poignant moment. All of the sudden we could hear they women screaming Mr. John!, says Katha. And they still make those school uniforms, John adds.The Hartleys say they joined the Peace Corps to help others; and ended up learning a lot about themselves and the world. Even though we waited such a long time to go, it met all of our expectations, says Katha. We learned that people all want the same things we do. They want their children to be successful and safe and have a good home.