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Winsted native improving lives in South Pacific

WINSTED — Not everyone decides to spend two years living on a remote South Pacific island with the goal of improving the lives of the people who live there.

But Marie Barbaret has done just that.

And the Winsted native’s hard work and commitment will soon lead to a new library for the rural village community of which she has become an integral part.

Barbaret, a member of the The Gilbert School’s class of 2003, has worked as a Peace Corps volunteer for the past 15 months in Vanuatu.

The independent republic, an archipelego made up of 80 individual islands, sits in the Pacific Ocean just west of Fiji and northeast of the Australian coast.

After graduating from Bryant University two years ago with a degree in accounting, the Winsted native joined the corps as part of her course work for a master’s of  business administration degree at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California.

Through the program, Barbaret is seeking an advanced degree in sustainable development, a relatively new field in the business world.

“I’ve always been interested in working at an international nonprofit organization,†she told The Journal last Friday. “After I graduated from Bryant, I realized that I didn’t really want to do accounting … and this [program] was perfect because I’d be able to incorporate the Peace Corps and my graduate studies.â€

Barbaret is part of a team of 80 volunteers in Vanuatu. The 24-year-old serves as the head advisor of the Regional Training Center (RTC) in the village of WoWo on the island of Malakula.

The village has no running water or electricity, and the vast majority of its 30 or so residents are self-sufficient farmers.

The center, which was first opened in 1998, provides vocational training to the village’s 30 residents, as well as the surrounding area.

Current classes include carpentry, agriculture, construction, business, human rights, cooking, sewing, tourism and others depending on interest.

In addition, Barbaret has led workshops for students and center staff that focused on strategic planning, teacher training and financial planning.

She also headed a cooking class that melded traditional meals with some Western twists.

“I loved it,†Barbaret said of leading a cooking class. “It was a lot of fun.â€

Looking to expand the center’s ability to serve and meet the educational and literacy needs of the community, Barbaret is spearheading a special project to build a new library there.

RTC students will construct the building — and build the furniture for the library — as part of their carpentry and construction class projects.

The library will not only provide additional resources for the center’s students, but also its teachers, who will then be able to use the materials to improve course work and training programs.

In addition to staff and students, the library will also be open to the WoWo community as a whole, many of whom did not continue their schooling beyond the elementary level.

Barbaret said the construction of the building itself is estimated at $2,800.

“So, what I am doing now is working on getting some donors,†Barbaret said.

Once she has secured the money needed to construct the library, Barbaret said the project’s focus will then turn toward
stocking its shelves with books and other informational materials.

“We do have something already in the works to help out with the books,†she said.

Spearheading the local effort to raise money for the WoWo library project are the members of St. Anthony School’s student council.

Council members heard about the project through Barbaret’s mother, Linda Barbaret, who teaches kindergarten at the private elementary school on Oak Street. Marie Barbaret is also a St. Anthony’s graduate.

The student council recently raised $350 by sponsoring a Red & Green Day at St. Anthony on Dec. 23. Every student who donated a dollar to the fundraiser was allowed to wear red and/or green street clothes, instead of their usual school uniform.

Through the holiday fundraiser, the students raised $165. Then student council members matched those funds.

“So, that really was our first big kickoff to tell the school about the project,†Meghan Kane, an eighth-grader and student council secretary, said.

For their second fundraiser, the council is hoping to collect an additional $500 through donations from the school and St. Joseph Parish communities.

For an additional incentive, if the fundraising goal is met by Feb. 3, the council will hold a movie day for students next month.

“Just to make it more fun, it will be be during the school day, so that everybody can attend,†Matt Warner, student council vice president and an eighth-grader, said.

Student council president Moira Jamieson said the council had never before sponsored a fundraiser that benefitted a project outside of the school or parish.

“This is the first time we are doing a truly global project,†Moira, who is also an eighth-grade student, said. “It’s exciting.â€

Last week at the school, Barbaret gave a talk on Vanuatu, her work there and the need for the library at the center. She said the students were very attentive during the talk and excited to be a part of the project.

Barbaret said that as the project moves forward, she will send progress reports back to the St. Anthony School students, keeping them updated on the work they have helped to fund.

“And once we start building, we can send pictures back here to the students,†she said, adding that center staff members are hoping to begin construction on the library this spring.

Barbaret will continue her work at the resource center in WoWo until November, when her enlistment in the Peace Corps is up, and she is scheduled to graduate from Monterey Institute.

After that, she said she is unsure of the next step along her career path. What is certain, however, is her commitment to help others. “I definately want to get a job at a nonprofit,†Barbaret said.

For more information about the project or to make an online donation, visit peacecorps.gov.

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