June 12, 2005: Headlines: COS - Tonga: Pittsburgh Live: Robert Goetschkes, spent 1990-1991 in the South Pacific's Kingdom of Tonga

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Tonga: Peace Corps Tonga : The Peace Corps in Tonga: June 12, 2005: Headlines: COS - Tonga: Pittsburgh Live: Robert Goetschkes, spent 1990-1991 in the South Pacific's Kingdom of Tonga

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Robert Goetschkes, spent 1990-1991 in the South Pacific's Kingdom of Tonga

Robert Goetschkes, spent 1990-1991 in the South Pacific's Kingdom of Tonga

Robert Goetschkes, spent 1990-1991 in the South Pacific's Kingdom of Tonga

Making a difference

By Mary Pickels


Sunday, June 12, 2005



Robert Goetschkes graduated from the State University of New York at Oneonta in 1988 with a degree in history, but his family's business background in construction and plumbing also worked in his favor when he applied to the Peace Corps.

Goetschkes, 38, of Greensburg, spent 1990-1991 in the South Pacific's Kingdom of Tonga.

"I worked in what's known as skilled trades," said Goetschkes, now a teacher at Hillcrest Intermediate School in the Norwin School District. He also taught industrial arts at a Methodist High School on the island located between Fiji and New Zealand.

Although learning English is a part of Tongan education, Goetschkes had to be able to teach in Tongan during his stay in the rural town of Neiafu.

Tongans pride themselves on self-sufficiency, he said. Tongan graduates can build a foundation for a house and install their own plumbing. One skill he taught students was how to fix hair dryers.

"In a place like Tonga, if something breaks, it doesn't come with a warranty. And it's too expensive to send it back to New Zealand or Australia," he said. "The goal was to make them as self-sufficient as possible."

As was the island's custom for men and women, Goetschkes regularly wore a skirt-like mat and a colorful floral belt, called a ta'avala. Each school year, he shows his class the ta'avala and other souvenirs from his experience. He also speaks at area colleges, part of the Peace Corps' ongoing effort to educate others.

Goetschkes has many fond memories of his experience in the town where he helped with a local Boy Scout troop, taking them on camping trips.

"I enjoyed it," he said. "I was in no hurry to leave."

In addition to a love of traveling, Goetschkes had a family background of community service.

"My dad is a retired New York City firefighter, and my uncle was a New York city policeman," he said.

After coming home, Goetschkes enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard, completing six years of active duty in California and Hawaii. His son, Keoni, 8, was born in Hawaii. His wife, Kelly, is a Westmoreland County native and a nurse at Excela Health Westmoreland Regional Hospital. They are also the parents of Claire, 4.

Upon moving to Greensburg, he pursued his master's degree in education from Seton Hill University. He has been teaching in Norwin for the last four years.

When this story was posted in June 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Pittsburgh Live

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Tonga



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