February 25, 2006: Headlines: COS - Solomon Islands: Married Couples: Miami Herald: Susan and Arthur Walton, Seamus and Ann Gleeson, and Chris and Hellen Kang all met as Peace Corps Volunteers in the Solomon Islands

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Solomon Islands: Peace Corps Solomon Islands : The Peace Corps in the Solomon Islands: February 25, 2006: Headlines: COS - Solomon Islands: Married Couples: Miami Herald: Susan and Arthur Walton, Seamus and Ann Gleeson, and Chris and Hellen Kang all met as Peace Corps Volunteers in the Solomon Islands

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Susan and Arthur Walton, Seamus and Ann Gleeson, and Chris and Hellen Kang all met as Peace Corps Volunteers in the Solomon Islands

Susan and Arthur Walton, Seamus and Ann Gleeson, and Chris and Hellen Kang all met as Peace Corps Volunteers in the Solomon Islands

The Solomon Islands sextet -- the Kangs, Ann and Seamus Gleeson, and Susan and Arthur Walton -- are particularly close. They often spend holidays together, and Chris and Arthur teach in adjacent classrooms.

Susan and Arthur Walton, Seamus and Ann Gleeson, and Chris and Hellen Kang all met as Peace Corps Volunteers in the Solomon Islands

Volunteers' labor of love

Caption: Susan and Arthur Walton, left, Seamus and Ann Gleeson with daughter Fiona, and Chris and Hellen Kang all hold pictures of themselves taken in the Solomon Islands. Photo: EMILY HARRIS/MIAMI HERALD STAFF

In the Solomon Islands, a remote Pacific archipelago where parents still arrange their children's marriages, young people in love don't date. But a young man in the throes of desire might, in the local vernacular, ''creep'' -- sneak out at night and scratch on the window of the woman he fancies, hoping to elicit a promising sign.

At least, that's how Chris Kang, a Gulliver Prep math teacher who taught in the islands as a Peace Corps volunteer, explains it. His thumbnail ethnography loses some of its punch, though, when he describes his courtship of his wife, Hellen, a Solomon Islander he met in Honiara, the capital city:

''We met at an aerobics class,'' he says.

This gets a big laugh from the room, which is populated chiefly by returned Peace Corps volunteers who met in the Solomons in the 1990s, paired off, married and moved to South Florida.

South Florida's Peace Corps alumni are a tight group. Parties fill up with 60 or 80 returned volunteers; an e-mail from someone coming to town looking for a place to crash will draw a dozen or more offers.

Helene Dudley, board president for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of South Florida, which counts more than 200 members, says the region's multicultural flavor is a strong draw: If a returning volunteer wants both to come back to the United States and keep the feel of living abroad, where better than South Florida?


The Solomon Islands sextet -- the Kangs, Ann and Seamus Gleeson, and Susan and Arthur Walton -- are particularly close. They often spend holidays together, and Chris and Arthur teach in adjacent classrooms.

The Waltons began making eyes even before they'd left U.S. soil, during an 18-hour delay at San Francisco International Airport. They say they kept a low profile.

''Everyone knew they were gonna hook up from the first day,'' Chris Kang says.

During their two months of training at a boarding school in the Solomons, the romance of learning (among other things) how to kill a chicken with a Swiss Army knife proved irresistible.

They were sent out to teach at opposite ends of the island chain. Arthur endured dysentery through a two-day ride on the slow boat to his teaching site. He arrived to learn he'd be sharing a three-bedroom house with the principal of his school and his 11 kids. For the next two years, he and Susan wrote letters every week and met in Honiara every few months.

Seamus Gleeson, an Irishman, was in the Solomons with the Voluntary Service Overseas, the United Kingdom's Peace Corps equivalent. Ann was a Peace Corps volunteer based in Honiara. Ann says they met at the yacht club.

''It was a bar,'' Susan says.

''There weren't many yachts there,'' Seamus says.

Then he looks at Ann, smiles and says, ''She ruined my project.'' He built clinics in remote villages. ''Before I met her I used to spend six weeks at a time in the bush, out in the middle of nowhere,'' he recalls. ``Then it went down to five, then four, then three.''

Chris and Hellen's romance grew more slowly. He was in Honiara because the boarding school on the remote island where he taught had closed a few weeks before, when the year's water supply ran out.

After meeting at the aerobics class (hosted by the Malaria Research Center) they hung out a bit as friends. Then the dry season ended and Chris went back to teaching.

A year later, Hellen stopped at a store on her way home from work to drink coconut water. She ran into Chris, who was staying at the lodge behind the store -- the water at his school had run out again, and he was back in the capital.

''Then I got a coconut every day,'' Hellen says.

Chris stayed in the islands an extra year after his Peace Corps stint; he and Hellen married in the Solomons in 1996.

Susan and Arthur, and Seamus and Ann, married the next year, back in the States.


Ann was the first of the group to come to South Florida, lured by a master's program at Florida International University. One of Ann's contacts at FIU helped Arthur find a job teaching math at Gulliver, a private school in Pinecrest. When another job opened up at the school, Arthur alerted Chris, who was teaching in Charlottesville, Va. Now the Gleesons live in Hollywood, the Kangs and Waltons in South Dade. All have small children; two of the kids (Makira and Isabel) are named after Solomon islands.

Ann calls the Peace Corps a ''second family,'' and all say they were transformed by their experience in the South Pacific. Asked why, they tend to return to the notion of scarcity, a concept difficult to grasp in contemporary America.

''If your 50 gallons of gas run out and you can't run the outboard motor, a person dies when he can't get to the hospital,'' Seamus says by way of explanation.

Usually, though, the tenor of the conversation is light, even when the subject is not -- as when the men list how many times they had malaria.

''All of the men who crept caught malaria,'' Susan says, and everyone laughs.

When this story was posted in February 2006, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Miami Herald

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Solomon Islands; Married Couples


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