Who would ever have thought that a small town girl from southeastern Colorado would be counted among those working to make peace in the world. Cedaredge resident Verity Martin is that girl.
In the early 1990s, Verity, then a 60-year-old retired school teacher, found herself in a foreign country halfway around the world, waging peace!
A native Coloradan, Verity was born in 1930 in Two Buttes. The only daughter (Verity has two brothers) born to Euell and Ruth Benson, Verity graduated from high school in Two Buttes and then earned a BA in elementary education from the University of Colorado, Boulder.
As part of a Colorado teacher exchange program, Verity taught elementary school children in Australia before returning to Colorado. A widow and mother of four (three sons and one daughter), Verity retired from the Boulder Valley School District in January 1991, and moved to Cedaredge in July that same year. But it wasn't long before Verity came to the realization that she wanted to be a positive influence and an instrument for peace and positive change in the world.
According to Verity, one of her sons, Clayton, had gotten an application to join the Peace Corps while attending Colorado State University, and had left it lying around the house. When she found it, Verity made the decision to join the Peace Corps.
For the past 50 years, Peace Corps volunteers have been working around the world to promote peace and understanding, leaving in their wake a legacy of service that has become an important part of America's history.
In 1960, then Senator John F. Kennedy issued a challenge to students at the University of Michigan, asking how many of them would be willing to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries?
The response was overwhelming, and on March 1, 1961, Kennedy (as President of the United States) signed an executive order establishing the Peace Corps. Since then, more than 200,000 Americans have taken up his challenge, serving in more than 100 host countries around the world, working on health and environmental issues, agricultural issues, business development, education and technology.
Verity said she wanted to make a difference in the world, but she knew that alone she couldn't change legions of people. But by joining the Peace Corps Verity felt she just might be able to make a difference and have a positive effect on at least one person. So, in November 1991, she joined the Peace Corps.
"I've always wanted to travel," she laughed, "and it was an opportunity to see different parts of the world."
Hoping to be sent to Senegal (located on the northwest coast of Africa), Verity, along with a group of forty-plus Peace Corps volunteers, finally arrived in Namibia, located nearly 3,500 miles south of Senegal.
For those Peace Corps volunteers, education was the focus and their primary role was to teach English, in support of the government's declaration of English as the country's official language. As a teacher trainer for the Ministry of Education, Verity used her skills to establish a Teachers Resource Center, and help train junior high school teachers, often filling in as a substitute teacher when the regular teacher was absent. She explained that even though their teacher was absent, the students were to remain in class until properly dismissed, making the role of a substitute teacher that much more important. Verity noted that for the most part, the African teachers she worked with were "extremely well educated."
She also noted that the parents made their children work and beg for money, to be given to their families. "The kids were always begging for money." She said one boy even offered to clean their living quarters. The Peace Corps volunteers all lived in a hostel similar to a military barracks, but with no refrigerator or stove. "But he didn't want anyone to know," she said, "for fear of being ridiculed by his peers."
Verity also noted that Namibia was recovering from a 10-year drought and her photos of the land around the hostel appear to be that of a desert landscape — hot, rugged, dusty and scorched.
"And transportation was always a problem," she said. "I never dreamed that I would ever hitch-hike, but I did a lot of hitch-hiking," she laughed, adding that sometimes she had to walk 12 miles just to get to her place of work.
Noting that the government policy of "apartheid" had just ended in Namibia, Verity described her time in Africa as a time of political unrest. She said there were signs of racial prejudice still in the schools while she was there. "I tried to tread lightly," she said, "and to learn as much as I could about their culture. I knew I didn't have all the answers, and it was not my business to tell them how they ought to do things."
The term "apartheid" refers to the official policy of the government of South Africa, involving a system of racial segregation that included both political and economic oppression based upon race. The policy was designed to keep the white minority in power over South Africa's black majority.
Reminiscing, Verity said she enjoyed watching many of the wild animals of Africa, especially the giraffes, hyenas, warthogs, springboks and of course, the awe-inspiring elephants. Verity said she was truly amazed how the elephants could move "ever so softly and quietly through the land, and not be heard."
"But no lions," she added.
For Verity, the things she learned from the people of Namibia and what she could bring back with her to share with others, were the biggest rewards coming from her experience in Africa.
"I benefited more than they did," she said, "from all kinds of things that money can't buy."
Verity said letters from Peace Corps volunteers to both friends and family living in the United States are important and can change attitudes here at home, and help bring about much needed change in the world.
Verity said she has so many memories. "I have to pinch myself," she laughed, "to think that a person from Two Buttes, Colorado, could be a part of such an adventure."
A gifted writer, Verity, in both prose and poetry, described her surroundings in Africa as, "This wide, brown and barren place," and shares many of her adventures; what she learned; and the things she saw and did, as a Peace Corps volunteer.
Now in her 80s, Verity can often be found working in her yard at her home in Cedaredge, or in her garden plot at the Community Garden.
Since its inception in 1961, Peace Corps volunteers have captured the imagination of an entire nation and now, celebrating 50 years of waging peace, Peace Corps volunteers continue to promote peace and friendship in countries around the world, helping thousands of individuals wanting to build a better life for themselves, their children, and their communities.blog comments powered by Disqus