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February Spotlight: Andrew and KT Barous

Andrew & KT Barous: Peace Corps Volunteers 2002-2004 (Group 62/63)

Please meet our February spotlight: Andrew and KT (Huggins) Barous!  


Andrew and KT met in Tonga, as Peace Corps Volunteers, and served from 2002-2004.  KT (group 62)  lived on the Ha’apai island group and worked as a science teacher at St. Joseph's Catholic School.  Andrew (group 63), on the other hand, worked and lived on the Vava’u island group as a community-based volunteer.  He originally was invited to work on a Future Farmers of Tonga initiative; however within his first week at site, he realized there was water scarcity and his community was in need of reliable clean drinking water.  This realization resulted in him spearheading an initiative that was able to  build 30 cisterns for his community. 


They each had different motivations for joining the Peace Corps: KT was motivated at a young age to serve in the Peace Corps by her family friend, Reverend John Lane.  She grew up in Staunton, Virginia and attended a special service where Reverend Lane was preaching.  During the service, he began talking about his experience about being a PCV, in Nepal, over 50 years ago.  It was where he found God.  It was then and there, at age 14, that she decided to join the Peace Corps.  She reflects, “I didn't want to find God, but I wanted to find something.”


Andrew decided to serve in the Peace Corps after college.  At the time, he was in Ecuador, with World Teach.  He laughed when saying, “I didn’t have anything like KT, I just wanted to live overseas and do something cool, where I could help people.”   


When asked about what stands out for them from their time in Tonga, they both had many stories and memories to share.  For KT, she frequently thinks about her homestay family in ‘Eua (“Kavienga and Toupou Vaea are still my family to this day!”), spending time with the kids in her community, spending time alone in her house, drinking hot drinks, and writing letters or reading.  It was here where she “learned to be alone, which has been an important thing for me in my life.”  She and Andrew also had some really cool adventures together, which included kayak/camping trips around the outer islands of Vava’u and walking across to ‘Uoleva at low tide to camp.  They also tried to follow some of the paths Paul Theroux took in his book, The Happy Isles of Oceania.    


KT also fondly thinks about her mentor and fellow volunteer Judith (Johnson) Bledsoe.  Judith was in the group before KT and had already lived in Ha’apai for a year before KT’s arrival.  Judith taught her the ropes of Tonga living and Peace Corps life.  For example, she taught KT how to take a step back and be okay when the power goes out. She also got her into running and made her a healthier person.  One thing that has stayed with her, was when Judith told her that she “had no doubt you are going to go far in your life.”  That statement was incredibly impactful and gave her the wherewithal to withstand anything.   


For Andrew, he fondly remembers the Tongan kids in his village (“the kids were so awesome!”), dinners cooked over an open fire with his neighbors, and trips to the outer islands of Vava’u to explore.  Andrew recounts how his village, ‘Utungaki, wanted to get a volunteer for a long time and they finally got him.  They were very proud and territorial of him, because he was their Peace Corps Volunteer.  He was novelty, at first, and he remembers how his neighbor would tell their children that if they were bad, the big-bad Palangi (white person) would get them.  Early on, the little girl that lived next door was perpetually terrified of him, but eventually they became close friends. 


When asked about their most rewarding experience from their time in Tonga, language acquisition and the deep connections made with their community reign supreme.  KT states, “I’m proud that I learned the language and was able to engage with the people in my community.”  For Andrew, “The personal relationships on all different levels: with the Tongan people in my village, with my fellow volunteers, with the Peace Corps staff, etc.”


After the Peace Corps, Andrew and KT traveled the world for a year: they first backpacked for 6 months and then lived in the Virgin Islands, where they bartended for another 6 months.  Andrew and KT got married in 2009.  In a twist of twists, the Reverend who replaced Reverend Lane, and who married them, was also a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Tonga!   Reverend Roger Bowen and his wife served early on in Tonga and Roger was able to incorporate Tongan tapa and speak in Tongan during their service. It is stories like these that show how small the world can be.


They have lived in San Francisco for the past 15 years, where Andrew works for a private equity firm; he is responsible for managing client relationships and business development.  KT has worked in sports media for the past fifteen years, first working at ESPN before moving over to the Bleacher Report when it first got started.  She is now working on starting her own consulting firm with athletes, startup founders, and more helping to launch various projects.  When asked if their time in Tonga helped them in their career, KT responded that her time in Tonga “...gave me confidence to try things outside of my comfort zone, and introduced me to many different types of people and ways of life.  All of those experiences have made me a well rounded and grounded person, and I think that takes people far in life.”