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St. Joseph couple participates in Habitat Blitz Build in Nepal

Robert and Barbara Peterson enjoy the company of the mother and daughter who will live in the Habitat for Humanity house they helped construct - plus that of a local English teacher and interpreter, and a community leader.

Robert and Barbara Peterson of the town of St. Joseph have recently returned from a memorable trip to Nepal and India.

The Petersons were part of an army of 450 Habitat for Humanity volunteers who spent a week in October helping construct 35 homes in the small country of Nepal, sandwiched between India and Tibet.

They also met a man in Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, who has benefitted from a Personal Energy Transportation (PET) vehicle built by a charity that Robert is active in.

Finally, they toured India for a week, visiting, among other places, the beautiful white marble Taj Mahal mausoleum at Agra.

It was Robert's fifth international Habitat for Humanity trip, and Barbara's third.

He is a retired lawyer, estate planner and university director. She is a retired corporate library director and the current president of the Hudson Area Joint Library Board.

They've been married 46 years and are both 68 years old. They began dating as students at the University of Minnesota and married before Robert entered the U.S. Air Force for a period of seven years.

Robert got his first taste of volunteer work trips as a youth in Warren, a small community in the northwestern corner of Minnesota.

Later, as a lay leader in the United Church of Christ, he began organizing Habitat for Humanity trips for the youth of the denomination.

His first international Habitat project in 2004 took him to Mongolia. In 2007, he went to Ecuador.

Barbara joined him on a trip to El Salvador in 2010, and on another to New Zealand in 2011.

They already have a trip to Kyrgyzstan in central Asia planned for 2013.

One of the highlights of the recent visit to Nepal for Robert was meeting the man who had received a three-wheel PET vehicle in 2009.

Robert is president of the northeast Minneapolis chapter of The PET Project organization that makes the vehicles and distributes them to people in the third world who don't have use of their legs. The vehicles are propelled by arm power.

Chhetra Bahadur Bhandari, 54, of Kathmandu is so grateful for his PET vehicle that he has an American flag on it next to the flag of Nepal.

Robert was told that Bhandari was considering suicide three years ago after having his legs amputated.

The gift of the PET vehicle allowed him to continue his newspaper sales business, and he is adding a satellite phone service.

"He fairly radiates," Robert said. "...And he's proud to share the word around Kathmandu that life can be better for people. He's not only a (PET) recipient, but also an advocate and a promoter."

The PET Project is always looking for volunteers and donations, Robert said. It costs $250 to build one of the sturdy vehicles at the organization's shop in northeast Minneapolis.

Contact information for the organization is available on its website,

"I strongly feel we're not put on this earth just to consume air, water and food. We should help make it better for somebody," Robert said of his motivation for volunteering for both Habitat for Humanity and The PET Project.

He said that for the past 25 years, he and Barbara have had a goal of giving 10 percent of their income and time to their church and charities. They've been members of the United Church of Christ of New Brighton for more than 40 years.

Since they retired and moved to the middle of 50 acres of woods in the town of St. Joseph, the Petersons have given a higher percentage of their money and time to help others.

"While we don't wear our Christianity on our sleeves, we feel we are called to help the stranger wherever they may be - Habitat for Humanity in foreign countries or states, or PETs for people we will almost never meet in remote places all over the world," Robert said.

"Helping friends, neighbors and family is what everyone should be doing. We try to reach out to those who would not normally receive help."