ASPEN - In 2006, Tessa Horan was volunteering for the Peace Corps in the small, remote village of Tu'anuku in the South Pacific island kingdom of Tonga.
Three weeks into her assignment, she was killed by a tiger shark, but her family has taken up her unfinished mission.
On March 18, four volunteers from the Tessa Horan Foundation, including her mother, Aspen resident Kristena Prater, will begin a month-long journey back to Tonga to continue Horan's work.
"Tonga is a huge part of the foundation because of Tessa's visions she had there," Prater said. "When she died, we decided to keep her visions going."
In an email to her mother three days before her death, 24-year-old Horan, who attended Aspen High School from 1995 to 1998, laid out ideas for the betterment of the 358 villagers of Tu'anuku. Eight months after Horan's death, Prater traveled to the island to help construct one of Horan's ideas: a library.
The Tessa Library serves the village maintained today by another Peace Corps volunteer, the first since Horan's death. One goal of the service trip will be to refurbish some of the library's signs, but the majority of the work will take place just behind the building.
"We are going to the village to help set up a garden behind the library," Prater said. "We will be working with women of the village to teach them how to grow healthy vegetables and setting up rainwater-capture devices to feed the gardens."
Prater explained that most of the vegetables in the village are starch-based and diabetes is threatening the lives of people not only in the village but across the small country of Tonga.
Her hope is that the village can serve as a blueprint for other villages.
The Tessa Foundation, based in Santa Fe, N.M., already has developed sustainable gardens there and in Carbondale. Prater and her team will take seeds from gardens in Carbondale to plant in Tonga.
Along with training women to maintain these small vegetable gardens, the group will be installing composting toilets. The overarching theme, according to Prater, is to stress environmentalism and sustainability.
Prater estimates that all their improvements to the village will cost around $5,000. She said the price is very little compared to what it could cost in the U.S. - somewhere around $35,000.
"Things are less expensive, and the labor is cheaper," Prater said. "I really hope people in the community help out and take care of their own village."
Prater said she cares about the people of Tonga because of the respect shown to her daughter's body. The king of Tonga also stepped in to ensure Horan's body was transported back to the States.
"For a Third World country to have such a manner of honoring someone who was there trying to make things better for the country, it was such an amazing act of caring," Prater said. "We have a lot of work to do there. Our tickets are for three weeks, but we are open to staying longer if we need to."
The journey to Tonga will be Prater's third since her daughter's death. Members of the foundation will embark on another trip in October to check up on the vegetable gardens.
"We want to teach people how to take a spot behind their house and grow healthy food," Prater said.