Angel in a strange land

Three years after leaving a comfortable life in Manhattan to join the Peace Corps, Leslie Hawke hasn’t had time to look back (PEOPLE, June 17). „We’re busy!” says Hawke, who directs a program in Bacau, Romania, that provides training and jobs to poor Gypsy mothers so their children don’t have to beg in the streets.

One of her proudest achievements is the recent completion of a new counseling center, which the women helped clean and paint. „We are expecting Architectural Digest to show up any day,” Hawke says with a laugh. The building also serves as a distribution center for donated goods, like $3,000 worth of new clothes from a factory where two of the mothers have also found work.

Perhaps Hawke’s most gratifying accomplishment, though, has been the jump in the number of children enrolled in a remedial-education class she started. „So many of the kids out in these communities don’t go to school at all,” she says, „but given a little nudge and some shoes and interest on the part of a social worker, they come and they like it.”

Now, spurred by the success of these projects (funded by private and corporate donations as well as grants from the United States Agency for International Development), Hawke, 50, is focusing on securing land and money to build housing. „Seventy­five percent of the women we work with live in mud huts without running water or sewage,” she says. „Most Americans would be appalled if their dog had to live in such conditions.”

Meanwhile the twice­divorced Hawke has been an inspiration to son Ethan, 32, who says he is „exceedingly proud” of his mother and is helping to raise funds for her cause. „I hope to help in other ways,” he says, „when my kids are old enough to go with me and watch Granny in action-kickin’ butt and savin’ lives.”