Generations. That one word embodies a wealth of power. One generation can change the way the world thinks, operates and advances forward into the future. One generation can hold the key to a better life for all. Some generations have been nearly swept away by disease and war – the civil war in America claimed almost an entire generation, leaving us with a void, taking with it any ideas, creations and leaders that it may have offered. When I think about Ebeye, I think mostly about its children. Half of the island population is comprised of children. Precious generational changers.
I remember reading about Ebeye when I first decided to commit to a year of teaching there. I remember thinking that so many good things were happening in the way of communications and technology for a small island that was struggling under the weight of many economic, social and political problems. But of all that I was reading, I wondered…what do the Marshallese people want? While so many technological advances were being made, what weighed on their hearts in importance?
Well, I didn’t take a formal poll or interview anyone, though it was something I had hoped to do. It just didn’t materialize. But through the course of two years, I learned a lot about a culture that is straining to break free of the past outdated traditions while holding onto their heritage as a people. And where you have 17,000 people, you have just as many opinions, perspectives and solutions to the problems. There are those who would not change, and those who desperately strain for it. There is an old mindset and a new one – each with their own advantages and failures. It is an island of people emerging. And along with the people spring forth the ideas and….ideologies.
There are many on Ebeye who are left without hope. And there are those who hold tightly to it. Hope for a better future than the past has offered. There are those who dream of being a self-sustaining island again, which is novel but by all practical purposes now impossible. Developing small islands into towns is too expensive and time consuming to warrant the effort, much less maintain the upkeep of such developments. And economically speaking there is not much in the way of exports to support the society. You might think fishing, but there are no commercial seafaring vessels that belong to the Marshalls. They instead lease out their waters to foreign fisheries who cultivate the profits instead.
Many put hope in their upcoming generation to exact a change and begin to turn things for good. I found that there is an energy among the youth that could set many good things into motion for the small island. I hope to see it. I hope to see some of my own children rise up and be leaders, changing the scope of the future. But they would have to decide if they want to advance or stay rooted in tradition. Are they going to look backwards or forwards? To new ideas or only historical redundancy? It is a delicate line to walk, but the course of time changes many things including turning over generations and their ideologies, allowing for the next generation to step up and be counted.
Practically speaking, the island is very fragile, in many aspects. There is no one answer that will solve all the difficulties they are now facing. But the people are not as active or engaged politically as we are here – they have a history of King-People mentality which is only natural to them. The forces that be are quite confusing, even for me to sort out how things should be done: there are kings, queens, governments, land owners (who have much power), national governments and many other rules and regulations. But I believe this course will change as the children learn and grow into this mile-long world they call Ebeye. I believe in my heart change is coming. I have to believe it…
I believe in God and the plan He has for all the Marshallese and their islands. I pray the very best for the Marshallese, my families in the islands and my friends. I will see you again by the grace of God. And I will be watching to see what good things are happening in your part of the world, praying earnestly for you all.