An Island Emerging

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  But through the course of two years, I learned a lot about a culture that is straining to break free of the past outdated traditions while holding onto their heritage as a people.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.

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    • Mike Pettitt
    • August 19th, 2011

    I have been enjoying your postings about Ebeye and do hope your work and Gem School bring long-term benefits, spirtual and worldly, to the Marshallese on Ebeye.

    I believe that God gives us free will – we can accept salvation through Jesus or reject, we can accept conditions around us as we find them or work to change. The former is a personal decision that you make in your heart; the latter requires external action in cooperation with others. Worldly sin and local poverty do not prevent us from salvation through our Lord but do, of course, cause pain and suffering during our life on earth.

    For the Marshallese to improve their physical reality on earth, they must take the actions needed, and initiate the change needed. No one can (or should) do for them. Marshallese do have a tradition of kings and deference to landowners and others in hierarchial authority. Thus, it appears that for Marshallese commoners (Dri-Jerbal), rather than confront problems and work to change (including change in traditions), the response by most is to leave if you can (move to US) or stoically accept status quo if you cannot leave. As long as this remains the reality, no one can or should expect conditions on Ebeye (or ther rest of the RMI) to improve.

    Actions to bring change, supported by prayer, will result in improvements. Unless God chooses to manifest His presence through His direct intervention, prayer without action will lead to frustration, continuing desperation, and ultimately for most, a failure of faith.

    • Ashley Gatewood
    • August 19th, 2011

    Mike, great insights. Thank you for sharing them here and I’m glad the blog has been a blessing to you.

    You really hit at the heart of the problem in that many Marshallese either move (if they are financially able) or they accept the substandard conditions- I think because they don’t believe they can change it.

    That’s why I’m hoping these younger generations will grasp the understanding that it only takes (action, as you put it) to make a difference.

    Great comment – I enjoyed reading.

    • DJK
    • September 7th, 2011

    The paradigm and the thinking around advancing the younger generation through education and great leadership is not new. Social advancement throughout the decades have shown that while some did well in coming home and serve the RMI, others ended up more confused and quiescent to attempt change.

    Marshallese people must take firm stand on social, political, and cultural issues for change. If living conditions on Ebeye need improving, it must be seen through Marshallese eyes to vocalize, envision and initiate.

    Marshall Islanders are becoming increasingly globalized (as you alluded to earlier) just as countries like Egypt and other small nation around the globe. Global education and exposure will be key to equip young Marshallese to see that the world is moving fast and they aren’t. Key to Marshall Islanders future success is vested in the combination of excellent education and experience along with the creation of partnership with agencies (gov’t and private) abroad and yet soverign in their decision making process. Partnership brings accountability and ensures a transparent governing. In my experience, I think this is currently happening in the islands. It just a matter of time and level of islanders’ continued engagement with the world.

    • Abraham Mea
    • November 18th, 2012

    My sincere heartfelt thanks and gratitude is due to Gateway for the very informative and detailed reflections and insights posted herein. I enjoy (and continue to do so) reading everything theme of this blog. In my own point of view, I also agree that the need to change and move forward for the Marshall Islanders is no east task since it will require them to look into all aspects internally and externally. As a Marshallese youth myself, I have learn some invaluable teaching by reading your comments and it definitely stands out true that change can be brought about and that it really must start with the younger generations, all they have to do, is to understand the situation i.e., their attitudes objectively and subjectively. I hope to continue reading more of your posts…….God Bless you in your services and assistance to theses people.

    • Emily
    • July 30th, 2013

    I taught at Ebeye SDA school 2012-2013 school year. I miss it so very much….I have a blog that I wrote while I was there lettersfromebeye.blogspot.com. God Bless you! Give everyone hugs for me. Yokwe!

    • That’s awesome Emily! I hope the photos here can bring Ebeye just a little closer to home : ) I miss my kids as well – it was such a wonderful experience. I’ve been home for two years now. God Bless you Emily and thanks for dropping by!

  1. I found your blog Ebeye fascinating! I stopped down in Kwaj once on my way to Pohnpei and Chuuk with my husband and I learned a little about Ebeye in the process. My husband has worked on the islands teaching pastors and church leaders for about thirty years. We are getting way up in years and this trip he is returning from next week will probably be his last. But the call of the island peoples is still strong. We love the Lord and I have wondered many times what kind of work if any, is going on on your island. I’m so happy for your love and dedication to the Lord and for the children there. I will continue to pray now that I know more. God bless you for your faithfulness. I know he will. My blog is just to whet appetites and draw people to the Lord as they respond to me. I manage to let people know about the Lord through my comments and follow up. I have found if I write a ‘religious’ post very few will read it. So my goal is to reach those who have already discarded the Christian way. It requires much wisdom and tact. Praise God He never lets us down.Blessings.

    • That’s wonderful Chris, I am thankful God gave you the strength and ability to answer that call. The Marshallese are such beautiful people! It blesses me to know you were in turn blessed by this blog…it is God’s blog, I’ve always known that :) thank you for your words and I pray your blog reaches many people and challenges them to think more purposely about the world around them and how God is evident in it. He is faithful. All the best to you~

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