10 Months in Chuuk Complete

The Chuuk experience is coming to a close and the last couple of weeks have been filled to the brim with final events and goodbyes.

Before we parted ways, I needed to thank each one of my high school students for a variety of reasons, offer counsel and encouragement, remind them how important they are and that they cannot be forgotten. In a culture (and in many of their homes) where positive encouragement, support and love is not felt, I sure hope they did feel those things in my classroom. I pray that God will watch over, protect and guide these Chuuk High friends of mine! Kot epwe nom reom ach chusefan [God be with you until we meet again].

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These faces, attitudes, personalities and hearts will be ones I will never forget. I will miss seeing them each day and can only leave them in God’s hands, as I cannot be their teacher forever. Living where they do with many factors that seem to already be stacked up against them, I pray that they will do great things and be a positive influence in Chuuk and wherever their life journey takes them.

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2nd period, 10B
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3rd period, 10A
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4th period, 11B
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5th period, 9A

Ceremonies, celebrations and graduations are a big deal in Chuuk. They are serious about their rehearsals for said events and practice for days. The K5 Elementary School Graduation was adorable as the classes had matching mumus for the girls and shirts for the boys. I have been impressed on multiple occasions over the last couple of weeks at the ability these champion Chuukese sewers have in busting out matching apparel, overnight.

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The highlight of the K5 Graduation was when our favorite little Hideki Nakayama gave a speech and ended with, “Mom and Dad, thank you for your love and support. Staff and Administration, keep up the good work!” This little man has been a crowd favorite among our group. His mom works at the high school so Hideki has spent some quality time with each of us after school. His aunt is also Ben and Katlyn’s landlord, so he and his little brother have been known to join us for some backyard games a time or two.

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I loved watching this little guy laughing with someone in the crowd!

Our landlord’s Presbyterian church was given the opportunity to host the first combined faith senior class baccalaureate for Chuuk High School. In years past, each religious group has hosted their own baccalaureate for the students in their congregation. At least five different faiths came together in celebration of the graduating class and to receive a blessing upon their future.

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With our time in Chuuk coming to close, Josh and Amanda organized a fantastic banquet to end our WAFF season, complete with awards and a season slideshow. Playing backyard WAFF has been just about the only entertainment option on our island and has been a saving grace indeed! A special thanks to Bob and Bob (Ben and Josh) for commentating the entire season.

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The Pacific WAFF League
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The only female to hit a grand slam

The staff at Chuuk High School sure know how to pull together a well decorated gym for graduation. Within a few days, the school’s gym hosted Chuuk’s first ever senior prom, the K5 graduation, and then the high school graduation.

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Tina and Nana
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Modesto and his killer block letter skills

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Erlin bustin’ out the balloon arch
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The female staff in matching mumus
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Esther and Raisa, champion teachers and the ones who run just about every student program and club

Although I didn’t teach any 12th grade classes, I sure have gotten to know some great seniors and they made me proud at graduation with their speeches and awards!

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Vian, a member of Michitiw Seminary who often stepped in to teach her class

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Two of my students, Hope and Paltiela (10A) singing the national anthem
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Harvey
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Grace and her mom after she gave a great speech
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Myisha Mori
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Our neighbor, Cassie
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Candy leis for days!

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My girl, Slate! This senior class president is planning on going to college in the states! She gave an excellent speech and her parents would be so proud; they live in the states so I recorded Slate’s speech for her parents.

For sentimental reasons, I held off on cleaning my classroom and locking it up for the last time before I turned in my key. Even though school had ended, I felt as though turning in my key made it official that I was really done seeing my students. In this room, I became a high school teacher, wrote my own curriculum, lesson planned for a school year, figured out classroom management on the fly, and made lasting memories.

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One final trip to Pisar – the perfect final Chuuk adventure with the staff! This outer island has been a great getaway the three times I’ve been able to visit. Sleeping in a hammock, epic sunsets and sunrises, volleyball, snorkeling, and feeling like you’re living in a postcard for a bit, have been some great times!

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District President Wainis and Sister Wainis, a BIG reason for the Church in Chuuk functioning as much as it does

Merina Francis and I have worked together overseeing Seminary and Institute in Chuuk for 10 months. She has been a champion of a translator; we’ve had many adventurous (and some wet) boat rides and many laughs! She has two busy district callings, takes care of her mother, has been her family’s taxi driver and raises children as though they were her own. What an incredible lady, leader and example she is!

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The legend we call Merina
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Sister Sasa Yanigeluo at the airport at 1am heading to the Provo MTC to prepare to serve in Vancouver, Washington. Her twin is serving in Japan and Loni is still, patiently, anxiously awaiting her mission call after many long months. Two down, one to go!
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My Chuukese Cheers, the L5 crew! I walk in, they know my name and my order! Listening to those four ladies giggle was one of my favorite sounds! L5 was a piece of Chuukese heaven; the frappes, the sautéed potatoes, the BBQ chicken pizza, the fish steak, the chocolate molten cake – not only was their food phenomenal, their wifi as consistent as possible, but good meetings and much needed venting sessions happened at L5!
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Teacher Mau, my favorite Filipina! I loved our life chats; her faith in God could inspire the entire state of Chuuk!
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Final DW run! The locals come for the liquor, we go for the $1 ice cream!
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One thing I will NOT miss: when the cargo ships have yet to deliver new shipments of food!
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One thing I will GREATLY miss: student shoutouts from the street. One of my favorite things has been when we’re riding through town in the back of the truck and we hear someone shout our names, turn to look and see one of our students waving with generally more excitement than he/she shows in class. The street shout out and running into them around town – my favorite thing!

Over the last 10 months, we have outlined realities, expressed concerns and offered suggestions to decision makers in Salt Lake on this pilot program in Chuuk. During the last four months, conversations have taken place regarding Self Reliance Service’s continued involvement in Chuuk and although we have been kept out of the loop on what the details of those discussion have consisted of, we were told that a second group would be sent to Chuuk next year. This led to a variety of thoughts and feelings as we could foresee some major hurdles for the next group. Not only would they most likely experience similar issues to what we had lived through, there were major changes that had recently taken place during our final months that would add even greater challenges for future groups. Two of the four members of administration at Chuuk High have recently resigned, and the Department of Education, for unclear and changing reasons, have decided to close the elementary school – the initial purpose for our group coming to participate in an education initiative, although the majority of our group ended up teaching at the high school due to a major shortage of teachers. Just as the school year had ended and we were working on report cards, we received a short email that a new group of teachers would not be sent next year through the Church. This lead to mixed feelings. On one hand, it made complete sense to not send another group, given that we hadn’t even been able to do the tasks our group was initially told we would be working on. But on the other hand, it is currently a giant mystery who will be teaching our students next year, and where the K5 children will go for school.

I wish there was a clear objective we could have accomplished through the Church, been able to use our individual skill sets much more, taught self reliance principles and used the SRS curriculum. The vision wasn’t clearly outlined, communication was minimal, leadership over us was basically non-existent, however, I let go, I reset expectations, I let go of more things and then again reset my expectations. I focused on individuals and created my own purpose for being in Chuuk; it took me 8 months to truthfully be able to say that I am grateful I came to Chuuk. It was a much different experience than what I was invited to do, but I’m glad I did it. Despite many layers of frustrating, unknown, unclear, broken and corrupt factors, I am choosing to focus on the positive moments I had with my students at Chuuk High and within Seminary and Institute in the Chuuk District.

The ending of an era is packed with mixed emotions – relief, sadness and joy – memories that I will never forget. There are only a handful of individuals that will really get what these last 10 months have consisted of – Chuuk crew, not only did we survive, but we thrived in our own way!

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A Lifetime of Memories

Great news – the two vehicles that were ordered for our group last fall, arrived just in time for our final few weeks in Chuuk! Although the two cars we now have are not the ones that were originally ordered, and both arrived with dead batteries, the good news is, we now have two cars for seven people. “We’ll meet you there” is a real phenomenon for us! Now we’re just waiting for the day when someone tells us the announcement was made on the public radio, in Chuukese, that our license plates are ready. It’s a good thing our temporary plates don’t expire until 2018!

Last month, the young women youth of our Mwan Branch put on an Easter activity for the primary kids. The egg hunt was a major success, as broken eggshells and smashed egg yokes littering the church floor were evidence of that. I will never get used to the fact that many here just drop trash at their feet and walk away; all ages, regardless of being indoors or outdoors, if it’s trash, just drop it; or if your in class at school, just shove it in desks or through the window screens, regardless of there being visible trash cans. Hopefully at least one of the take-care-of-what-you-do-have chats has/will sink in with my students.

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Sister Wainis starting off the activity teaching the kids about the reason for the Easter celebration

A couple of the young women attempted to teach the younger primary kids the game of telephone. Despite their best efforts, the little ones did not grasp the concept, although it was entertaining. During the final round of musical chairs, two gals tied for first twice in a row, which turned into a swag-off between the two for a third tiebreaker, ultimately leading to a dance battle between senior and then junior primary. I am convinced that every Chuukese person is born knowing how to dance!

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These two gals sure have rhythm!

Rentalyn, the little hip shaker in the pink shirt, was featured in the LDS international children’s magazine, The Friend, in February. Click here to read more about her. Fun fact, I took the picture of her that was featured.

In Chuuk, just about everyone seems to be related to each other; family is a very important thing! A few weeks ago, I wondered if many here had ever had a family photo taken. I started asking around and many had not had one, or if they had, it had been years ago and was most likely taken on an old cell phone. A project idea was born to take family pictures in front of their homes. Jean and her little crew were the first; they are a solid family in the Mwan Branch and were so happy to welcome Amanda and me to their home.

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I met this gal, Bernartita about two weeks ago when she came into my classroom before school started and although we had never met before, she asked if she could help me clean my room. In her limited English, she asked what church I went to, and I could quickly tell she already knew the answer to her question. The Baptist Minister at her church has been preaching incorrect truths about the Mormon Church and this girl wants to know what we really do believe. I’m grateful for her inquisitive mind, open heart, and limited English. In a culture where authority is never confronted, combined with a Baptist Minister who tells his congregation they are sinning by talking to or even just waving at the missionaries, I’m grateful for Bernartita’s courage to come talk to me, a stranger and a Mormon, and ask her sincere questions. It was a reminder to me that no matter who tells you something, an authority figure or not, if it doesn’t sit right with you, find out truth for yourself and from the right sources. In other news, I have a 2015 Jesus calendar in my classroom, so naturally that’s where our photo needed to happen.

We recently had an epic adventure to Shark Island…where we swam with sharks! It took a bit of mental preparation to decide to go against everything I’d ever heard/felt/seen about being in water with sharks; it was such a surreal experience! The sharks were only about 3′-5′ long and go to that area to get their teeth cleaned by the sea critters. We had been told the sharks are used to snorkelers and divers sharing the water with them and they seemed content doing their thing while we did ours. While swimming, there were times I was surrounded by sharks in nearly every direction, some within 15-20 feet from me. As a few got closer, I wondered for a quick bit why I had willingly chosen to get in the water with sharks, but then decided to trust what we had been told that they generally don’t bother swimmers. I put a lot of trust in that and kept swimming. We eventually knew it was time to get out of the water as more and more sharks started to surround the boat – they knew they were about to be fed. As our boat driver threw fish overboard, the sharks’ behavior instantly changed back to the way I had envision sharks to be! Josh and Ben got some great footage on their GoPros they had in the water during the feeding. It sure was an opportunity of a lifetime and a Chuuk bucket list item successfully completed.

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Footage from Josh and Amanda

Chuuk High’s talent show was an event indeed! I really enjoy watching people perform and especially love it when I know them personally. Two of my 9th grade gals performed a dance and three of my 10th graders sang a couple songs.

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Sinvia (9A), the choreographer
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Francesca (9A)
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Hope (10A) with her angel voice
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Seven of my students watching the talent show, protected from the sun
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Prina (10B) getting that talent show footage

The major activity highlight during the talent show was the race for five students, each paired up with a teacher, to feed the teacher a cup of ice cream, while the student was blindfolded and the teacher had his/her hands tied behind their back. The best moment of the entire event was when Willy decided to paint Amanda’s face and head with ice cream rather than feed it to her, which had every single person in stitches! Amanda was determined to win the competition and Willy just had a totally different plan! The rest of the student/teacher teams ended up stopping to watch what Willy was up to and that footage will forever remain a treasured memory!

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Chuuk High and our rival, Xavier, a private school, were neck and neck the entire two days of the big track meet, and we barely lost by 3 points after a few race disqualifications due to the competition getting more intense near the end. It was a long and hot day and a half for those runners, as the athletes each competed in many events under the blazing sun!

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Wilma (former 11B) celebrating her win mid race
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These ladies killed it in the 4×4 relay. Two of them went on to run in the very next heat as well

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Francis (10B) running for SDA, as they don’t have a boys team
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Aston (10B) in blue, running for SDA
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The Chuuk High boys before they raced
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Cheiphina (10B) ready to start her relay
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Trinity (10B)
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The final heat with strong representation by the Chuuk High gals
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The boys placing in the mile run
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Institute class visit to Ramunam

I love Ramunam Seminary and Institute visits; something special happens every time! These three recently returned from serving missions in the Philippines, Fiji and the Marshall Islands. They each have an incredible story of how things used to be and how their lives are now since joining the church in 2014. This young man was known as “the criminal” to these two ladies just a few years ago. You never know what great changes are in store for those you interact with and observe.

On the boat ride home, we hit three rainstorms and were drenched! I’m glad we got at least one of those in before I left. It was my final outer island Seminary/Institute visit and sure was a great one to end on. Now on to planning a Seminary graduation.

While we’ve been wrapping up the end of the school year, I spent some one-on-one time with each of my 92 students and asked them three questions.
1. What is one thing that makes you happy?
2. What is one thing you would like to do in your lifetime?
3. What is one problem you would like to help stop?

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I have had so many memorable moments with these friends! I can’t wait to put together the video for them. I sure am going to miss them!

How Life Unfolds

“Culture is the intersection of people and life itself. It’s how we deal with life, love, death, birth, disappointment…all of that is expressed in culture.” – Wendell Pierce

With our Cultural Celebration Day up and coming, I asked my students to write three things they would like a visitor to know about their culture; what important ceremonies or celebrations they have; and a legend about their land. Some aspects are fascinating, others I don’t agree with, and some elements I absolutely love; their responses make for an epic guidebook to the culture of Chuuk.

For Cultural Day, students were divided into their five Chuukese Regions and participated in their traditional dances and chants along with Chuukese competitions such as basket weaving, coconut husking and fish naming. There are often moments when I really wish I knew Chuukese and could understand what was going on – there were multiple times during the celebration where things were said that had everyone laughing hysterically…and it will forever remain a mystery to me.

The Cultural Celebration was a major highlight for me! I absolutely love being able to see my students shine in their element and capture those moments for them! Track and Field Day and Cultural Day have been two of my all time favorites. After a school event where I have taken pictures, I setup my classroom projector to show each of my classes; they look forward to those slideshows and cheer quite loudly each time a picture pops up of one of their classmates. Within the next two weeks, we’ll have our final activities for the school year – the carnival and talent show, and the big track meet between all the high schools. Some Chuukese teachers and students have learned of my love for taking pictures, and have asked me to put together a showcase of photos of the seniors from the school year’s activities, which will be displayed at their first-ever senior prom.

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The little ones (K5) waiting their turn to perform
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George (front, 10A) and Ricko (right, 11B) representing the Northwest Region
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Willyten (11B) representing the Northern Region
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Jay Jay (left, 10A) representing the Northern Region
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My Last (9A) representing the Mortlocks Region with their stick dance
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3 of my students representing the Faichuuk Region: Yorana (pink flowers, 10B), Trinity (yellow headband, 10B) and Ritasy (back, 9A)
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Amanda (11B) representing the Northwest Region and killin’ it in the basket weaving competition
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Loruhama (10B) pounding Taro

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Every once in a while, Chuuk receives foreign visitors that are seen around town. We white folks sure stick out! WWII wreck diving is a main attraction that brings outsiders here. Other than that, I’m always curious what other reasons bring visitors here and how they have heard of Chuuk, as life here often feels cut off from the rest of the world. The other day, we received an announcement at the high school that a U.S. Olympic volleyball player was putting on a clinic for the volleyball teams after school. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are, I think meeting/interacting with an Olympic athlete is a rare and very exciting thing…and I was very intrigued to know how Chuuk High had connected with her.

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Heather Bown, who competed in the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics was the visitor with the U.S. Embassy and their international sports program. Heather towered over everyone in the gym and the students were in awe of her ability to throw a volleyball against the wall from the other side of the gym.

We recently set up a couple outdoor movies and made smores in Ben and Katlyn’s oasis of a backyard. There’s nothing like watching Captain Jack Sparrow and Moana on a white sheet tied down by Chacos, twine and clothespins…a Chuukese outdoor theater at its finest. We even had an emergency evacuation plan for our setup if/when rain came – one must be prepared for it at all times, especially when the downpour can occur with very little warning.

Last Saturday was our monthly Seminary and Institute in-service training, and I felt as though it was our best one yet. Merina, Elder Grimshaw and I each taught a portion on the objective of Seminary and how it can be accomplished by the way the teacher lives, teaches and administers. I drew a diagram on the board outlining the process that when an individual is taught true doctrine and principles, this leads to a level of understanding, which can then lead one to live the doctrines and principles, which then leads to a deeper understanding, thus motivating the individual to then teach others, ultimately preparing the individual for future Church leadership, becoming a full-time missionary, and teaching their own children one day. The cycle continues and should be a pattern for each of our lives, teacher and student. While teaching the Chuukese teachers, it struck me in a new way of the important role Seminary and Institute teachers play in students’ lives. I was again reminded of the great Seminary teachers I had in high school and the role they played in my life. A BIG thank you to Brother Seibel, Brother Fife and Brother Smith for the lessons and ways they helped make the scriptures come alive for me. Seminary is where I really began to understand the gospel! Elder Grimshaw then shared a heart-felt message of just how important Seminary teachers were from him growing up, as he did not have the opportunity of learning the gospel in his home from his parents. He explained to our Chuukese teachers that they may be the only way their youth learn about the gospel, which is a big responsibility they each hold. I had a couple teachers thank me for the concepts I had shared. One in particular, our Michitew teacher, gave me the kindest compliment on my teaching abilities. I explained that I have had great teachers and leaders in my life, and serving a mission drastically helped. She told me I stood out from the rest, had a gift for teaching and was very organized in the way I taught. Knowing how I once was – dreading public speaking, not being able to speak freely with my thoughts and always needing to write out word for word what I was going to say, and feeling very uncomfortable when the attention was on me – I am sure grateful with the progress I have made!

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Susiann

Susiann, one of our 9A gals recently reminded me of an important life lesson! We went to visit her at the hospital as she has been having chest pain and not been at school for the last week. She is sad to have to leave her classmates for the rest of the school year so she can go see a doctor in Hawaii. During the same week, her baby brother became very sick, was also at the hospital, unresponsive, and may not live much longer. Yes, a better medical system could most likely allow her to finish 9th grade with her classmates and possibly save her brother. Susiann’s simple and profound comment of “maybe the Lord needs to call him home,” was a reminder to me of the faith I should have, rather than frustration in systems and programs that could function better. Unfortunately, a lot of places in the world don’t have adequate training, resources, funding, and education. Fortunately, in every place, God is mindful of each person in every circumstance.

Although “Chuuk” has been a word often uttered, many times accompanied with a head shake, personal frustration levels instantly maxed out, only being left to a) laugh at the situation or b) cry about the situation, the necessity to block it all out and escape to a different place mentally, being in awe with things functioning at the level they are (good and bad), and more ambiguity, uncertainty and a lack of accountability to last a lifetime, I do have to express gratitude to it because my time here has redefined my views on international development work and clarified the factors I prefer (and sometimes need) in order to function and excel. Why is it that the formula for growth and clarity almost always include large doses of challenges?! As I try to create my own meaning for so much uncertainty, I also need to accept that many of my questions may not ever be answered…and I have to be ok with that. Sister Grimshaw recently made a comment in our Sunday School class that hit me to the core and has stayed with me: “There was a time in my life where God made me aware that I wasn’t totally healed, and He is the one that can heal me from that fear.” Chuuk has surfaced and re-surfaced disappointments in my life that I have not yet fully healed from.

I have a build up of frustration from when things should work and don’t; when I should be able to count on people and can’t; when rules, boundaries, contracts and agreements have been set but aren’t adhered to. I at times struggle knowing how to cope with so much disappointment. I understand the difference between having my own expectations and not communicating them (something I used to do, which only resulted in me suffering in silence) vs. having clear agreements between another person or organization and then having the other party completely drop the ball. What really aggravates me is when there is no accountability in place and I seem to be the one left to handle the weight of the disappointment. This fun fact of life continually reminds me of my need to be healed. There are two emotions that drive us in our lives: fear and love. There are endless reasons to and why we fear. Our fears are rooted in some untruths about ourselves, God and others that we have been conditioned to believe. Discovering, defining, dissecting and delivering those fears to the Lord is the process of healing.

There’s something about studying (and endlessly thinking about) the refugee resettlement process, principles to eliminate poverty, and ways to help others become self-reliant, while walking down a dirt road to go teach, passing by children creating games around piles of garbage. It’s almost like I need to be in that environment with those thoughts in order to feel like I’m really involved in being part of a solution. While I believe good can be done for others while working in an office, my place is on the ground, with the people, being involved in their day to day lives. For me, my ideal office is out in the world.

Growing up, I avidly tried to avoid sad things; movies, conversations, etc.; I did not like to see/hear/feel suffering of any kind. What I didn’t understand when I was younger is that I have the gift of empathy; I often feel the sadness, sorrow and heartache others experience. What I once avoided, has become the type of environment I am drawn toward – helping those who are suffering; which manifests itself in a variety of ways.

From the outside looking in on third-world countries, one might only see suffering. Being on the inside looking around, I have learned that many often see what they do have, which brings them great joy. Some of the happiest individuals I have ever met have been the ones who live on dirt floors, have very few material possessions, and a great desire to give all they have! They easily spot those with open hearts and willingly give, a characteristic that can seem more disguised in first-world countries. There’s a difference between giving something and giving of oneself that is evident to me, especially in third-world countries. My life’s work continues to become more defined, and because of what I have experienced and learned (both in positive and negative ways), for that, I thank Chuuk for the additional clarity I have received during my time here.

An Adventure Like None Other

A couple Fridays ago after school, we quickly locked up our classrooms and loaded up our truck to head to the dock and off to Pisar. After our last trip to Pisar had to be rescheduled because of rain, we were not about to let it stop us this time. One side of the sky did not look promising, but with the help of our boat drivers, we loaded our gear onto the boat in record time and sped off, while everyone at the dock thought we were crazy to head off when rain was coming. Thankfully, our route took us mostly around the storm and it started to rain just as we arrived on Pisar. After unloading our gear, we were already wet, so we decided it was the perfect time for some WAF, which we played through the rain pelting our faces to the point we couldn’t even see while at bat. We snorkeled, played card games, read, chatted, napped, ate, then snorkeled some more. Pisar is our favorite outer island getaway and we basically had it all to ourselves for 24 hours. It’s always a good little break to escape our island of Weno to have a change of scenery.

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Pisar easily ranks on my list for top 3 best sunrise spots (Mount Sinai and Kenyan Safari sunrises make the cut for the other two – I highly recommend both!). While on Pisar, everywhere you look is unbelievably picturesque and makes you feel like you’re living in a postcard.

Every Wednesday, Elder and Sister Grimshaw, Merina Francis and I head out on a Seminary/Institute class visit; four are on our island and four are off island. We schedule our off island visits through the missionaries since we share a boat and drivers. Last Wednesday, after the four of us waited for 45 minutes for our boat driver to arrive, we learned (the patience testing way) we need to reschedule our visits since the driver will now be taking a set of elders to and from outer islands three times a week since their area has recently been closed. During our time in Chuuk, we’ve seen an area open and a few areas close due to safety, crime and persecution. We were unable to make our off island visit that day, so we visited our branch’s Seminary class a few weeks early.

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Shout out to Sister Wolbert for involving the students in her lesson (a concept we are trying to teach).

Towards the end of each class, I am often asked if I want to add any thoughts to the lesson (which was in Chuukese). I am usually able to piece together a few things to know what the topic of the lesson was. It’s a great reminder of my early days of serving in Romania where I am able to share my thoughts and beliefs in a simple way, even when I’m unaware of all that was discussed in the lesson. Some of the Mwan Branch Seminary students are also Chuuk High students. As I was sharing my thoughts that day, I was even more thankful for the experiences I have had teaching high school and also for having served a mission – two things I once thought were far beyond my abilities.

We recently finished Charlotte’s Web, our third book for my reading classes this school year. Before each test day over the book, I always plan a review day. I think this most recent twist on Jeopardy will be one of my favorite review experiences of all time! I divided the class into two teams, green and blue. Each student was given a number. There were two desks facing each other at the front of the room where #1 from the green and blue teams would each face off, then we would move to #2. There are daily Chuukese conversations the students have with each other and I have no idea what is being said; there are often times when I am able to catch on to what is going on based on others’ reactions – sometimes it results in someone getting in trouble and other times it’s hilarious. Once the students started to get the hang of the game and level of competition, Izreal, one of my 10B students who generally struggles staying focused in class, was up against Emmy, one of the quieter gals of the class. While I was about to read the face-off question, Izrael announced something in Chuukese to the entire class and slapped a $1 bill on his desk. Everyone in class immediately erupted, including myself, and I could tell he was placing a wager on his answer. It’s moments like this that bring me pure joy – when I see my students getting excited and invested in what we’re doing.

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After the review day and before the test, NOW they’re concerned with what we’ve been talking about in class.
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Izrael, McGyver and Aston, 10B class clowns overly excited to take their test

We’ll be staring our final book for the school year, and I’ve seemed to hit a dead end with every angle for curriculum resources. While I was home in December, I purchased some audio books and novels for my classes (thank you again to those of you who donated to the fundraiser!). When I got back to Chuuk in January, I was able to work with our school’s IT guy in getting a classroom set of kindles. The tricky part of being able to move forward with our final book involves multiple factors. After many reminders, some of my students still think it’s funny to put a passcode on the kindles, which lock out any user and require the kindle to be reset, which can only be done by our IT guy, who has been MIA for sometime as he also works with the police department. So, dead end of having them reset. I also coordinated with him on downloading a kindle-ready version of text for the audio books I do have OR to be able to download the audio for books we already have on the school’s serve that can easily be put on the kindle. I received three emails with downloads that I am unable to access because wifi has not been able to download them and the server is often off. 0 for 2 so far. So, I thought I’d go back to the early days of photocopying a classroom set of each chapter of a book for my four classes. Our larger printer has been out of toner for some time, with no hopes of receiving any more before the end of the school year. Teachers are left to make any copies on the secretary’s small printer/copier in the office, however, after being only halfway done copying 30 copies of chapter 2 and replacing the toner, the copies are now so light that they are unreadable. 0 for 3. To add into the mix is that my flash drive that has a few more kindle books ready to upload, has gone missing. Here’s to stalling 4 classes and 91 students for another week until the IT guy comes back…hopefully.

After a lengthy two and a half months of relying on the ever efficient Claudina at the DOE, continued stop by visits, emails, waiting for approval, people not showing up to work, cutting checks, time passing, flight prices changing, re-cutting checks, hand deliveries to the United office at the airport, passing the responsibility, not getting a straight answer, the need to involve the principal and school secretary, following up again….for most of us, our flights home have been officially confirmed. It’s a really good thing in January we paid to have our flights reserved for seven days so the DOE could do their process to have our flights booked…at the end of March. Ben, Katlyn, Josh, Amanda and I will be spending some time in Hawaii on the way back to Utah and that is a bright light that seems to be getting even brighter!

While there are many many things that I am very much looking forward to when I’m back home, I know there are things and people I will greatly miss here in Chuuk. Those are the factors I’m trying to focus on during my last 2 months in Chuuk, as this has truly been an adventure like none other.

Bless Our Efforts

It puts a smile on my face and hope in my heart when I meet people such as Delight and Solution. Yes, those are their names; Chuuk does not disappoint in the department of creative names. Delight, a Chuukese-born man, now living in Guam, who came back to Chuuk before the government elections to try and get involved in improving the political situation. Or Solution, a taxi driver/local food market manager who strongly believes the way for Chuuk to improve is to bring in more English-speaking teachers, and thanked me for what I was doing for his people, when I got in his taxi on a rainy day. Bless those people and bless their efforts.

Paul Hadik was recently honored on his last day at Chuuk High, as the school’s library was named after him. (Shout out to Andrew for pulling together an incredible sign in record time. You are the true MacGyver/McGuyver/Mikchifer/Mackkipher of Chuuk! You may choose your own spelling and also change it each time your write it, in true Chuukese fashion.) Paul has spent the last 25 years in Micronesia (5 in Chuuk) working to improve education. He has courageously battled against the corrupt Department of Education here and drastically improved Chuuk High over the years. Paul has been one of the school’s vice-principals as well as SRS’ point of contact in Chuuk. Thank you, Paul, for the lasting impact you’ve had! We wish you the best in Hawaii.

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Chuuk High Administration: Andrew, Paul, Jason, Isuin

The Giver pen pals were a major success! The letters were sent and 10 fantastic souls responded! My students, especially my 9th graders, had been asking on a daily basis when they were going to hear back about their letters. The week finally came that I received all the letters, I was able to access enough Wi-Fi to download them all, and then was able to use the principal’s computer to print them all! (It often takes a village and a lot of patience to pull off ambitious projects). The students were ecstatic to get their letters! After they each read their letter, they couldn’t wait to read their friends’ letters! Their reactions were priceless. I heard things such as:

“Miss, this is so cool!”

“This is so special!”

“I’m going to frame this!”

“Fiona actually wrote me back!”

“Guys, I got a letter from The Giver!”

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Thanks to my friends and students, I had a winner of an island birthday celebrating March 12th over the entire weekend! My 9A kids came into class on Friday singing happy birthday in unison while carrying a giant birthday card (thank you, Amanda J!), a solid L5 feast and surprise cake and singing by the staff and Chuuk crew, an Olympic movie, soul chats on Sunday, card games and more cake! Being 17 hours ahead, I was excited to continue the celebration for an extra day with those at home! Thank you all for making it a great one!

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My church calling combined with my interactions with the elders in Chuuk, I often feel like I am a full-time missionary again. In our January Seminary/Institute in-service, I was excited to find out Chuuk would be getting another senior couple who would be focusing on helping build and support CES here. The previous senior couple had left right before I arrived in Chuuk, and I was asked to help fill the role they had played within CES by the Director of Seminary and Institute in Guam.

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March in-service with the Seminary and Institute teachers

Elder and Sister Grimshaw from Oregon have arrived and are going to be a fantastic addition! They were given the assignment to help support Seminary and Institute in Chuuk, and to also figure out/discover/create what the rest of their 18 months would entail. I’ve got to say, I know 100% how they feel! It seems as though us outsiders coming to Chuuk have all had figure it out on our own – teaching at the schools and our callings in the branch – what that really means and how to do it! As our time in Chuuk is winding down, a few of us have had quite the struggle trying to figure out how to accurately capture this Chuuk experience on our resumes, as we’ve begun the adventure of job searching for life after Chuuk.

A different project than was originally presented + minimal guidance + wide open for self-initiative and creativity + limited resources + a culture with little to no accountability + island time + corruption + mentality of plan on it not working and be surprised when it does + never getting a straight answer + limited freedom and outlets = Chuuk your own adventure!

One of my motivating factors in coming to Chuuk was to try and get a job within the self-reliance department of the Church after my time working on a self-reliance project. Despite my efforts over the last several months, I seem to have only hit dead ends for self-reliance employment after Chuuk. Over the last 9 years of working, networking, continuing to define my passions and purposes, I’ve come to learn that with disappointment and frustration also comes the opportunity for reflection and learning. There are often days when I feel like character-building experiences are over-rated. I understand that in ordered to grow, one must be pushed and stretched, but then there are the days, weeks, months, and even years, when you feel like you’re going to split from being pulled too hard for too long.

Ben and I recently had a conversation about how it takes time to adjust to how things function in Chuuk and how to work with it. We briefly rewound back to what our thoughts and feelings were at the beginning. We’ve since adjusted; we have to roll with a lot more now, and what normal is for us here would not fly in the business world elsewhere. There are those moments when you get a reminder of what normal really is for us, and are then quickly reminded that our current reality is not normal. But you’re forced to readjust to Chuuk normal in order to mentally survive. I often feel like I am constantly trying to solve a complex riddle, without being given enough information, while being timed. Some days you think so hard trying to solve it that your head hurts, and some days you block out you were even told the riddle to begin with. #survival

There are two blog posts I’ve come across over the last year with concepts that really resonate with me:

  1. God will give you more than you can handle
  1. No, not everything happens for a reason

Coping with the unfairness of life: this is a concept often on my mind – because of my own experiences as well as from what I have heard of and witnessed from others. Some ignore it, some tackle it, some are open about it, some mask it, some try and escape, and some end it. Some patiently bare it, some become angry, and some seem to have overcome it. But dealing with adversity is something we all have in common.

“Our unique opportunities lie in the way we each bare our burdens.” (Man’s Search for Meaning)

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I love when they come to hang out in my classroom after school!

When It Chuuks, It Pours

I understand unforeseen challenges are a real thing. What causes me great frustration is when there are so many problems that could have been and can be quite easily avoided, and are not. In addition, I’ve been told (and at times experienced) that the culture in Chuuk is not big on gratitude. I’ve been told these words here and they have stuck with me: “very few will be thankful for what you do, so you have to be grounded in yourself.”

Months ago, we began the process of ordering two cars in order to increase our already limited independence, freedom and efficiency of life in Chuuk, although we have become quite skilled in coordinating seven schedules with one truck. Payment was sent incorrectly, the cars were not put on the ship the first time, and then there was no room the second time. Not to mention that EVERYTHING in Chuuk is a lengthy process! You miss one window and you’re in for the long haul. So, you mentally check that off the list of things you will see in your Chuuk lifetime. Most of us are on week six of following up for our flights home to be confirmed. I’m still working on tracking down and getting three missing checks of mine (one since August). Bills to keep the school functioning at it’s full capacity go unpaid. Wi-Fi is shut off, power goes out, and printer toner is nowhere to be found, just in time for third quarter midterms. In my opinion, unnecessary problems are a daily battle.

Recently, two of the faces behind the corruption at the Department of Education (DOE) came to meet with all Chuuk High staff. The DOE is actively fighting against any and all positive change Chuuk High School is doing, while no longer trying to hide their level of corruption to the public. The two DOE representatives came to meet with all Chuuk High teachers and instantly got peoples’ blood boiling during a two-hour meeting. They threatened, they lied, they contradicted, they dodged all questions, they blamed others, they took zero responsibility, they interrupted, they disrespected, they gave routine speeches and they ignored; bonus that some of their own family members are part of the administration and staff at Chuuk High. This is the education and government leadership of Chuuk. The meeting ended with extreme frustration and it was confirmed – what we had just witnessed is the very reason why change seems impossible in Chuuk. The only option seems to be to wait for the leaders to die, but the problem is, Chuuk functions within family tribes, so once the current leader dies, the next one will take his place and most likely be no better than the last. We’ve been told the last 30 years have proven this pattern. Government elections are March 7th and there are “Positive Change for Chuuk” banners nearly everywhere you go. It’s nearly impossible to have hope when the faces on those banners are the very ones leading the corruption and halting positive change from happening.

Within the same week, we had a dairy thief in our home. Thankfully nothing extremely valuable was taken, but dairy is like gold on this island, and at times is as expensive as gold. Our landlords have a guess that teenage kids are behind it, as they have also had fruit from their trees missing lately. Missing fruit and dairy seem small in comparison to some of the things that circulate here. Crime is a major problem in Chuuk! There are attempted murders each day on an island that’s only 14 square miles. Recently, two gruesome murders occurred quite close to home, while we’ve been told the band of 5 or so killers continue to hide out in the hill behind our house. Great.

Wi-Fi is a rare little gem in Chuuk. The optimistic goal is to get a small window of Wi-Fi each day; some weeks that is a little too ambitious. Imagine having just a couple hours of Wi-Fi per week (sometimes in 5 minute increments) to try and accomplish the following:

  • Emails – responding, following up, reaching out, following up again
  • Staying in touch with friends and family
  • Working on lessons for school
  • Updating blogs
  • Checking on finances (one must keep a close eye when you make $7.20 an hour and still have bills to pay on your life back in America)
  • Job searching, networking
  • Trying to find out what’s going on in the world outside of our small island
  • Ambitiously trying to load a 3-minute YouTube video for a mental break
  • Attempting to plan for life after Chuuk

A few times a week, you only get to choose one to focus on…and it’s all about speed because the Wi-Fi could and will cut out without warning.

In high school teaching news, my classes finished reading The Giver, my favorite book from when I was in high school. One of their assignments was to write a letter to one of the main characters in the book. I originally thought to then have students respond to a different classmate’s letter, but then remembered there is life outside of Chuuk and thought I’d take it up a level. A big THANK YOU to 11 kind friends who jumped at the opportunity to tap into their inner Jonas, Fiona and The Giver, and respond as the characters to each student. It took some coaxing, but I successfully convinced 91 students that their letters would be sent and they would receive an answer to their letter. I’m still wrapping up this fun project, pending my Wi-Fi accessibility, but the students ask on a daily basis for the update on their letters. Another teaching win!

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The Giver letters – pen pal dreams are about to come true in Chuuk!

Sitting in Church each Sunday for three hours, in a language I don’t understand, for six months, allows for quite a bit of personal scripture study and time to ponder. I started reading Jesus The Christ, and have been thinking about this concept:

“The Eternal Father well understood the diverse natures and varied capacities of His spirit offspring; and His infinite foreknowledge made plain to Him, even in the beginning, that in the school of life some of His children would succeed and others would fail; some would be faithful, others false; some would choose the good, others the evil; some would seek the way of life while others would elect to follow the road to destruction. He further foresaw that death would enter the world, and that the possession of bodies by His children would be of but brief individual duration. He saw that His commandments would be disobeyed and His law violated; and that men, shut out from His presence and left to themselves, would sink rather than rise, would retrogress rather than advance, and would be lost to the heavens.”

He knew. How does He handle it? He copes with it in ways I cannot comprehend.

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The Yaingeluo sisters. All three will be serving missions at the same time. Sisi (left) is headed to Japan. Two more calls are expected any day now.

While serving a mission in Romania, I felt as though all my weaknesses surfaced and my strengths were magnified. Here in Chuuk, I feel as though I have been pushed to many of my breaking points and I’ve been forced to find my own solutions in dealing with them, with extremely limited outlets. Sometimes it seems as though the only options for survival are: letting it go, changing the situation, changing yourself, and giving it to the Lord. You choose which battle to fight in a calm moment.

 

People First, Then Programs, People!

Our SRS point of contact came for a weekend. He had a different agenda than we had hoped for and even recommended he have. Before his arrival, a few of us suggested to each other to have zero expectations in order to prevent us from feeling let down, again. Well, as much as we tried to avoid feeling let down, we did not succeed. I really wish there was a way to turn off the caring button in life sometimes. When I’m being taken advantage of/disrespected, I’d love to flip on the “can’t care” switch and not have it affect me. While we’re grateful we did get 4 whole hours of his time during his visit, we did our very best to express again, the realities of our situation, our concerns and recommendations for the project in Chuuk and its future. While we feel as though we’re 0 for 6 months for being heard while using all forms of communication available to us, many of us now feel as though no matter what information we share, our point of contact is going to continue running a one-man show on his own, without fully taking into account the months we have spent living in Chuuk. No, we’re actually not looking for Mount Everest-sized miracles and results with our students, we’re just asking you to care and communicate…two things one would hope any leader would be skilled at.

Words of wisdom through an analogy: if you’re determined to take a car out for a test drive while it’s still being built, please take the time to consult with and actually listen to a mechanic, especially when there’s a good chance some vital car parts have yet to be repaired or even installed. If you decide to take it out for a spin, regardless of the council you’ve received about it not being ready, you’re on your own when it breaks down. Or, if you decide to change your mind mid test drive and determine you want to build an airplane instead, please pass the word along to all those who are waiting on the side of the road for the ride you promised. While you may be cruising down the road alone, this sure does not mean you built the car. Just because you’ve driven a car in one country, does not mean all the same rules apply in another country. Fun fact, some cars have steering wheels on the other side of the car and even drive on the other side of the road. Whatever you do, don’t try and sell a car that you’ve barely seen and haven’t even had the chance to be fully inspected. Please don’t abandon the car on the side of the road for car parts to be stolen. People have put a lot of work into building this car; maybe it needs a little more time in the repair shop. If you decide to not even test drive the car during your scheduled appointment, please, just let those who have set up your visit know. If you do show up, and show up way late, don’t tell the mechanic how to do his job. #commoncourtesy

Programs are in place to help people – who I believe are the purpose, the focus. If you’re not going to take into consideration the people in the mix, you may want to re-think your strategy. Don’t be involved in a program just to say you’re involved in something good. Spend time with the people on the ground – those running the program and those benefiting from the program. If you’re sitting in your fancy office, disconnected from the heart of your program, please re-check your motives and intentions. You have an open invitation to step outside your day-to-day comforts and get first-hand knowledge of what is going on in the field. Never be too busy for your people.

A pet peeve of mine is when programs and processes don’t work; are there just to say they’re there and in reality are filling no purpose; or have a very obvious purpose and are fully dysfunctional. There’s a reason I studied organizational leadership. There’s a reason I’m drawn toward humanitarian work. Being halted from doing what I was made to do in a place that could greatly benefit = my tipping point. I think one of the biggest frustrations has been and will continue to be that most, if not all our time, efforts, energy, communication and findings will have been for nothing if SRS does not build upon our 10 months of research in Chuuk. We are legitimately the experts here, but the “experts” have their own plan. #wecantcareanymore

In other news, Chuuk High’s track and field day was a major success! Each grade and section were assigned a specific color. Representatives from each color ran in each race. Cheering on my students while they raced made me love them even more! I greatly value the one-on-one relationship I have with each of my 91 students.

Every event that happens in Chuuk (church or school) feels like a miracle once it happens! All events in Chuuk are guaranteed to start late (1-2 hours seems to be the norm); no one really takes ownership to start, lead, or end an event; logistics are not even a thing to be discussed beforehand, even when you ask many questions. If you do get an answer, it will be what they think you want to hear, even if it’s not the real answer. You learn to wait, a lot, in the sun. We’ve learned: always carry a frisbee, a book, food, water, sunscreen, a phone charger, your laptop, money, a change of clothes, a basketball, tennis shoes, WAF gear, $1 for ice cream, $1 for an emergency taxi ride, hand sanitizer, kleenex, baby powder, bandaids…aka our backpacks have turned into Mary Poppins bags that we basically have on us at all times. You just never know when you’ll be waiting for hours OR you decide to bail (after waiting hours) and must be ready for whatever comes next.

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In class, 3 are quiet and 1 is sassy, but they sure can run!
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Siniann in orange, 9A
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Myca in blue, 10A
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Jayme in blue, 10A
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Aston in white, 10B

Valentine’s Day was also a fun-filled day in Chuuk! At school, students were encouraged to wear red and pink. For a country that has no dating culture, there is one thing you can’t stop no matter where you are – high school crushes!

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The festive 9A crew. It was their idea to pull down the projector screen for a backdrop.

At church, the Yaingeluo family planned, decorated and hosted an epic Valentine’s dance for the youth. The girls spent hours planning and preparing and did an incredible job! I was asked to take pictures at the photo booth, which was a huge hit! I have a couple hundred pictures, as do each of their Facebook pages full of selfies to prove it. For many of the kids, it was their first dance and they went all out! DJ J-osh, DJ A-man, and DJ Loni killed it.

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The Yaingeluo Family

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Life Needs

Every single person has needs – basic needs for survival along with great desires for specific outlets that help one cope with various life challenges. As we become more self-aware throughout our lives, we hopefully learn to identify what our individual needs are (personally and professionally), as well as healthy ways of meeting those needs. Ideally, we then are able to recognize and help meet the needs of others. Bonus once you’ve mastered the art of both: self-discovery while helping others.

Life in a third-world country, which also happens to be on an island, forces you to only be able to concentrate on the basic needs of life. Just meeting this vital foundational level has been a real test of patience, character and at times, sanity, as every little thing is quite a process. One thing we can count on: not being able to rely on anything. Nothing in Chuuk is simple; nothing about this project is clear, which adds up to be a major undesirable combination. Each day offers ample opportunities for us to give up on the idea of change, hope, trust, and at times humanity altogether; we try to find a way each day to not go insane. Some days we’re more successful than others. While nearly every factor of this undesired combination is out of our control, the true test is in learning to control our emotions, which is way easier said than done in Chuuk.

There are many things I can put up with, let go of, and not even dwell on anymore, but there are a few aspects of life that completely irritate my soul. One big one: a major lack of respect from others by not being listened to, or straight up ignored. I have experienced this both personally and professionally on many occasions, and have faced some major disrespect in the professional world over the last eight years. It’s a life pattern I’m really looking to move away from.

Let’s just talk about respect in regards to the courtesy one deserves with a reply to some form of correspondence that has been sent.

In the social/dating world, why is a “no reply” an answer? It’s not – I call that ignoring. One who reaches out deserves a response. In the professional world, I am quite blown away at the lack of professionalism that exists. To not reply to an email, follow up emails, and even an urgent email for days, weeks and months is a major problem in my mind. Have some forgotten they’re dealing with real people, emotions and situations? I believe some have!

The last few days in Chuuk have been a time of major testing for a few of us. It’s nothing new for us. At times the frustration levels seems to come from all angles and are a bit much.

I give my all to the things I invest in, even when it turns out to not be ideal. Over the last eight years of major career frustration, I have learned when to walk away, re-shift my energy, and spare my sanity. I do not back down from a challenge, but I have sure learned (and continue to learn) personal boundaries, how to hold people accountable, when to speak up, and when to let go.

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“Sometimes it takes more strength to let go than it does to hold on.”

We have a few words of wisdom from a handful of program participants who are learning some life-lessons in a very difficult way. Dear leaders of any program anywhere.

Know your people. We strongly recommend knowing whom you have on the ground working on an initiative you oversee. Get to know them – more than just their names would be really great. Realize the stability and comforts of life they just may have sacrificed to participate in this program. Listen to them. They are actual people with real desires and drive. Where they live may possibly be short on certain resources that are readily available to you. Ask what questions, concerns, and insights they have, and then, it’s suggested that you respond to them. If you end up trying this, it’s recommended you do it more than once. Communicate with them. When they reach out to you with valuable information, it is strongly recommend that you reply to them within the month. If you would really like to go above and beyond, you could even reply within the week. Saintly status would be within 24 hours. Bonus points if you take the initiative to reach out to the group first, rather than them reaching out to you each time. When you do ask them questions, make sure to read through your emails just in case they may have already answered your questions previously. If your group is on top of it, they just may have actually answered your questions on a few separate occasions already. If they have quit their lives to make this project their focus for nearly a year, there’s a good chance this group has some pretty responsible individuals – trust them. If the group informs you of some vital factors that would drastically change the effectiveness and legitimacy of the program, it’s advised to acknowledge their findings and act on them. The group members who have been on the ground are intimately familiar with the realities of the situation. If there are any group members that show interest in being involved with the program after their contact time, you would be a fantastic human being if you not only took their interest into consideration, but also helped them have trust in you by not steering them into a dead end, or even the same dead end multiple times. If you’re going to say you’ll do something, the optimal next steps would be to follow through.

Know your program. Make sure to have a plan before it’s presented. If some, most, or even all factors are unknown, it would be wise to do some additional research to see if the program and the desired location are even a good fit. If a more defined vision is outlined along the way, it would be optimal for you to share that with the group. There is a chance, especially if your program happens to be in an underdeveloped country, that there might be little to no infrastructure to sustain such a program. Most individuals would prefer to not feel deceived and abandoned upon arrival and throughout the following months. If you tell them they are a priority to you and their well being is a concern of yours, it would be really great for you to show them that, ideally before six months in. Don’t worry, this game plan can even work internationally – there are some really neat ways of communicating, even across multiple time zones. It is strongly recommended that you spend some valuable time on the ground, before and even during the group’s in-country adventure. If the group recommends you make some changes to the program, some even being time sensitive, it would be very wise to take those into consideration, and in a timely manner. If the group has made some major discoveries where they strongly advise the program to not move forward because there are some missing key pieces, it is strongly advised that you not disrespect them by asking them if they could be tempted to repeat the same experience for another year. If the group members express how uncomfortable they feel in recruiting to anyone they know personally, knowing the situation will not improve during a second year, and have given you some pretty substantial documentation, it would be wise to listen. Above and beyond if you listened and then acted. It’s suggested you know the key players in the mix, as it could turn out some major leaders are actively fighting against any positive change the program may be trying to promote. Major in-country corruption tends to really halt things. It would be smart to understand the factors you could be dealing with – what works well in one country may not even be a possibility in another. If you decide to go visit your group on the ground, it would be a good idea to not get your hopes up of all your questions being answered over a weekend stay, especially when the group has battled valiantly to do the same for themselves over the last six months, with little success.

Once again, dear leaders of any program, these are just suggestions. Do with them what you will – we’ve got a backyard waf game we need to get to, and yes, it’s a need.

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Chuuk 2.0!

Back in Chuuk for round two and reunited with the crew! Having December off was a much-needed break for each one of us!

Early on January 2nd, I flew out of Salt Lake after a two and a half hour delay due to a winter storm. Near the end of my flight, I was convinced I had missed my connection in San Francisco to Japan and began brainstorming a few solutions. As I landed and discovered a miraculous short flight delay, I sprinted to the international terminal and was escorted onto my flight by the ticket agent minutes before the plane took off. My flight to Japan took off before my previous flight’s luggage was even unloaded. This being the third time my luggage has been delayed/lost, I quickly tried to figure out the quickest solution in hopes of not repeating last January – where my luggage was delayed 14 days after arriving home, all because about 50 lucky people’s luggage was never loaded onto the plane in Egypt, combined with two neighboring airline kiosks in the JFK airport refusing to coordinate with each other. For the record, I am very curious on the logistics behind airport luggage.

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I landed back in Chuuk on what seems like the World’s shortest runway, and immediately felt welcomed to my island home. I was greeted with the wall of humidity and the one season Chuuk has to offer, quite a contrast from what I just had in Germany, Idaho and Utah. I went to the United office to check the status of my luggage and mistakenly thought I would find someone there. Coming straight from efficiency, I was quickly reminded to adjust to the island life mentality. On a small island, everyone is involved in just about everything. The landing crew is the luggage crew, who are the office crew, who also happen to work at the L5 restaurant down the street. So, you wait. Island life teaches you to get used to waiting, and to also be patient while waiting. I had been sitting in a strategic spot in the small airport where I could watch the United office and the front parking lot for our white truck to come pick me up.

After leaving the United office and finding out the next flight from Guam would be coming in two days, I headed outside to wait for the Chuuk crew. I miraculously ran into two American guys (quite rare!) who in passing asked if I was waiting for Josh and Amanda?! It turns out these two had been out diving with the rest of my group and their boat broke down. They informed me that my ride would most likely be delayed another hour or so.

I find it very liberating to be in a foreign country and know where I am and what to do. I found WiFi to let my family know I had landed, and went to reactivate my phone. Of course the one person to reactivate it was on his lunch break, but I left feeling hopeful it would be working later that day after I paid the fees. I caught a taxi home and saw the white truck in front of our house. Everyone had just made it home after not finding me at the airport since making it back from diving. There was major rejoicing as we reunited and caught up in depth on how the Salt Lake meeting and our December break had gone.

A concept that has been commonly discussed among our group is that with so many unknown factors in the future of this initiative, from both the Chuuk administration and Salt Lake Self Reliance, we’ve decided that during our remaining few months here, we are going to focus more on enjoying our time on the island! During our first round, most of us put a lot of time and energy into lesson planning, grading, trying to find vital answers from key players in this education initiative, and trying to solve some serious Chuuk problems. We’ve gained some insight through those experiences (while learning more about the realities of Chuuk) and rather than wearing ourselves out by tirelessly paddling on an already sinking boat, we’re consciously re-focusing our energy. There’s a fine line to battle nearly every day – when to keep pushing for progress and when to let go.

We live on an island and we’re going to enjoy all it has to offer a little more. We’re going to spend more time on making sure we’re refueling ourselves through enjoyable activities…backyard Wiffle Ball, now loving called WAF, is a common activity, rain or shine! I’m going to focus more on building my relationships with people – the students, teachers, branch members, and other island folk.

Some notable things since being back for two weeks in Chuuk:

  • I did finally receive my luggage, after it was sent to Hawaii and then finally to Chuuk, five days after I arrived. Once again, super curious about luggage logistics
  • The school gym has miraculously been completed, and along with our church building, they are the nicest buildings on the island
  • Christmas 2.0 occurred for Josh, Amanda, Ben and Katlyn and was a major success! A big thank you to their parents for playing a big part in a secret surprise for them!
  • Our island and a few Seminary students were featured in the December 2016 New Era

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  • Finding out one of our favorite 10th grade gals, Arma was baptized with two of her younger siblings one week before I returned

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  • Seeing my students again and giving them “new” Kool-Aid flavors
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My students have a love for a nasty little recipe I just don’t understand…liquid ramen seasoning packet mixed with a Kool-Aid packet and consumed by finger dipping. #fundip With an island that only gets 3 flavors of Kool-Aid, I brought from America 10 new flavors to 120 students. #blackcherryramen

 

 

  • Witnessing a miracle where 11 individuals were baptized after their island had been closed for missionary work for 10+ years

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  • Having our monthly in-service training for Seminary and Institute teachers
  • Visiting Ramunam’s Seminary class and seeing my favorite teacher
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Seminary visits to Ramunam are always a favorite. 1/4 of the students are not yet members and young children often attend. Although the lessons are in Chuukese and I generally understand very little, I am often taught or reminded of valuable lessons of my own – recognize and thank people for what they ARE doing rather than focusing on the things not being accomplished. People are more important than programs, projects or processes.

 

Back to eating overpriced, imported food from a box or can and potentially being expired, back to the endless hours of crazy dogs barking, back to geckos on the walls, back to stagnant humid air, back to brushing off bugs from nearly every surface, back to always being wet, back to the smell of ramen and Kool-Aid, back to potential power outages, back to small windows of unreliable WiFi, back to wondering what good we really are making given our situation, back to never being given a clear answer from any questions asked, back to having our patience tested on a daily basis, back to living on an island and teaching high school, back to seven of us piling in one white truck, back to the best $1 ice cream, back to boat rides to visit outer islands, back to the adventure of a lifetime, back to focusing on simplicity on every level, back to lasting friendships, back to praying for miracles after May, back to what feels like a second mission…it’s good to be back in Chuuk!

Recharge in America for Round Two in Chuuk

Germany trip over Thanksgiving + Chuuk teachers having most of December off = I was able to spend about a month in America aka Utah and Idaho. One of my top priorities while being home was to meet with our current point of contact with Self Reliance Services (SRS) at the Church Office Building in Salt Lake. During the first half of our 10-month adventure in Chuuk, communication, support and direction from Salt Lake has been a generous 1 out of 5 stars. Knowing we had one shot to have an in-person meeting, I channeled my inner college and grad school student self, put sleep on the bottom of my priority list and pulled together what felt like a second thesis, in just under two weeks, with the great help of some key Chuuk crew members. Group projects can’t touch us! We successfully coordinated from across the world with a 17-hour time difference and limited Chuuk wifi. December 16th came. With packets printed and coil bound, full of mic-drop worthy paragraphs, Jaymie and I were off to the Church Office Building. (Bless the far less than efficient front desk check-in process. We were Chuuked within our first 10 minutes there. There is a much better way, people!)

Two and a half hours later, Jaymie and I felt like repelling down from the 19th floor of the Church Office Building (mid blizzard), as we had just left ALL our candid and bold thoughts, feelings and recommendations out on the table for SRS to now make some serious decisions on behalf of future involvement in Micronesia.

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Recap of the education initiative in Chuuk:

  • Nine of us felt guided to the opportunity to help improve education in Micronesia through Self Reliance Services. We were each told a slightly different story, although the common threads were that we would be part of a 10-month pilot program through SRS of the LDS Church. We were to help build the foundation at a new elementary school, pilot an online curriculum, mentor local teachers, and play a facilitator/administrative role. Rather than SRS building a church school in Chuuk, we were to provide additional support to a man with a great vision for education, who has invested 25 years in Micronesia already.
  • We quit our lives. Resigned from employment, sold cars, ended housing contracts, and some turned down job interviews post graduation. Communication and on-boarding was ROUGH. Dates were moved multiple times, flights were never purchased, group members were stuck in countries, some were forced to max out credit cards because of being stuck abroad, we were draining savings accounts and leaning on family during much uncertainty.
  • We all finally arrived in Chuuk by the end of August, and two members had returned home after one week, and we were down to seven. School was pushed back until our arrival.
  • Three from our group were teaching at the elementary school, which was still under construction during our first couple of months; four of us were asked to teach high school with little notice, no curriculum, few applicable books, no administrative support, and no prior high school teaching experience. The former organization which staffed 30 teachers each year at the school, had ended it’s contract with Chuuk High just before our arrival. Our small band of high school teachers needed to the fill the slots of 30 teachers.
  • We quickly noticed a large gap between our expectations and reality, which has only continued to grow. We had no extremely limited wifi and no program to pilot. We were not mentoring teachers, we were the teachers, and most of our group was not even associated with the elementary school.
  • We had reached out to multiple contacts in Salt Lake and were receiving very little communication in return. We felt as though we had been deceived and abandoned. It was apparent we had not been anyone’s priority as we’d been passed off to five points of contact, who asked us the same initial questions with each new introduction.
  • The high school was in dire need of more teachers. We recruited. Their initial on-boarding was also rough. All but one backed out. We quickly felt uncomfortable recruiting anyone into our current situation.

In our presentation, we shared our top concerns and recommendations as to why we feel as though we’ve been asked to help fill a bucket completely full of holes, including 27 pages of documentation.

  1. Unknown future for the schools in Chuuk
    1. Chuuk High School’s administration and their future involvement is currently unknown as the Department of Education is extremely corrupt.
  2. Lack of Unity and Clarity
    1. SRS is dependent on Chuuk High’s vision, which remains unclear, with both parties.
    2. Lasting positive change in Chuuk’s current state (education and culture) is remarkably difficult and seems impossible.
    3. Future recruits need to fully comprehend the harsh realities they will face.
  3. Unforeseen Realities
    1. SRS did not initially receive accurate information regarding Chuuk’s current state.
    2. This was marketed to us as an employment opportunity, allowing us to use our education backgrounds and experiences to help build a fulfilling program. Our experiences in Chuuk and with SRS have been extremely unprofessional and fall far below satisfactory levels. Our circumstances make it nearly impossible to stay motivated as proactive, hard-working individuals.
    3. The high school’s administration debilitates students with its current behaviors and actions. Very few students pursue higher education or know how to become self-sufficient.
  4. Our Recommendations
    1. It is imperative that this project have one point of contact who is intimately familiar with Chuuk’s realities. We are in need of a field director whose sole responsibility would be to focus on strategic planning.
    2. Realizing the responsibilities placed upon us, we suggest SRS recruit to teachers and professionals within education.
    3. We propose the Church re-evaluate the purpose of High School teachers in its Chuuk education vision. If recruiting high school teachers does become part of the Church’s focus, we stress the need for candid and transparent communication. Information needs to be accurate. The job description, pre-Chuuk preparations, and on boarding need to outline all realities and difficulties associated with this project.

Needless to say, a month recharge was much needed.

  • I visited with many dear friends. (As hard as I tried, I still couldn’t see everyone).
  • I joined my former team and was able to usher a few Christmas events in the Conference Center on Temple Square.
  • It really felt like Christmas with the cold weather, playing in the snow, Festival of Trees, A Christmas Carol play, and Temple Square lights
  • Ate all the American foods!
  • Observed teachers and took a lot of notes
  • Attended the temple
  • Listened to General Conference
  • Volunteered in my niece’s first grade class
  • Spent time with family
  • Fundraised for my reading curriculum for next semester
  • Went to an incredible museum exhibit
  • Got a massage
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Dear Conference Center, I’ll see you again in 5 months…save my spot. Sure love ushering those VIPs and sitting a few rows behind apostles. It’s also a real treat to run into friends every time, among a crowd of 21,000.
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“As we prepare for His Second Coming, and as we stand in holy places, we persist in observing Christmas not just as a season of “Greetings” or “Happy Holidays” but as a celebration of the birth of the Son of God and at a time to remember His teachings and the eternal significance of His Atonement.” (Elder Dallin H. Oaks)
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Nothing like volunteering in my niece’s first grade class. It seems like she was crawling around just yesterday and now she’s reading!

 

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Temple time with my mamma!
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24 children share their harsh (and some pampered) realities of their living conditions around the world. “Each image (and story) emphasizes the idea that all children need to be nurtured and protected.” Having seen many of these types of living conditions first hand, it’s interesting to hear how parents often explain to their children the differences between their first world and others’ third world experiences. [Where Children Sleep, The Leonardo, SLC]
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Where Children Sleep Exhibit, Leonardo, SLC
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Family + holidays! Just missing the bro and sister-in-law in Arizona. Aaand the new babe coming to Eleisha and the Clayton crew!
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My little buddy, Scouty
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Little lady, Aubrey

It has been mentally and emotionally interesting to be removed from the day to day Chuuk life and see the entire experience from the outside, knowing I’m going back and know exactly what kind of situation I’ll be re-entering. Many people have asked “how are you liking Chuuk? Or “Are you loving the adventure? The short answer is: it’s been extremely frustrating but we are trying to make the best of it. As we have now lost one more from our group, most of us continue to band together and become family. We are in survival mode and are determined to finish strong! As I’ve shared in previous posts, the first six weeks in Chuuk were rough. It was a process, but I determined to reset my expectations and focus on the current reality and what I could influence. I got in a teaching groove and found a balance between both a high demand Church calling and job on the island. As people have asked about my experiences and as I compiled the Chuuk research paper, my initial frustrations re-surfaced. I want to and will re-discover my Chuuk groove.

I’ve been reminded of a few important life-lessons:

  • Be raw and honest with yourself and others. Open up, process, debrief, lean on good people, turn to the right sources. Masking feelings and putting on a facade that things are always great, only eats away at your soul. Some go through long periods of time or even their entire lives trying to paint a picture that is not their reality. Social media often caters to that harmful process. Be real. Acknowledge your weaknesses and use your strengths and other people to overcome them. Life is short, so why not give it your all, in the raw.
  • Trust your tribe. The people in your life and your deep relationships are what matter most. We are not meant to go through life alone. We are created to connect and find meaning. Find your personal meaning. Find your tribe who support your meaning, and support theirs!

One big reason why I’m excited to go back to Chuuk is to deliver an extended Christmas to four members of my Chuuk tribe. I had a fun time gathering some much needed American goods (with a few surprises), since they have been on the island for 5 straight months. Chuuk crew, I’m coming for you!

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