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.
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.
- Unknown future for the schools in Chuuk
- Chuuk High School’s administration and their future involvement is currently unknown as the Department of Education is extremely corrupt.
- Lack of Unity and Clarity
- SRS is dependent on Chuuk High’s vision, which remains unclear, with both parties.
- Lasting positive change in Chuuk’s current state (education and culture) is remarkably difficult and seems impossible.
- Future recruits need to fully comprehend the harsh realities they will face.
- Unforeseen Realities
- SRS did not initially receive accurate information regarding Chuuk’s current state.
- 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.
- 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.
- Our Recommendations
- 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.
- Realizing the responsibilities placed upon us, we suggest SRS recruit to teachers and professionals within education.
- 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
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!