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].
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!