In a rare show of solidarity and ecumenical unity, a group of Chuukese Catholic, Protestant, and women leaders gathered this week at the Pacific Islander Student Center at the University of Hawaii at Hilo to discuss social issues and solutions unique to the Chuukese people on Hawaii Island.
Iechuun Souemuenin Chuuk (Gathering of Chuukese Leaders) was led by the organizing committee comprising of Protestant leaders Sounpetak Kanter Santos (Mwichefen UUK, Uman), Sounkoa Kerat Pitiol (Mwichefen UUK, Uman), Sounpetak Santy Mitipok (Mwichefen Son Shine, Weno), Sounpetak SM Flysek and Sounpetak Rainy Narruhn (Mwichefen IYAA, Machew), Wanporon James Simeon (Mwichefen Bethesta, Machew), and chaired by Catholic Deacon Julio Akapito (Chuukese Catholic Community of Big Island), and Micaela Lewis Aizawa (Chuukese Women). The list of participants who were invited to the unique gathering included the key leadership of the various Chuukese Protestant churches as well as the Catholic leaders on Hawaii Island.
The conference theme, “Seresin Chuuk Non Matawen Merika won Big Island Hawaii Nanew – Ikenai – me Pekinon” (Chuukese Journey in the American Ocean on the Big Island Hawaii – Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow) focused discussions on the state of the Chuukese people living on Hawaii Island. In the opening statement, Chuukese parent and UH Hilo alumnae Micaela Aizawa recounted the early years of the Chuukese migration to the Big Island most of whom were students at the university and a few community members.
“Am mei chek tipe ew fengen. Ese wor ekkewe kinikinin nomw me aramas. Am ew chok non Chuuk,” recounted Mrs. Aizawa. “We worked together in unity. We helped each other. We attended each other’s churches…regardless of Protestants or Catholics. We were Chuuk!”
The leader of one of the Chuukese women’s group on Hawaii Island went on to lament today’s Chuukese disunity through regionalism. She claimed, “Iei sise chuen Kich Chuuk pwe sia chon Weno, chon Machew, chon Fanapi. Sise chuen faan fengen pwe en me fiti aan Mwichefenin Pirostan ika Katinik.” (Today we no longer unite as Chuukese, but have separated ourselves into people from Weno, Machew, Fanapi, Protestants, Catholics).
Deacon Julio Akapito who chaired the conference likened the need for Chuukese unity to the unique Chuukese food-making culture of kon (pounded breadfruit).
“Ina oreniach na. Sise aucheani emon me emon kich non Merika… nge sia aucheani ewe chufengenin tipen ekkewe a winiti ewe kon.” (That’s our unique culture; we value less the individuals or pieces of breadfruit, but the whole community…the pieces that have been pounded to make the kon).
Many social issues were discussed extensively at the 4-hour conference. Among these were the following: a) the challenge of encouraging Chuukese kids to pursue a college education while working to help pay bills, b) the lack of Chuukese translators at DMV and Chuukese-translated drivers license handbook and testing, c) lack of parental involvement in local schools, d) the need for coordinated efforts with the the State Prosecutor’s Office to prevent Chuukese youth from committing crimes and going to prison, e) the lack of collaboration and cooperation among the Chuukese diaspora, f) the lack of capital for Chuukese-owned business ventures on Hawaii Island, g) discrimination against Chuukese people in housing and the job market, g) the selfishness of a few Chuukese who abuse the system thereby causing more problems for all Chuukese immigrants, h) the need to help our Chuukese youth to believe in their abilities to seek high level positions and not settle for low-paying jobs in the fast food industry, i) lack of preventative healthcare for the Chuukese people.
At the conclusion, the leaders agreed to conduct an island-wide social needs assessment specifically targeting the Chuukese population on Hawaii Island to determine the real needs from the grassroots level. A team was formed whose goal is to visit each of the Chuukese community churches to lead social needs assessment meetings. The meetings would conclude by June 30th and their findings will be presented at a follow up meeting at the Pacific Islander Student Center on Monday, July 15, 2013 at 4:00 pm. At that follow up gathering, the Chuukese leaders agreed to review the findings and prioritize them into actionable items.
Iechuun Souemuenin Chuuk followed a recent meeting of the Micronesian church leaders with the State Prosecutor Mitch Roth sponsored by the Micronesians United – Big Island (www.mu-bi.org). In that special meeting called by the newly elected prosecutor, the Micronesian church leaders agreed to work together with the Office of the Prosecutor to prevent more Micronesian youth from ending up in prison and to address unique challenges facing the migrant communities on Hawaii Island.