Showing posts from February, 2008

Chuuk, formerly known as Truk

We rejoined the Island Hopper for the short flight to Chuuk. During World War II, Americans knew this island as Truk, the main Japanese naval base for the Western Pacific. It has a huge lagoon, with lots of islands in it. This is unlike Pohnpei, which has one major island and a few small ones.

Chuuk is having a hard time. Weno, the island with the airport on it, has a reputation for corruption and crime. Most tourists are scuba divers who go immediately to a ship (called a live-aboard) for a week of diving the many Japanese ships sunk in the lagoon. The state is bankrupt, and the soaring price of fuel has crimped travel in an place where motor boats are the most effective means of transportation. The government offices we visited were without electrical power. The roads were in a terrible state: you usually travel at 5 miles per hour, dodging the largest potholes.

Internet is really expensive. They have a state-back monopoly, and they would pay over $1000 a month for a co…

Donna Leads a Home Visit to a Blind Toddler

In addition to meeting with key leaders and visiting schools, Donna McNear really wanted me to see blind children in their homes. Donna is the main reason I'm involved with this project: she's an itinerant teacher of the blind in rural Minnesota. But, she's a teacher with a national reputation and a fierce dedication to improving and reforming the system for educating blind children. She has also made Micronesia her professional mission focus. For years she's been coming to these islands, helping health professionals and teachers better serve the blind and visually impaired children. She's even been to Pingelap with Mary Kidd from Guam, taking the ship Micro Glory for 24 hours, sleeping on a straw mat on one of the upper decks. I'm dedicated, but not that dedicated!

Donna feels that seeing the child in his or her home environment is essential for development and assessment. She's been visiting a handful of kids on Pohnpei, and wanted to take me out to …

Social Enterprise: Black Pearls from Nukuoro Atoll

I found out that there is a hierarchy of remote islands. There are the big main islands, which are reasonably remote, like Pohnpei or Weno on Chuuk (my next stop). These islands have international air service like the Island Hopper I talked about in an earlier post. Then, there are the islands you can get to by small boat that are less than two hours from the mainland. Then, there are remote islands that are a few hours away in a small plane, like Pingelap, the island where the color blindness is so prevalent (achromatopsia). These have small airstrips.

And then there's an atoll like Nukuoro, which is hundreds of miles away from a main island and has no airstrip. These islands get visited one or three times per year by a ship that circulates around the region. Nukuoro is also unusual in the FSM in that it is inhabited by people of Polynesian descent rather than Micronesians.

We found out about Nukuoro because of a brochure in the Joy Hotel, where Mike Terlaje and Mary Kid…

Visiting Schools in Pohnpei

The main goal of visiting Micronesia is for me to gain a real-world perspective on schools and books for students with disabilities. We visited several schools, including detailed visits to two elementary schools and a high school. The first school was Sokehs Powe School, which is on Sokehs Island next to the incredible rock pinnacle I mentioned in an earlier blog. The picture from above shows its site: it's on the waterfront across the main harbor.

Like most of the schools we saw, this one reminded me of schools in California. The classrooms have doors that open to the outside, because of the warm weather. Instead of windows, they have heavy screens. Most classrooms have desks and textbooks and all have chalkboards. Some of the schools have uniforms, where the kids are all dressed in the same colors. Sokehs Powe had purple uniforms. Students on Pohnpei learn in the vernacular (Pohnpeian) until they are in third grade, when they start learning English. PCs at the elem…

Meeting Key Leaders in Pohnpei (including the Governor!)

Our official visit to Pohnpei started with calls on key education leaders. The Federated States of Micronesia has its capital on Pohnpei (it's one of four states in the FSM), so we met with both leaders from the federal FSM government as well as from Pohnpei State.

Our main host was Carlina Henry, who was terrific. She met us at the airport, took us to see Nan Madol on Sunday, and then arranged the great majority of our meetings during the five days we were on Pohnpei. Every time we came up with a new brainstorm, Carlina knew who to call and make it happen.

We learned a lot about the situation around special education in the FSM. Pohnpei State includes the island of Pingelap, which has 10% of their students with a hereditary condition called achromatopsia. This is a complete colorblindness that results in students being low vision. We were surprised to frequently meet people with the condition on Pohnpei, because many Pingelapese have migrated to Pohnpei main island. One of o…

Seeing the sights in Pohnpei

Touring Pohnpei

Because of the timing of the island hopper arriving on Saturday (next flight would arrive Tuesday), we had some free time on the weekend to see the sites of the island. The island is a volcanic high island, with mountains and other cool features, with a surrounding ring of reef a couple of miles away. There is a road that rings the island, and we spent a lot of time going around the island on it.

The most famous site is the ruined stone city of Nan Madol. We walked on a coral path through the jungle to see this city made of basalt slab islands, after paying our admission fee to a representative of the nahmwarki, the local chief. Think of Venice in the Pacific, but with smaller islands. It was low tide, so we could wade out to one of the biggest of the 90 islands that made up the city. This island, called Nan Douwas, had a large tomb as well as a “jail” and what our guide called the meditation hole. Donna McNear and I took turns climbing down into the meditation ho…

The Island Hopper to Micronesia

I'm on an exciting trip to places I've never been before! Although the mission of the trip is to understand the situation of visually impaired students in Micronesia, I absolutely get the benefits of visiting these islands and enjoying the scenery.

Getting to these islands is not simple. The way to get to the main islands from the U.S. is to fly to Hawaii and then take the "island-hopper." I had a vision of this being a DC-3 or some such, but it's a modern 737 that is rated as "ETOPS" which means it's able to fly for three hours on one engine. Continental flies this route three times a week, going from Honolulu to Majuro Atoll, to Kwajelein Atoll, to Kosrae, to Pohnpei, to Chuuk and finally to Guam.

Our first destination on this trip was Pohnpei, in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). As a history buff, I didn't know the new names for some of these places. As in India, these communities have been renaming their islands back to their o…