Monday, February 18, 2008
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 our brainstorms was to fly to Pingelap for the day: it's about 400 miles to the east of Pohnpei main island. However, Carlina talked to the pilot and found that the airport was completely out of aviation fuel and that the plane couldn't fly. The tanker came in on Wednesday, but there wouldn't be enough time to unload the fuel and fly to Pingelap before we continued our trip to Chuuk.
We had the opportunity to check out places where they were going to set up a technology center with PCs and specialized assistive technology for the blind. We visited the national capital in Palikir, which is about 8 miles away from Kolonia, the main town on Pohnpei. There, we talked to Rufino Mauricio, a senior official in the FSM and the co-author of an important book on Micronesian history. He was very helpful and supportive of our goal of building a library. We met with him in the Micronesian Library of Congress, which was full of interesting content.
Our last meeting on day one was with the Governor of Pohnpei State, John Ehsa. Governor Ehsa was quite interested in education: he's been in office only a month and it's at the top of his priority list. I was impressed with him, and hope he's successful in his new administration.