Monday, March 03, 2008

Visiting Eot in the Faichuk islands

Donna’s friend Kathy Mori was able to arrange a boat trip on short notice to Eot, which is an island on the other side of the lagoon in a group of islands called the Faichuks. It was a 45 minute ride in an open motor boat that held about seven of us. We walked around the island along a path that ran near the water. Donna explained to me to watch Kathy and take my lead from her, since we were able to visit here based on her connections and reputation with the community. Kathy would stop and chat with different people as we walked around the island’s circumference, checking in before taking our party further.

six people in a motorboat alongside a concrete dock, with tropical island in background

People eat a combination of imported and local food. The preference for rice has led to deficiencies like the girl with vision problems caused by a lack of Vitamin A. This is the tropics, so bananas grow easily, as do food plants like breadfruit, taro and the like. When our path went by a small shack built on a volcanic rock outcrop, we found a girl diving for sea cucumber, and another woman pounding them on the rocks in preparation. Residents are mainly dressed in western dress, with women wearing island dresses that Donna chooses to wear on visits to respect local norms (skimpy shorts and tops don’t make it). Boy wearing blue soccer jerseyI was surprised to see a teenaged boy wearing an American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) soccer jersey: AYSO is the soccer league where I volunteer as a referee during the fall.

Soon, we reached the home of the blind girl we were visiting. Like Aleckson, Freda Phillip had been born without eyes and was about 4 years old. She was lying on a platform in the family house, looked over by her mother, Menty, and great-grandmother, Dorothy. Donna went to work, checking to see if the little girl could stand and walk. The girl’s face totally lit up with a giant grin: she loved playing with Donna. Kathy Mori translated as Donna compared notes with the mother, Menty. I didn’t follow all of the advice, but it seemed to net to one thing: that the girl should be encouraged to meet the same expectations of other children her age. Her development was lagging compared to other children, but it didn’t seem to be an intrinsic problem, but more environmental.

Donna's visit reminded me both of the limitations and the potential of technology. Freda's life challenges right now have a lot more to do with issues that technology can't help. She needs encouragement and challenge. But, I could sit there and imagine completely changing her access to information as she grows up, and maybe that little extra piece will make a difference to Freda. It's pretty realistic for Freda's family to be able to use a cell phone in the next few years: I saw a cell phone on another island in Chuuk and the guy assured me it was working. Harvey, the tech guy at the Chuuk special ed office, was talking about using Green WiFi (solar powered WiFi) to link the schools on the islands.

The difference is that I'm not working on cell phone talking book access to help some theoretical kid: I've got a face and a name to go with it: Freda from Eot and her big smile!

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