Glasses for Micronesia
June 2008
Sandra and I got back June 2nd from our trip across Micronesia, and many have asked
how the trip went, and were we successful in distributing the reading glasses. The short
answer is yes, we were very successful and the trip was fantastic. I thought I would pen a
short travel log so that people know where we went and a bit about Micronesia, its
culture and people, as well as about the distribution of the glasses.
The map below shows the Pacific region across which we travelled. Leaving on Monday,
May 19th, we flew from Hawaiʻi to Guam, stayed over night, and then flew to Yap the
next morning. The flight to Guam is 7.5 hours, and Yap is another hour and a half beyond
Guam. Guam is an American Territory. Yap is one of the four Federated States of
Micronesia (FSM). The others are Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Kosrae. The FSM states were
part of the United Nations Trust Territory administered by the Americans after WWII.
Figure 1. Map Showing Distances across the Region (not to scale)
We stayed on Yap for two days. While there we gave half the prescription glasses (about
30 pairs) to the local hospital. There are no commercial places on Yap where people can
have their eyes tested and glasses made. The doctors at the hospital will match the glasses
with patients at the hospital who need them. We also gave the doctors and office staff
some of the reading glasses because even the doctors couldn’t get glasses. We saw them
squinting at their nurses’ notes.
Yap is the land of Stone Money. The Stone Money was quarried on Palau, 250 miles west
of Yap approximately 200-300 years ago, and ‘floated’ to Yap on ocean canoes, similar
to the ocean going canoe, the Hōkūleʻa, that is based in Hawaiʻi. Many lives were lost
on those trips and the value of each piece of money varies in proportion to its size and the
number of lives lost in securing it. The picture below shows Sandra standing beside a
very large piece of Stone Money. The money is not used for everyday transactions, but
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A. J. (Sandy) Dawson
Glasses for Micronesia
June 2008
does get involved when clans exchange land or dowries, or to settle disputes. The middle
picture shows the Stone Money path, site of our picture taking. I’m in the right picture.
After Yap we flew west to the Republic of Palau, which until independence was also an
American administered Trust Territory. The waters around and between Yap and Palau
reportedly provide the best diving locations in the world. One of the islands of Palau,
called Peleliu, was the site of a huge battle during WWII. Rusted tanks, like the one seen
below, can be found all over the island. Palau is the location of the famous Rock Islands,
and they too are shown below.
We attended graduation ceremonies at Palau Community College where teachers from
Yap and Palau graduated with Associate, Bachelor, and Master’s degrees. We then had
the weekend to spend on Palau before flying back eastward to Chuuk. We did, as can be
seen below, have time to ‘sample’ the wonderful waters of Palau and drink a beer or two.
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A. J. (Sandy) Dawson
Glasses for Micronesia
June 2008
Flying out of Palau is a ‘trip’ at the best of times. The flights eastward leave at 1:15 am
daily for Guam (some with a stop on Yap) arriving on Guam about 5:30 am. One has to
basically be up all night. To make matters more challenging, we were connecting in
Guam for a flight to Chuuk (some of you ‘older’ people may know it as Truk) at 8 am
getting there about 10 am. We immediately dove into work at the local Department of
Education (DOE), and at the end of the day went to the Pacific Resources for Education
and Learning (PREL—the non-profit where I hold my one of my two jobs, UH being the
other one) office where we distributed more reading glasses. The pictures below show
some of the Chuukese people trying out and selecting reading and sunglasses: both kinds
were in great demand. All told, we distributed about 130 pairs of glasses. We left the
remainder of the prescription glasses on Chuuk because, like Yap, there are no local
places to get glasses made but there is a clinic that could ‘match’ people and glasses.
Chuuk is also known as a great diving site. During WWII the Allied forces made a
surprise attack on the Japanese fleet anchored in the Weno (main island of Chuuk)
Lagoon. Remnants of over half the fleet rest on the bottom of the ocean making it a prime
attraction for divers.
From Chuuk we traveled east, this time a 1.5-hour flight to Pohnpei. Pohnpei is the site of
the ancient ‘water city’ called Nan Madol, much like Venice, that was built some 1500
years ago. The mystery of how the city was built, the materials used, and how they were
transported is still unsolved today. The pictures below provide a couple of views of what
is left of the city. You have to wade across the stream to get into the city. The second
picture gives some perspective on the height of the wall. The columns are made of basalt.
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A. J. (Sandy) Dawson
Glasses for Micronesia
June 2008
In addition to meeting with State and National politicians and educators on Pohnpei, we
had the pleasure of enjoying lunch with State Senator Daniel and his family. Senator
Daniel’s daughter, pictured on the left below, is currently attending UH seeking a
Master’s degree in mathematics education, working with, among others, Neil Pateman
and me. The third picture is a group picture of the beginning teachers of mathematics on
Pohnpei meeting to celebrate the completion of the Mentor Project, the National Science
Foundation funded grant that I work on for PREL.
The final stop on our Micronesian trip was Majuro, the atoll that is the capital of the
Marshall Islands. The flight from Pohnpei to Majuro takes close to six hours because
there is a 45 minutes stop on Kosrae (where I got off the plane in order to buy
‘tangerines’, the best in the world), and another 45-minute stop on Kwajalen, the
restricted US military atoll. You may know of ‘Kwaj’ from reports of the testing of the
missile defense system. It is a very narrow atoll that surrounds a 1600 square mile
lagoon. Of interest to golfers (like me) would be the fact that there is a nine-hole golf
course parallel to the main runway. Players stop to cover their ears whenever a plane
takes off or lands.
Majuro and the Marshall Islands face huge economic and environmental challenges. The
highest elevation point—some 10 feet--on Majuro is a small bridge over an opening
between the Pacific Ocean side of the atoll, and the lagoon side. Elsewhere, the average
elevation is 12 to 18 inches. The atoll itself is 30 miles long and, on average, 225 yards
wide, a somewhat greater distance than most golfers can hit a drive!
Global warming and the rising sea level is a severe threat to the Marshall Islands.
Economically, the renegotiation of the Compact Agreement between the US and the
Marshall Islands, payments in part to offset the devastation (Bikini Islands is still radio
active) caused by the use of the Islands for the testing of nuclear weapons in the 40s and
50s, is placing the country in drastic financial straits.
The two photos on the left below show one of Majuro’s seven elementary schools, with
the sign identifying it as a school focused on by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act.
The school is in a very sad state of disrepair with plywood sheets for window coverings.
The third picture is of one of the craft stores where the local women’s cooperative make
and sell the beautiful woven crafts typical of the Marshall Islands.
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A. J. (Sandy) Dawson
Glasses for Micronesia
June 2008
Flying out of Majuro at 8 pm the night of Monday, June 2, we actually arrive back in
Honolulu 4.5 hours later at 2:30 am Monday, June 2. Yes, we arrive 18 hours before we
left, due to the fact we cross the International Date Line west of Honolulu. I’m not sure
we liked having two Mondays in one week!
We came back knowing that some 130 or so people would be using glasses generously
donated by Hawaiian schools (Waipahu Elementary, McKinley High School, 10th graders
at the University High School), College of Education and CRDG colleagues at UH,
colleagues from PREL’s Honolulu office, the Hawaii Kai Men’s and Elks Golf Clubs of
Honolulu, and many individuals including one who sent glasses in all the way from
Guam.
We discovered on Chuuk that there was a shortage of 1.50, 1.75 and 2.00 reading glasses
so we aggressively collected (and/or bought) those sizes on our return to ship to Chuuk
with a colleague who headed there last Friday morning. The need for glasses is always
great and we were lucky to be able to assist so many wonderful people on this trip.
I hope you enjoyed reading this little ‘travel blog’, and that you know a bit more about
the region, its peoples, and its cultures. The collection of glasses is ongoing so if you
have ones stored away please send them to me. I will be sure they get to the region within
the next year.
Mahalo and aloha,
…Sandy Dawson
Dr. A. J. (Sandy) Dawson
Room 223B, Everly Hall
College of Education
University of Hawaiʻi
1776 University Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96822
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A. J. (Sandy) Dawson
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Glasses for Micronesia June 2008 Sandra and I got back June 2