Pearls are beautiful and extremely valuable. But to find a pearl, you have to look for some very ugly things – oysters. The oyster clams that make pearls lack any kind of outward beauty and in fact would be considered downright ugly. But if you take the time to look under the outside layer of ugliness you will find surreal beauty – prized and coveted beauty. This week we found pearls!
We came on this trip expecting to go to Namu to do dental and medical work as well as collecting pictures, video, and stories life on the island. God had other plans. We landed on Kwajalein on Tuesday and took the ferry to Ebeye (pronounced E-bye) where we expected to stay the night and catch a flight to Namu the next day. The plane broke down and was not able to fly. We expected to catch a “copra boat” on Friday, but a medical emergency came up on another atoll and the copra boat had to change it’s plans. We stayed on Ebeye.
With the news of the first delay, we quickly decided to use the video equipment to chronicle the story of Ebeye. The more we taped the more we were amazed by the hidden beauty of the island – beauty that doesn’t show on the surface.
Wikipedia calls Ebeye the slum of the Pacific. Others have less graciously labeled it the “armpit”of the Pacific. At first glance it certainly isn’t an island that you would write home about – at least not in a positive way. The hospital administrator estimates that there are at least 15,000 people living on this speck in the Pacific – about 90 acres with most housing only one story buildings. To top that off sixty percent of the population is estimated to be under 18 years of age. Four to five families will be living in a small two room house often tacked together with used plywood. The family will take turns sleeping. Those lucky enough to have a job on Kwajalein will sleep first with the rest of the family waiting outside for their turn. Litter and trash are part of their existence. Some families carefully clean their areas only to have the wind blow another wave of discarded cans, wrappers and paper their way. The northern end of the island is the dump where children entertain themselves on a playground of rusting equipping, decaying filth, and burning trash. Nestled in the dump is the town’s baseball diamond.
The Seventh-day Adventist church operates a school here for students in kindergarten through grade 12. Thirteen volunteer teachers fully staff this school in additional to a principal, accountant, and and handful of local employees. They work in conditions that would be unimaginable in the United States and Europe with very limited resources. The classrooms have desks that are made from plywood – anything metal would rust to pieces very quickly in the salt air – windows are open screened to allow the constant breeze to blow though keeping the classrooms comfortable in the tropical heat. Assigned homework usually doesn’t get done because when the students go home, there is no place for them to do the homework, parents or caregivers are not there, and there are many other distractions. The cost of living here is high and selection in the stores limited.
When looking at the conditions here on Ebeye, one often wonders why anyone would want to come here and volunteer a year or more of their lives. All you have to do is talk with the Student Missionary volunteers that teach here and you begin to understand why. The beauty of Ebeye lies in it’s people. We asked each of the the volunteers to describe the school and none of them talked about the condition of their classrooms or the lack of resources, they all talked about their students. Loving, caring, adorable. Students that look out for each other and love their teachers. A people who have very little but share what they have freely. The teachers love working here because they love the beauty of Ebeye – the people.
The Ebeye school is threatened. Last week a new student missionary arrived from New Zealand. This was the first time this school year that the school was fully staffed. They started the year with only four student missionaries to teach all 12 grades. Slowly throughout the year additional staff came – each time the work load had to adjusted resulting in students having to adjust to new teachers. The Adventist school here on Ebeye is considered on of the best schools on the island but needs a full staff of teachers to begin next school year. We have staff for Namu signed up for next year, but there are no teachers for Ebeye yet.
When you come onto the islands and look around at first glance Ebeye is everything but beautiful. But take some time to open the oyster clam and look inside – take some time to get to know the people who live on here and you will see the true beauty of Ebeye – the Pearl of the Pacific.