On Oct. 10, Kwajalein volunteers delivered school supplies and housewares to the people of Namu Atoll in a first-time outreach event. With special coordination from the Republic of the Marshall Islands Liaison Office and U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll, island residents purchased items for the 121 school-aged children selected to participate in the program. They also provided home and kitchen items for families and supplies for new mothers.
“This program could not have been done without the community,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael Schafer, the USAG-KA coordinator for the Namu outreach. “The people who contributed to this project were the ones that made this possible.”
Why had Schafer chosen Namu Atoll for a school supplies outreach?
“Why not choose Namu,” he said. Assisting a fellow community in the RMI felt right.
Offering aid and resources is something Schafer began to do with purpose years ago. When chances to help come along, Schafer takes them. He encourages others to do so, as well.
“There were times, growing up, that we had nothing,” Schafer said, of his childhood. “Sometimes, people gave us something: food, a toy, candy, gloves for the winter. I remember those days. I always told myself if I ever had a chance to give back, then I would,” he said.
In the weeks leading up to the voyage to Namu, the RMI Liaison Office served as the drop-off point for garrison residents to deliver their contributions. Bags and bins of toys, toiletries, clothing, kitchen and craft supplies, crayons, basketballs and books crowded the office. The number of child-sized backpacks delivered surpassed 100.
“There were multiple contributors for this project,” said Schafer. “The Kwajalein School System provided plastic tubs of books, and a church community from Clear Lake, South Dakota, provided clothes, linens, toys and shoes.”
It became evident just how far word of the program had spread. On Kwajalein, employees of Louis Berger Services contributed items purchased through their online school supplies drive. When the USAV Mystic returned to Kwajalein after routine maintenance in Cairns, Australia, it contained sports equipment donated by the Tropical Reef Shipyard.
On Kwajalein, AAFES confirmed that when the delivery vessel departed for Namu, it would be laden with cookies for that community, and lunches for the crew, Schafer said. Donations came in from members of the Marshallese workforce. They added local fare and food staples like bags of rice and boxed, frozen chicken to the ever-growing inventory.
“[The Marshallese] approached me and asked if they could donate, too,” said Schafer. “They said, ‘I’m from there,’ or, ‘I know people on Namu. Let me help, too.’”
Student volunteers from Kwajalein High School picked up last-minute contributions from island quarters and assisted in packing and preparing donations.
“They were natural leaders,” Schafer said, of the students. “This outreach needed them.”
Others joined the loading team, piling boxes into the Timur, a fishing vessel from the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority provided by the RMI national government for the trip.
On Oct. 10, the Timur plowed a steady trough through the gray waves as the morning rains cleared. More than three hours and 40 miles after leaving Kwajalein, later, the vessel entered Namu Atoll and anchored in its turquoise lagoon with blue skies overhead.
Sheltered by breadfruit and palm trees on the beach of Majkin island, Kwajalein’s visitors could see Namu community members—adults, families, and numerous students—singing a welcome. All had had travelled from their respective home islands to greet them, said RMI Liaison Specialist Kalani Riklon. To ensure all community members could be present, the atoll mayor had purchased fuel for numerous small transport boats.
After treating their visitors to fresh coconut juice, island residents gathered under spacious shade shelters for introductions and a welcome address by acting Mayor Manuel Kilma.
A party of volunteers from the beach helped the Timur’s crew haul up its cargo and to carry the numerous boxes, bags and crates in from the lagoon. High school students arranged row after row of patterned, colorful backpacks before rows of seated Namu students.
Then, it was time to give gifts. One by one, KHS student Lana Kabua called each student by name to receive backpacks and school supplies. Children and parents laughed and cheered as young recipients insisted on carrying packages that were higher than they were tall. One Namu youth received a blue and white basketball—from Cairns?—and seated around him, his peers leaned in to admire it.
To return Kwajalein’s generosity, the Namu community prepared bountiful baskets of traditionally prepared breadfruit, baked chicken and foods for their visitors to eat on the way home. They also provided gifts like colorful amimono items, or handicrafts, necklaces and large shells for everyone who contributed to the voyage. Those who donated are welcome to visit the RMI Liaison Office during business hours to select a gift.
Together, the two communities formed receiving lines, and Namu residents personally thanked everyone who had come to share their gifts. They watched on the beach as the Timur disappeared on the horizon.
While the two communities may have lost sight of each other for now, Kwajalein’s visitors cherish the kindness and generosity shown by Namu.
“I just want to you to know that we’re always thinking about you,” Schafer said in his remarks to the community. “It doesn’t matter where we are, or what island we’re on. You’re always with us. We’re always thinking about every Marshallese community.”
“I am so honored,” said Kilma, in an interview conducted by AFN Kwajalein film crew members Tolum Lucky and Maurice Lokeijak about the day’s events. “I believe that we will bond [in] friendship, between [the] Kwajalein community and Namu community.”
As for Schafer, the outreach will not be the last time he will work to help others, and the people of Namu have a permanent place in his heart.
“Seeing all the community standing in a line, clapping and singing was such an amazing experience,” he said. “The Marshall Islands is such a beautiful place and has a beautiful culture. I hope everyone will remember the smiles from the children, and the love, from our community.”