Marshall Islands: Adventures in “paradise”
Marshall Islands team delivers much needed supplies to outlying islands.
by MARTIN COOPER, CAPTAIN –
Captain Martin Cooper (right) spends time with island residents.
Let me update you on the mission of the Army here in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. I’ve just returned from a week long trip to the Jaluit Atoll where we are very active, not only in changing lives, but also in saving lives.
These trips begin with a flight on a small plane across miles of open ocean, and after about an hour we start to see hundreds of islands. We land on a gravel runway that was built by the Japanese during World War II. Local officers holding Salvation Army flags greet us, and the corps Home League women put flowers around our necks. Off we go in the back of a rusted Toyota truck.
The next day we rent a 22-foot boat and load it with 25 ten-pound bags of rice, clothes, medicine, two basketball backboards, three volleyball nets and balls, and much more. There is very little room for our group in the boat! Our travel plan is to look for life on the outer islands, and if we spot anybody then we’ll drive the boat over and see if they need any help.
After about an hour and passing 50 islands, we see two small kids about a mile from our boat. We head for their location, and upon landing we discover that there is a mom and dad and six kids. The mom tells me that there are three adult men, two who are retarded, who live about a mile away. We learn that they can prepare their own food, but they are afraid to get too close to us at first, so we hand out candy and three bags of rice to the family, one bag to each of the men. We also give out some medicine and have a group prayer before traveling on. It is quite a moving moment.
We travel for another hour through water that is clear to a depth of over 100 feet, and we see fish jumping and large sea turtles. We also see several outriggers—canoes with sails—that make the three-day trip from one end of the atoll to the other. We are nearing the island of Narmij where we have an outpost that is attended by 50 people. As we land on this island, we can hear small children singing to us. We install a backboard for the youth of the island and hand out food and other items.
We then head to the last island in the atoll—Jabnoren—where we have another outpost on this island of 150 people. Jabnoren has a small school, but they don’t have any chairs, tables, pencils, paper, or anything! The elders ask me if I could please help the school. Of course, I say yes without knowing where I’ll get the needed supplies. We again hand out food, medicine, sports items and anything we have left. After a church service we depart to go back to Narmij for a night’s sleep on the rocks.
We didn’t know it, but we saved the best for last. Nancy decided to throw about five bags of marshmallows into my stuff, and here is where the fun began. Nobody had ever seen a marshmallow before, so we started a fire and found some small sticks for roasting. Well, for ten minutes nobody would touch them. But after one brave child said it was good everybody started to push each other out of the way in order to get close to the fire. It was a marshmallow riot of sorts!
School has now started, and we try to help the many kids who need supplies such as backpacks. This year we handed out over 250 backpacks filled with supplies. We could have handed out 1,000 more. At this time we are trying to locate more colorful T-shirts and underwear for the kids, and we’re always in need of flip-flop sandals.
Life is very hard here, but the blessings are very BIG, and we are very thankful for all that we have.