By Pacific Island Times News Staff
Washington– The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs has announced $652,970 in fiscal year 2022 Technical Assistance Program funds to support three one-stop centers that provide assistance to underserved Pacific islander communities in Arkansas and Hawai’i, including those who have been disproportionately impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“These funds will provide support to individuals and families who are from the freely associated states and are in need of some essential services or have been especially impacted by the pandemic,” said Keone Nakoa, DOI deputy assistant secretary for Insular and International Affairs. “I applaud the continued work of these one-stop centers for their impactful work in service to the various FAS communities who have chosen to join and contribute to the richness of societies in the United States.”
A 2018 U.S. Census Bureau enumeration estimates there are over 16,680 individuals from the freely associated states in Hawai’i.
The Marshallese Educational Initiative website estimates there are more than 15,000 Marshallese living in northwest Arkansas and in nearby communities in Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri with approximately 10,000 Marshallese in Arkansas alone.
Under the U.S.'s Compacts of Free Association with freely associated states, citizens of Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Palau, are deemed legal nonimmigrants who are allowed to live, work and study in the United States without visa requirements for their duration of stay.
The funds provided are as follows:
We are Oceania Youth Empowerment Center ($250,000): The We Are Oceania (WAO) One-Stop Shop, launched in 2015 through the OIA Technical Assistance Program and now a free-standing 501(c)(3) organization will leverage OIA funding, Housing and Urban Development funds and free space donated by the American Savings Bank of Hawai’i to develop the WAO Youth Empowerment Center.
Funds will be used to help open a learning and wellness center, where Micronesian youth can convene be free of discrimination, bullying, judgement, and harm and receive help for homework, obtain peer mentorship, attend career-readiness training, receive college preparatory advice, learn about Micronesian cultures, and participate in civil activities.
In 2017, WAO launched the first annual Micronesian Youth Summit on the University of Hawai’i Manoa campus and has attracted hundreds of young Micronesian immigrants and Micronesian-American youth each year since.
Marshallese Educational Initiative ($232,970): The Marshallese Educational Initiative (MEI) provided critical support to Marshallese and other communities in Arkansas during the Covid-19 pandemic which included housing needs, food insecurity, employment issues, and health inequities, among others.
The MEI continues its work to increase overall economic stability and quality of life for Marshallese residents who continue to migrate to Arkansas and other U.S. jurisdictions by increasing educational attainment, diversifying work skills, and improving overall health outcomes to help make families more resilient.
The MEI provides walk-in services and educational programming to empower Marshallese youth, women, and elders.
Enra Food Pantry, Medicines, and Services Project ($170,000): Funds will support the Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese and the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO) who have partnered on the Enra Pantry, Medicines, and Services Project to provide food, practical assistance, immigration document assistance and other support to Marshallese and other COFA residents and visitors in the Northwest Arkansas region.
“Enra” is a Marshallese word meaning a woven food dish shared among villagers, so no one is left hungry. Funding provided will help replenish the Enra Food Pantry, provide critical wrap-around assistance for low-income families with limited resources, provide short-term rental assistance for Covid-19 quarantine purposes, supply medicine, and facilitate immigration document renewal. (DOI)