From far away places to a tiny island
Updated: May 10, 2021
Donors from around the world send school supplies to students on the small island of Fais
Colonia, Yap-- With gasps and applause, the students at the Fais Mahol Community School on the small island of Fais in Yap State lit up at the news that backpacks, reading books, library reference materials, art and classroom supplies, sports equipment and maps were in the 10 large bins and one box that were delivered by Pacific Mission Aviation in late April.
Spearheaded by the Uowolo family of Hilo, Hawaii who wanted to give something back to their faraway home and support student learning and success on the island, teenage brothers Jayden and Mykah Uowolo contributed their savings to the cause and produced a social media video to promote the campaign.
Fais lies 156 miles northeast of Yap’s main island, is only one square mile in size, has fewer than 300 residents and little more than 70 students enrolled in the two schools that go from early childhood to kindergarten, and 1st through 8th grade.
People from Canada, Australia, Tobi and Airai states of Palau, Guam, California, Florida, Washington State, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington D.C. responded to the call to action.
Thanks to the brothers’ outreach, their parents, Jermy and Amanda Uowolo , collected more than $3,000 worth of new supplies and prepared them to send to the school.
“The library books were specially selected for early readers to advanced middle school reading level and covered a broad range of topics relevant to life in the islands,” said Amanda Uowolo, whose husband grew up on Fais. “Subjects included island ecology, agroforestry, plant science, marine science, deep water ocean creatures, coral reefs, climate adaptations, insects, geography, astronomy, the human body, life cycles, water cycles, Pacific and Micronesian legends, Micronesian literature and poetry.”
Sports equipment was also sent to encourage exercise and personal hygiene supplies were added to promote healthy lifestyles among the children.
“Our goal was to provide supplies and learning resources to the students that would inspire and encourage them to continue their education, and support their success as they move forward to high school and beyond,” said Amanda Uowolo.
“But before we began, members of the Fais community in Yap contacted Paul Tapang, the school’s principal, to get his approval and discuss what we should gather and send,” said Susie Lesaletmang, who partnered with the Uolowos as the liaison in Yap.
Lesaletmang works as public land and property coordinator for the Yap State Land Resources office.
“Principal Tapang and the teachers and staff of the school were very supportive of the idea, so the Uowolo’s then reached out to the larger social media community,” said Lesaletmang, whose husband is also from Fais.
“We decided to give backpacks and basic personal school supplies to the seven 8th grade graduates this year who will leave the island, many for the first time, to attend Yap High School or Ulithi High School in the next school term," Lesaletmang said.
"Few, if any, have the means to afford backpacks and supplies. But there were enough backpacks to provide one to each of the other students, too. Those backpacks got the biggest reaction from the students,” she added.
Gov. Henry Falan stepped in to help with the import tax waiver and Lt. Gov. Jesse Salalu, who is from Fais and had not been back for three years, happily accepted the project team’s invitation to fly out with Lesaletmang to present the donations in person in his role as one of the leaders and members of the Fais Community.
Salalu has spent his career in education, serving as principal of the Fais school for several years before moving to Yap to join the Department of Education and eventually the FSM DOE. He currently serves as vice chairman of the FSM-COM Board of Regents.
“While we each paid for our own plane tickets, we were very grateful that PMA agreed to deliver the cargo to the island free of charge,” Lesaletmang said.
As Salalu and Susie stepped off the plane, they were greeted with leis by Tapang and members of the community. “The students broke out in the most wonderful smiles of excitement when they learned about the donation. It really touched my heart,” said Lesaletmang .
“It was important to show the students that there are people beyond their island who care about them,” added Salalu. “It was an important lesson for them to learn that giving is more important than receiving. And the giving hasn’t ended. I have one more box of supplies at my home waiting to be sent!”
Upon returning to Yap, Lesaletmang met with members of the Fais community and told them about the experience and the appreciation shown by the students, members of the community and the school’s leaders. “It has inspired the sons and daughters of other Outer Islands to do something similar,” she said.