State Senators McConnell and Ford Praise Micronesian Scholarships

Not many people in South Carolina are familiar with Micronesia, a group of isolated islands in the Pacific once called the “Carolines.”

Students there face many challenges, but a small South Carolina charity is working to help.

Per-capita income in the islands is under $3,500. Limited natural resources and extreme isolation hamper economic development. The landmass of the islands totals just 300 square miles, but the chain spans over 1,800 miles of open ocean.

Public schools in Micronesia, which receive large sums of aid from the United States, remain under-resourced and rarely employ teachers with a full four-year degree. Only a small number of families can afford the modest tuition charged by the handful of missionary and nonprofit private schools operating in the islands.

The financial and logistical obstacles are particularly high for students who live in the isolated “outer islands” located far beyond the reef of the state capitals.

Many of these low-lying coral Atolls are thousands of miles away from a major port of call. They all lack regular power and indoor plumbing. Most of the islanders there still engage in subsistence farming and fishing. For parents in the outer islands, sending their children to a nationally competitive independent school is just a dream.

That’s where Columbia- based “Habele” enters the picture.

The word Habele is Ulithian term meaning to wish for and realize a future. It is a compound of the words “to be” and “to make.”

The Habele Outer Island Education Fund is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization that works to promote academic attainment and opportunities for outer islands students.

Habele works with local educators and traditional leaders to build libraries, provide school supplies, and issue tuition scholarships for deserving students to attend prestigious private schools on the more populated “high islands” that serve as Micronesia’s state capitals.

This year Habele has awarded over $7,500.00 in scholarships, paying the major part of tuition for sixteen of the outer island’s most ambitious young scholars.

Senator Glenn McConnell of Charleston, President Pro Tempore of the South Carolina Senate, has praised the work. "The ‘Habele’ organization is a great example of South Carolinians opening their hearts and wallets for students in need and who seek opportunities to learn.”

Senator Robert Ford, another Charleston Senator seated on the other side of the political aisle, echoed McConnell’s sentiments. “Education is the key. People know that, and they are willing to give when money goes straight to the student.”

Tuition scholarships were awarded to students from the islands of Kutu, Ta, and Lekinioch in Chuuk State, and from Ulithi, Woleai, Ifaluk, Eauripik, Satawal, and Fais in Yap State. Parents of the students have committed to paying transportation and other fees, as well as to provide Habele with report cards and progress reports. Checks were mailed directly to schools in Yap, Chuuk, and Pohnpei.

The average Habele scholarship for 2009-10 was just under $500.00. The awards were funded by the gifts of seventeen individual donors and two corporations, representing states from across the United States.

Habele is an IRS recognized, not-for-profit corporation, headquartered in Columbia, South Carolina. South Carolina has a special connection with Micronesia thanks to the work of Palmetto State native Jim Boykin, who spearheaded the establishment of an outer island school district during the 1960s.

For more information about how you can support a student or provide school materials to outer island Micronesian classrooms visit www.habele.org.