PACIFIC ISLAND TENSIONS SIMMER AT GUAM SCHOOL

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By Oyaol Ngirairikl

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Dec. 6) – Guam has always been home to Kiliso Alex. So it's confusing and hurtful when the 11-year-old student of Chuukese descent hears people say that Chuukese should go back to their home.

"I am home," Alex said, during a Thanksgiving luncheon at Vicente S.A. Benavente Middle School, where she goes to school.

Alex and her friend, Daisy Sosef, are Chuukese born on Guam. Both girls have returned to their Micronesian homeland only a handful of times.

"It makes me sad when I hear (other) people talking about Chuukese people in a bad way. I just want to go to school and have fun," Sosef said.

The girls said fights between ethnic groups occur almost weekly, though they've gotten smaller in number and in size.

But the school has the Islanders' Club, a program that school and program administrators say is contributing to fewer fights by providing activities aimed at easing racial tensions in their school of about 1,600 students, of which 288 students, or 18 percent, are considered Pacific-islander.

The Islanders' Club focuses on helping students understand each other's cultures in an effort to ease racial tensions.

"If nothing else, we're giving the kids more to do and less time to fight," said Trina Paulino, community program aide at Benavente Middle School's Parent-Family-Community Outreach Program.

Paulino said she came up with the idea of the Islanders' Club last school year.

"There were some boys playing basketball in the gym. Then someone said something or did something and then two boys were fighting - one was Chamorro and the other Chuukese," Paulino said. "Then other boys jumped into the fight - Chamorros backing up the Chamorro and Chuukese boys backing up their Chuukese friend. It hurt my heart to see these young kids hurting each other."

Paulino said, with the support of the school administration, she started the Islanders' Club, but it really took off only when the club partnered with Island Girl Power, a program of the nonprofit Ayuda Foundation located right down the street from the middle school.

"It was a blessing because they're a perfect partner for us," Paulino said. Together the clubs have provided instructors to teach self-defense classes and rope jumping, among other classes that instruct students and require them to work together.

A big project the Islanders' Club is working on is the "Unity Chant" project.

"With the help of Guam Guma' PÃ¥lu Li' e' we're teaching the (three) Chamorro language classes here at Benavente some Chamorro chants," said Girl Power Program Director Juanita Blaz.

The Chamorro language students teach the chants to the Islanders' Club members and together the language students and Islanders' Club members can write a new chant.

"Together, they'll create a Unity Chant that is meant to be theirs, the students of Benavente, that is based on a local tradition but is seasoned with the cultures of our neighboring islands," Blaz said.

Marie Pangan, 11, is a Filipina student born and raised on Guam. She's one of the Chamorro language students learning the chants, and she said she's looking forward to teaching a chant to fellow islanders.

"It's a good idea to do this because we're such a large school with so many people from different places," Pangan said.

Pangan's friend Genaray Chiguina, 11, who is Chamorro, chimed in that the fights between the ethnic groups at the school are getting "really tired."

"People like to say stuff like 'they're only here to fight,' but I know some Chuukese girls who don't even fight," Chiguina said.

Paulino said racial attitudes don't always explode into fights "but the thoughts are there."

"It's really sad because you don't think children could be so mean. But this is the reality, the fruit, of our actions," Paulino said.

In Guam's history, there have been waves of immigrants who arrived from various areas of Asia and Micronesia, and there have been some in the local population who felt immigrants were taking jobs and overwhelming the island's economy.

Many Chuukese people moved to Guam in the 1980s after being recruited to work in hotels, said Ritis Heldart, a consul for the Federated States of Micronesia Consulate office on Guam.

"After the workers came, they slowly started bringing in their families," Heldart said. He said many of Chuukese families have successfully made the cultural transition.

Education Superintendent Juan Flores said cultural attitudes are a community issue that has found its way to the halls of Guam's schools.

"It's unfortunate that we've subjected our children to our prejudices because the things we say - maybe they're subconscious statements - have a huge impact on our children," Flores said.

"As a community we really need to look at ourselves and, in a sense, reevaluate who we are as a community and what we want to pass down to our children," Flores said.

December 6, 2005

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com

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