ARKANSAS CITY SUPPORTS MARSHALLESE IMMIGRANT ADJUSTMENT

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By Aenet Rowa

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Yokwe, Dec. 18) - The Springdale City Council has decided to return partial funding for the Marshallese Outreach Coordinator position hosted by the Jones Center. Included in its FY2008 budget of US$27.5 million is US$9,863 to pay for the position until funds can be raised elsewhere.

Carmen Chong Gum has been full-time at the Center since last January when City funding began. She assists Marshallese, in the Northwest Arkansas region, as they adjust to life in the United States.

Early in December, the Council, in efforts to cut its FY2008 budget, had eliminated the funding of US$39,450 to the center, which allowed Chong Gum to be hired.

Last week, Chong Gum gave her last report to the Council and thanked the members for funding the position this past year. Several Marshallese ladies accompanied her and passed out Marshallese handicraft to the Mayor, Council officers, and members.

Following last week's meeting, the Northwest Arkansas Morning News reported that Alderwoman Kathy Jaycox said she would support partial contribution by the city. It was only fair to help until other funding was secured she said.

The NWA, which published a special feature on Chong Gum's work in its December 15 edition, also quoted Kathryn Birkhead, director of diversity and inclusion for the Jones Center.

Birkhead said the Jones Center would seek substitute funding from charitable foundations in the area as well as the government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI).

A lot Chong Gum's work "is the same a consul," and it would make sense for the RMI to help pay her, she said.

The closest government consulate help in the U.S. is the RMI Embassy in Washington, D.C. The only other consular office is located in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Chong Gum's work includes dealing with city, agency, and state officials. On December 10, she appeared before a panel of the Arkansas State legislature in Little Rock, testifying how Marshallese, while residing the U.S., are ineligible for most federally-funded health care programs.

Last October, Chong Gum helped organize a Forum for Arkansas local and state officials on the Compact of Free Association between the U.S. and RMI, and a discussion on its implications for residents of Northwest Arkansas.

The Marshall Islands is located approximately 6,000 miles from Northwest Arkansas. Under the Compact Agreement with the U.S., RMI citizens can reside and work in the United States visa-free. It is estimated that over 6,000 have moved to the region for jobs and education making Springdale the home to the largest population of Marshallese outside of the islands.

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