CHRISTMAS FALLS FROM SKY IN FSM

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By Brett Kelman

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Jan. 8) –If the isolated islands of Micronesia could mail thank you letters, they would.

Instead, residents of Federated States of Micronesia [FSM] used the high frequency, single-side band radio in the University of Guam's PEACESAT office to thank Guam residents last week for donating goods to the U.S. Air Force's Operation Christmas Drop 2007.

The Christmas Drop, a 55-year old Air Force tradition, parachutes about 20 tons of food, clothing and supplies to the islands every December. By delivering 148 crates to 71 islands between Dec. 14 and Dec. 19, 2007 last year's Christmas Drop became the largest ever.

"It is like a miracle to receive these boxes out of nowhere," said Tony Talmai, a fisherman on Wottegai, a small island in the state of Yap of the FSM. Talmai's voice crackled through UOG's radio, overcoming the isolating ocean that keeps his community struggling.

Talmai said his island received badly needed tools from the Christmas Drop -- including two machetes and a hacksaw -- which they can't buy on his island. The crate also contained many educational books.

"We are very glad to receive the box. (The tools) will be very much helpful for us with our work ... and the books will supplement the little bit at our school," he said.

Ermenio Max, mayor of the Chuuk island of Ono, said the Christmas Drop came just in time.

"We were totally out of medicine," he said. The Christmas Drop brought medical supplies, fishing gear and two large sacks of rice to the 121 people who live on his island. Crates to smaller islands are often packed with extra rice to make sure they are heavy enough to trigger Air Force parachutes.

Max said the holiday aid was lifesaving, since Ono's chances to re-supply are few and far between.

"The crates are very important because our problem here is the long six to eight months before we get another transportation to another island to bring goods," he said.

Many islands in Chuuk have suffered from an especially difficult year since sea swells salted their taro fields in March 2007, ruining many crops. Some Christmas Drop crates contained seeds and farming equipment so islanders could repair their Taro fields.

While every crate that Air Force dropped in Christmas Drop 2007 was a little different, the response yesterday was unanimously the same -- more fishing gear is needed.

On the radio, Talmai asked for new lures, which he can use to feed his family by fishing out of a canoe. Max said his island would benefit from modern fishing equipment. And Peter Malmai, from the Yap island of Ifalik, said his island's crate was filled with toys for children, but missing a crucial something.

"It's like we got one of everything ... but what we need most are more hooks and line," he said.

UOG scientist Bruce Best, who sends Micronesia news and weather through the radio every morning, said he knew first hand how lifesaving fishing gear could be for isolated islanders. Besides acting as many islands' "window to the world," Best visits the islands to install the receiving ends to his powerful radio.

He said his visits would open donor's eyes.

"Every year (Guam) donates this big pile of clothes, but they barely wear clothes. If you send them a blazer they will sling it over their shoulder and carry coconuts in it," Best said. "What they need is that which can help sustain their existence, and that's fishing equipment."

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