Hawaii Catholic High Schools Ends Volunteer Summer Trip To Marshall Islands

Not enough Maryknoll High School students expressed interest in 26 year-old program

By Giff Johnson 

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, June 30, 2017) – For the first time in 26 years, a team of students from Maryknoll High School in Honolulu will not be spending several weeks in Majuro volunteering at Assumption High School. Since it started, Maryknoll students and teachers have had a significant impact on the Majuro school’s summer program, while providing many of the Hawaii students with their first overseas experience.

Lack of interest from Hawaii students is cited for the reason there is no visit this month.

The annual visits kicked off in 1991, and have continued annually with teams ranging from five-to-10 students and teacher chaperones spending three weeks in Majuro. Assumption hosts the visit and billets the incoming students with Assumption parents. The Maryknoll students have assisted incoming ninth graders at the Catholic school in Majuro with math and English classes during Assumption’s summer school, as well as engaging in various projects at Assumption and in the community.

“I started the program in 1991,” recalled Ted Stepp, a former long-time teacher at Maryknoll High School, who later moved to Majuro to teach for many years at the College of the Marshall Islands. Stepp, who had been in Samoa and Central America, said he was looking to offer Maryknoll students an overseas experience to broaden their world view. After determining it was unsafe to take students to Guatemala at the time because of a civil war, he was introduced by Maryknoll Sisters in Honolulu to Sr. Aurora Dela Cruz, a teacher and administrator at Assumption in the 1980s and 1990s. In response to Stepp’s inquiry about bringing students to Majuro for a visit, “Sr. Aurora said ‘come,’” Stepp recalled on Thursday. “I still have a photo from the Marshall Islands Journal of our first visit in 1991.” Eight students joined Stepp and another Maryknoll teacher on that first visit to Majuro.

“I never worked so hard in my life (for the first visit),” Stepp said. “Washing cars, selling chocolates to raise money.”

One element that also spurred interest in the school sending students to Majuro in the 1990s was the fact that Marshallese students Arsima Muller, now a Honolulu-based attorney, and Mark Stege, who manages an environment non-profit organization in Majuro, attended Maryknoll High School, said Stepp.

The program “was very beneficial,” he said. “A lot of people benefited in wonderful ways. The visit got the Maryknoll students to think about the world and it built a lot of good will.” Maryknoll teacher Ann Hannan picked up the student volunteer program after Stepp moved to Majuro in 2000 and kept it humming along. Stepp recalled Hannan making her first of many visits to Majuro in 1996 and commenting to him later how much that 1996 trip had changed her life.

Will 2016 be the program’s final year, ending after 26 years? Assumption hopes not. Assumption officials said they were hopeful the long-standing program can resume next year.

“According to the e-mail we received from their Director of Campus Ministry, there just weren’t any volunteers interested in coming out,” said Assumption Dean Brian Tidwell. “I believe they will still be pushing for recruits next year. I know that many of the students who have come out here seemed to enjoy it, and we traditionally have had very positive relationships with the faculty sponsors.”

Tidwell said the school is hopeful “we can get it restarted next year but we’re looking into ways to offer a similar experience for our (summer) students through using on island resources.”

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As the orignal class room teacher an a founder of Assumption High School with Sister Emily McIver in Sept 1972, this is sad to hear. My children and grand children have attended.

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