Saturday, November 28, 2015         

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Donated goods head for Western Pacific

By Rob Shikina


Bookshelves languishing in a basement at the University of Hawaii were given a new life yesterday as they were packed into Matson containers destined for islands in the western Pacific.

A local nonprofit hopes the donations will improve the communities in Micronesia and the Northern Marianas and eventually reduce the surge of migrants from those areas to Hawaii, which already spends about $120 million a year on services for migrants from Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau, according to the state.

The nonprofit Reach Out Pacific received help from professional movers to load office furniture, commercial book shelves, textbooks and medical supplies into four 40-foot containers.

About 250 boxes containing thousands of textbooks from Baldwin High School and Konawaena High School were loaded, as well as medical examining tables and a dozen poles to support intravenous lines. Matson will ship the items at no cost, saving the nonprofit about $32,000.

Glenn Wakai, president of REPAC, says there is an exodus of brainpower from Micronesia and the Northern Mariana Islands because of the lack of economic opportunities and adequate health care. He believes increasing resources for schools and libraries will encourage people to stay and improve their home islands.

"It gets to the root of the reason for the exodus," he said. If residents have better schools and libraries, he said, "things are going to get better for them."

REPAC has been shipping educational and medical supplies to islands in the western Pacific for six years. It ships only items that are in good shape but no longer needed.

UH donated most of the shelves. Melissa Arakawa, a UH supervisor involved in the donation, said the shelves were no longer needed and would have been thrown away.

Wakai, a state senator who worked as a television reporter in Saipan in the early 1990s, said the hospitals and schools in the Mariana Islands are in dire condition.

Hospital patients are asked to bring their own bed linens or gowns, and in some schools different classes have to share books, he said.

Some of UH's bookshelves will furnish a new public library on the island of Rota that doesn't have any bookshelves, said Victoria Guerrero, who works in the Mariana Islands governor's office.

She said she hopes the donated furniture will help officials open children's centers around the island of Saipan in time for summer.

"Most of the youth centers have nothing in them," she said by telephone. "We just have one bowling alley that's open, one movie theater. There's not much that the kids can do. If we revive these youth centers their time will be spent there."

She said that a few months ago, REPAC sent more than 1,000 gowns for the hospital, which had mostly torn garments for patients.

"It's a tremendous help for us here," she said.

The bulk of yesterday's donated items will go to Northern Marianas College in Saipan and the Pohnpei Public Library, both of which are struggling with a lack of resources.

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