“I give much of the credit to our own Marshallese culture and to our local customs, where in a sense everyone is part of our family, for such a high level of cooperation, and for the kindness and patience that have been displayed throughout this crisis.”
- Jack Neidenthal, RMI Secretary of Health and Human Services
The Marshall Islands was the first country in the Pacific to shut down its borders at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, they were the only country in the world to be able to maintain zero cases of the virus through the entirety of 2021. This allowed them to offer the vaccine to citizens of all-ages before the virus spread through the community. When Covid did reach Majuro, it hit quickly. The close living conditions and limits of the health infrastructure made it ideal for sickness to circulate. However, the precautions the Marshallese people had taken prevented a catastrophe. Health officials worked tirelessly and many Marshallese living outside of the country even came home to help their community. This resulted in an astonishingly low 0.11% fatality rate.
The Canvasback Wellness Center did its part as well! Though we were forced to close our kitchen, we quickly transitioned to a take-out model and continued providing the community with healthy food to keep them strong and boost their immune systems.
We also continued our work in neighborhoods fighting another epidemic in the RMI: diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension. Working with the RMI Ministry of Health and Human Services, we received a grant from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) to provide medication and create a curriculum to decrease hypertension in the islands by 50% over a six-month period. With help from the New Zealand government, we created remote classes and Zoom opportunities for people to remain healthy on the islands of Jaluit, Wotje, and Ebon.
The Marshall Islands faced a daunting challenge, but their sense of community and creativity showed incredible strength and fortitude. This is why our Wellness Center has always been proud to work in the Marshall Islands. We know the strength of our work comes from the strength of the community.
For years, the Canvasback Wellness Center has strived to make it possible for people in Micronesia to live healthy lives. The biggest barrier has always been getting good, nutritious produce on islands with poor soil and limited space for agriculture. It’s an incredibly difficult task and we’ve had to rely on the innovative minds of community members and nutrition experts to find solutions. The work started on the capital island of Majuro, but we’ve taken the lessons we’ve learned and spread them out across the Pacific!
Most recently, we’ve been working on the island of Jaluit. It is one of the most interesting places on the planet and we’ve been thrilled to build relationships with local schools, community leaders, and NGOs like the Taiwanese Technical Mission. With their help, the Wellness Team upgraded the Jaluit school garden to produce enough healthy vegetables to feed more than 500 students! We didn’t stop there. Our Wellness cook, Wonak Jorju, trained the school cooks on ways to prepare tasty, healthy meals. Together, we are making a lasting impact on Jaluit and beyond!
Overcoming Daunting Odds!
Full Recognition From the CDC
Some years ago, government officials told Jamie and Jacque that their plan would never work. They would fail! Still, Jamie and Jacque were driven by a deep-seated love for the people of Micronesia. They had watched diabetes destroy the lives of so many people. They knew they had to try. They believed their plans of diet and exercise would work to change lives and they were right on!
Like the ladies in the photo, smiles are popping up everywhere because
the Wellness Center has made tremendous strides in overcoming the twin destroyers of life in the islands—diabetes and heart disease.
The Canvasback Wellness Center recently received major recognition from the National Diabetes Prevention Center
“It is my pleasure to congratulate you and Canvasback Wellness Center on earning CDC Full Recognition for your diabetes prevention program. This designation is reserved for programs that have effectively delivered a quality, evidence-based program that meets all of the standards for CDC recognition. The sustained success of your lifestyle change program makes an invaluable contribution to the prevention of type 2 diabetes, both in your community and nationally.
It is immensely gratifying to see the science of diabetes prevention being implemented to improve the public’s health. You and your colleagues should be extremely proud of this accomplishment. It is programs like yours that are turning the tide in the fight against the epidemic of type 2 diabetes. Thank you for all that you are doing.”
Miriam T. Bell, MPH
Team Lead, National Diabetes Prevention Program
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Do you remember the feeling when you were a kid of getting lost in a good book? It was a world you could dive into, a place that belonged to only you. Maybe you’ve had kids of your own. Can you recall the times you read to them and watched their faces light up so bright it felt like you could almost see their imaginations sparkling behind their wide eyes?
Those experiences are life changing. Reading stretches our minds, aids our development, and expands our world. On a tiny island, that’s huge! Tanner and Kristin Smith, our Wellness Center Directors, have kids of their own, so they know how meaningful it is for children to grow a love of reading. They sent a request for Canvasback supporters to send books for the local schools so students would have a library to explore.
The response was heartwarming as over 3,000 books poured into our office! One couple, former teachers in the islands, even drove over 400 miles to bring us a carload of beautiful books and school supplies.
With all the donated books, we had a new challenge. Books are bulky and heavy and that makes them expensive to ship from California out to the middle of the Pacific. Enter Triple J Enterprises! They generously agreed to get the books to the kids for free! Watching everyone come together and give what they can is one of the most fulfilling parts of our work. We are incredibly grateful for everyone who made this project possible!
Jaluit, Marshall Island
BIG CHANGE ON LITTLE JALUIT
By Tanner Smith, Wellness Center Co-Director
Jaluit Atoll is located south of Majuro about 30 minutes by plane. Jaluit used to be the capitol of the Marshalls during World War II. Now it boasts a population of over 1,000 people spread out in a series of communities. It also has one of the only paved runways in the outer-islands, which means the small propeller airplanes are able to land regardless of weather conditions. So, come rain or shine, once a week the Air Marshall Islands plane brings supplies and passengers to the island.
Because of my responsibilities as director at the Canvasback Wellness Center, I hardly ever get to go on any outer-island trips. In the past three years, we have sent many teams to the outer-islands, but each time I have stood at the gate waving goodbye, unable to leave due to work constraints. Well, not this time! I finally took the chance and went on the inaugural “Scaling Up Pacific Adaptation” (SUPA) trip to Jaluit. SUPA is a new initiative from the European Union’s Global Climate Change Alliance that brought 17 people representing 5 different organizations to Jaluit to conduct health and agriculture assessments.
After landing at the small airport with only one man working to check everyone in and get us off the plane, we started a busy week of work. The first order of business was meeting with local officials and landowners to get their approval for the health and agriculture surveys. Culturally, getting buy-in from these leaders is a very important part of doing business and usually takes place during a “yokwe” celebration. Though it was mostly a formality, we were grateful for their approval which meant we were off and running!
The week consisted of visiting health clinics, schools, exercise groups, and agriculture sites to understand the needs in the community. As we worked with local healthworkers to do blood pressure and diabetes tests, we found that about 25% of the patients we saw had diabetes. We were very concerned to see that many of the cases were uncontrolled which could lead to serious consequences such as amputations. We had a chance to talk with Elmon, the local health worker to understand this problem and found that patients only come in once a week on Mondays and often don’t show up for check ups or to receive refills of their medication. We hope to help solve this problem by hiring a community health worker to assist Elmon on monitoring the hypertensive and diabetic patients and referring them to the health clinic.
Adapted from Onboard Summer 2020 article
"Flying back the next week, I was excited about the work we accomplished and the great opportunities to come. Jaluit faces many challenges, but through our partnerships and with support of Canvasback’s loyal donors, we are going to see big changes on the atoll! " Tanner Smith
Ailuk, Marshall Island
OUT & ABOUT ON AILUK
By Sterling Spence
About 250 miles to the north of Majuro, you’ll find one of the most unique locations on the planet. Ailuk Atoll is a 2.1 sq. mile ring of land, home to a thriving Marshallese community of almost 350 people. It has become a destination for the adventurous yachtsman who wants to see a slice of the old ways of living in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. There, dugout canoes are still considered a common form of transportation and life is carved out of the coral with a mixture of ancient wisdom and modern technology.
As you can imagine, life can be precarious in the far reaches of the ocean. Changes in the climate or weather patterns could mean a lack of fresh water or a year without fresh produce. That’s why the Canvasback Wellness team partnered with the European Union’s “Readiness for El Niño Project” to help the community on Ailuk secure food and water resources before a drought. Kristin Smith, co-director at our Wellness Center, accompanied by Lise, one of our Wellness cooks, and Nora from our partners at the Taiwan Health Center traveled to the atoll to teach gardening and health courses.
They brought the lessons we’ve been learning with Marshallese across the island nation. Things like: how to grow okra on a coral atoll, what to use for composting in the tropical climate, and which vegetables are easiest to grow and fit well into cultural dishes. The team even met with the mayor to discuss strategies for making healthy food available at local businesses without harming them; these businesses have thus far made their living by providing affordable, imported foods that often lack necessary nutrients.
Canvasback’s message of wellness, a model for a happy and healthy life, is excitedly spreading throughout the Pacific and we are determined to share it no matter how small the community because we believe everyone deserves a good life!