SPRINGDALE, Ark. (KNWA) — Several people were at the Springdale Metroplex, Thursday, November 7, for the “2019 Marshallese Women’s Day.”
Marshallese women and girls of all ages are invited to participate. The March of Dimes Arkansas, Johnson & Johnson, and the AR Coalition of Marshallese are the event coordinators. This is the second year for the event. “It’s a chance to educate and promote education in our community,” said AR Coalition of Marshallese Executive Director Melisa Laelan.
The plan is to educate and motivate participants to examine their health at all stages of reproduction and then to make changes that will affect them before, during and after pregnancy in a positive way — as a result, they may live healthier lives.
Marshall women have been in the news of late after it was discovered dozens of women, of child-bearing ages, were brought to the United States to give birth and then give up their child for adoption in exchange for a fee.
Very little is known about the women who were the victims in the scheme, but this story is what we do know about the Marshall Islanders and the people who live there.
HISTORY: Sixty-seven nuclear tests were done in the Marshall Islands from 1946 to 1958 by the United States. Overall, the U.S. stopped nuclear explosive tests in 1962, and all nuclear explosive testing in 1992. The U.S. provided more than $604 million to communities of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) that were impacted. In 1986, the islands signed a Compact of Free Association (COFA) with the U.S. The agreement means the U.S. provided $57.7 million a year through 2013; $62.7 million through 2023. Then a trust fund between U.S. and RMI contributions will start annual payouts “forever.” Under this treaty, COFA, Marshallese may travel and work in the U.S. without a visa. For more about policy and history click here.
GEOGRAPHY: RMI is a chain of volcanic islands and coral atolls in the central Pacific Ocean. It’s between Hawaii and the Philippines. The atolls and islands form two groups and are referred to as sunrise and sunset, Ratak and Ralik, respectively. In the northwest, Bikini Atoll’s water is mostly undisturbed. Twenty-four of the atolls and islands are inhabited, 10 are uninhabited because of poor living conditions or nuclear contamination. The capital and largest city is Majuro. The country’s population is 53,158 as of the 2011 Census.
EDUCATION: There is a Ministry of Education. Marshall Islands Public School System runs state schools. In the mid-90s RMI had 103 elementary and 13 secondary schools, more than two dozen private schools, and one private high school. The English language is taught beginning in third grade.
About Melisa Laelan: AR Coalition of Marshallese Executive Director Melisa Laelan gave her opinion about the importance of Marshallese women to stay informed about health and reproductive options. Laelan was born in the Marshall Islands. She graduated from high school in RMI and the following year enlisted in the U.S. Army.
“If you look at demographics, Marshallese children are the leading number one children to be adopted to the United States. This is a vulnerable population, so why are we encouraging people to adopt? “There are some great adoptions, but what we’re seeing, while it’s not illegal, it’s not right.”
She mentions the nuclear testing program and now decades later dealing with an adoption scheme where babies are taken from their birth mother is sad. “I’m tired of this. It needs to stop. [We’ve] been through a nuclear crisis and now this — it’s just a different format.”