The memorial sign next to the court before renovation

The Marshallese word “Yokwe” has multiple meanings and contexts. It is a greeting, a noun, and a verb, all the same. On a wooden sign to the side of the James C. de Brueys – WorldTeach Memorial Basketball Court on the Bikarej atoll in Arno, Marshall Islands, it means “to bid farewell”.

The basketball court before renovation

On November 26, 2010, locals Baby Kaiko and her unborn child, Kiotak Jorsam, Anwel Ninne, and WorldTeach volunteer, James Clifton de Brueys were lost at sea as they attempted a short journey from Bikarej to Maduro. James was approaching his 23rd birthday at the time and had become a welcome member of the approximate 200 member Arno community. After his death, his family created the James de Brueys memorial fund which helped support the building and maintenance of the local school basketball court. Recently, two current WorldTeach volunteers, Kim Wagner and Kya Roumimper, took the trip to Bikarej to assist with renovations to the court and memorial sign.

The community all pitching in to paint

When they arrived at Bikarej, many of the village’s residents greeted them with a delicious meal of fish and rice. They were then given a tour of the tiny island and spent the evening playing volleyball with the locals. The next day was spent meeting and greeting most of the residents of the beautiful island, and the volunteers went to work to complete the painting project. After a long day, they were serenaded and brought more delicious food. Kim and Kya spoke to the residents and learned that most of the families around the island had been deeply affected by the accident from more than 6 years ago. There was a little boy who lost his mother (Baby Kaiko) when he was only one year old. Another child they encountered is named James, after the late, charismatic James De Brueys. Many of the older children on the island remember their teacher, James, fondly.

James loved his beard and later his mustache

For Kim and Kya, it was a moving experience as they were able to join a part of the long history of community and tradition in Arno by preserving the legacy of one of their predecessors.  The court serves as a place of fun, joy, camaraderie, and remembrance.

To learn more about the life of James de Brueys, please click here.

To learn more about other WorldTeach volunteer projects or to donate to causes like the James Clifton de Brueys – WorldTeach Memorial Basketball Court, visit

Thanks to Mary de Brueys, the de Brueys family, Kim, and Kya for making this project come to fruition.


The renovated memorial sign

A new court and space for all