The 1st National Youth Nitijela
Sarah Lipson, WorldTeach volunteer in the Marshall Islands, writes below about some of her students’ impressive accomplishments.
This week I cried in the national chamber of the Marshall Islands. Though the state of national affairs in the RMI is often depressing, I was crying not in sadness but in pride. This past Saturday was the first-ever Youth Nitijela (Nitijela is the RMI national parliament). As I wrote about for The Marshall Islands Journal, forty-six MIHS seniors were selected to participate in a full-day mock government session in the national chamber, debating issues of great importance to Marshallese youth before members of the RMI Parliament (senators, ministers), teachers, peers and the Majuro community. At first I was fighting back my swelling tears, mostly because I thought I was ridiculous. But as I listened to the voices of my students, debating issues with passion and eloquence, I saw in them the future leaders of this country. Sitting in the seats of current leaders, dressed like I have never seen them (who knew they had suits?). Proposal, rebuttal, retort. The booming voices were a far cry from the barely audible responses that many shy Marshallese students offer in traditional classroom settings. The RMI’s real National Speaker noted that “Saturday’s session was one of the smartest sessions I’ve ever attended”. This was not a useless exercise; not just something to fill time on this tiny island.
At the end of a long and impassioned day, the Nitijela session adjourned. The students stayed in their seats and several students offered reflective speeches about their experience preparing for and participating in the Youth Nitijela. When Stella raised her placard and was called on to speak, she paused and began crying, her voice quivering over heartfelt words. The emotion will be lost in any attempt at retelling but needless to say, her teary words of appreciation and admiration for her peers resonated with me. As she sat in her seat, behind the name plate for the Minister of Justice, wiping tears from her eyes, dressed to the nines, I looked around to see the other forty-five students shaking hands, high-fiving or wiping away tears. Any success I had in high school pales in comparison to the accomplishments of last Saturday, not in product but in context. I am grateful that, years later, I am a spectator, if not a small part, of this triumph.
Below is a selection of student names and their proposals.
Minister in Assistance – Neptali Gallen
Minister of Internal Affairs – Gabriella Hitchfield (her bill proposed establishing an annual Youth Nitijela)
Minister of Justice – Stella Marie Kibin (her bill proposed enforcing student attendance policies through patrolling efforts to combat student truancy)
Minister of Resources – Peterson Larry (his bill proposed banning reef dredging in the RMI)
Speaker – Cartina Carter (her bill proposed requiring mandatory sex education classes before high school graduation)
Vice Speaker – Niten Anni (his bill proposed the establishment of an NGO to transport waste off-island)
Senator – Stephen Clark (his bill proposed the establishment of an anonymous call center for victims of spousal abuse and increased penalties for domestic violence)
Senator Roselina Loren – (her bill proposed implementing a cultivation program for eroded island areas)
Below is Cartina, or Madam Speaker, in the national chamber. Cartina was honored for her tremendous effort at the Youth Nitijela.
Based on their performance at the Youth Nitijela, nine MIHS students were selected to represent the RMI at an international conference in North Carolina this summer sponsored by the YMCA: Stephen Clark, Jemima Lorak, Stella Marie Kibin, Peterson Larry, Darrel Saimon, Paul Andres, Niten Anni, Cartina Carter and Gabriella Hitchfield. Saturday’s Youth Nitijela session will be re-broadcast on the national radio; I only wish my friends and family understood an entirely foreign Malayo-Polynesian language and had access to Marshallese airwaves.