Thursday, May 10, 2012

Photo Timeline of Preschool Construction

The Olave-Ockey Preschool construction is underway!  It is thrilling to watch the marked and determined progress of expert builders, carpenters, masons, and foremen.  Fafetai lasi to Galivaka, our project historian and photographer for capturing each detail as this dream becomes a reality.

There are many updates to share with all of you, our engaged readers.  Your comments and support is greatly appreciated.  Please share our cause with others- we are starting some exciting projects and have great things to report.  As always, if you would like to make a donation to this project, 100% of your generosity goes directly to our initiatives on Funafuti- this is a completely volunteer cause and we have no overhead.

You can view the progress of the school on this entry.  We will soon be posting pictures of our latest trip to Tuvalu, along with short photo essays of each entry.  Stay tuned...

February 24 - Groundbreaking
(Left to right) Kaleb Valdez, Lowell Nash, and Shauna Ockey

Our team traveled to Funafuti to break ground for the new Olave-Ockey Preschool.  The ceremony was attended by the Minister of Education, who offered his remarks and support for this project.  Headmaster Kausele Kaisami shared the distinguished history of her school from its humble beginnings to where she hopes to see it someday soon.  Shauna Ockey spoke and attributed her experience and friendship with Kausele as the main catalyst for her involvement and sponsorship in this undertaking.  Lowell Nash shared a dedicatory prayer that he had authored beforehand. A copy of this prayer will be made available at a later date.  A shovel was then lifted by Kausele, Shauna, and representatives from the Tuvaluan Education Ministry to turn the first soil for the new preschool.

April 19 - Week 1
The current "umu" (sleep-out) hut that is serving as the Olave Preschool currently.  Under Kausele Kaisami's leadership as headmaster, this school has been teaching children for almost 30 years.
April 26 - Week 2
The team surveys the plot and begins to sink support pylons into the substructure.

May 3 - Week 3
The platform for our new structure begins to take form.

May 10 - Week 4
Walls go up, and it begins to look more like a school.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

E iai ne vai i te ipu na?

It has been four months since the last rains fell on Tuvalu's sands. The beautiful nation surrounded by water is in drought. To an island people that rely on rainwater they can store in catch-basins, what often begins as an inconvenience can quickly escalate to a serious crisis.

That's where we are now. The taro, 'ulu (breadfruit), pulaka, and bananas are beginning to die. These foods are major staples in the local diet. Water is currently being severely rationed, and you can imagine that there simply isn't enough for all the animals to drink their fill.

So often we take for granted turning on the tap and filling our glasses with as much clean water as we can drink. When was the last time you stepped under a warm stream of clean freshwater to enjoy a long shower? Our Tuvaluan brothers and sisters bathe in the sea now, conserving every drop they can for cooking and drinking.

But to them, the glass is always half full. They find the joy in every moment of life and are grateful for what they have been given. They know that God will send rain in His own time, and it is their place to care for one another and patiently wait for deliverance from drought and maybe famine.

They are not alone. Australia and New Zealand are helping where they can. Sending fresh water takes a little bit of time and a lot of money. We are working on long-term solutions now, and using funding from this blog through our generous and engaged audience, we would like to help them find a way to desalinate their water supply and purify the rainwater catchbasins. There are a myriad of ways to secure fresh and clean drinking water on islands like this, but it takes all of us and all of them.

If you can donate, please do so now. Every little bit sure helps. We work hard to keep operating costs at a minimum, and everything donated goes where you would want it to. You may consider donating to the Tuvaluan Red Cross chapter or writing to a friend that might be able to assist. This blog is usually a good point-of-departure for people who are new to Tuvalu's people and culture.

If you are reading this in Japan, and have a case of sealed bottled water you would like to donate, please contact Luse at She can direct you to the nearest collection station for a water bottle drive, which will begin today, Tuesday, October 11.

There are 884 million people that don't enjoy safe drinking water. 12,373 of them live on this beautiful patch of paradise. If you could give just one of them a bottle of water, you would understand how a little bit goes a long way. If they could, each would thank you for caring enough to read about their plight.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Ne lavea ne koe te mea a maua ne fai ai?

A new academic year at BYU-Hawai’i brings a lot of changes. It’s a bittersweet cycle of saying tofa to our previous SIFE friends, including former project leader Doug Bischoff and SIFE chapter president Nate Williams. Spencer and Kylie Turley, the dynamic duo that began this blog and the excellent video clips you see here have moved on to South America, continuing their travels and making new memories and friendships.

However, the change also brings new faces into the project- fresh ideas, loads of enthusiasm, perspective, and expertise. We maintain the old team and add a few new people to help move the project forward.

We are very happy to report a productive summer. Kaleb Valdez and Lowell Nash spent the summer on the U.S. Mainland, visiting supporters and business advisory board members for SIFE’s leadership and mentor body. They spoke at a variety of speaking engagements on Tuvalu and the club’s work there, reporting on the progress of several initiatives and exploring future partnerships and projects with the CEO’s and leaders of several major companies and organizations. They also renewed contact with some of SIFE’s friends and donors from the past and expressed our thanks for their contributions.
Their itinerary took them into Canada, where the Ockey family graciously hosted them and discussed the future of the Olave Preschool to be built, as well as our dates and itinerary for this year’s trip. We also shipped two pallets of books from the Cache County School District in Utah to our team in Hawai’i, led by Easter Niko. They’ve worked hard to sort the books and prepare the best, full classroom sets to be shipped to Fiji and then on to Tuvalu.

We look forward to adding some additional empowerment blasts to our round of workshops this year. We’re forming more partnerships and expanding our already-international network of experts in energy, economics, education, waste management, and public administration. We appreciate the hard work of our liaisons in the Tuvaluan government, particularly the Ministry of Education as we prepare to install this school. People watch this project from across the globe- we have regular readers of this blog in over a dozen countries and have received excellent feedback from government and civil leaders as well as concerned and generous citizens that contribute to this cause. The world is finally learning about Tuvalu and is watching to see what will happen next.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

"Tuvalu Mo Te Atua"

Arriving in Funafuti for the first time is unlike anything you will ever experience elsewhere. Perhaps it’s the rustic fire engine that roars along the length of the airstrip, clearing the soccer goals, the chickens and the dogs away. It might be the huge greeting party of bright eyes and smiling faces that hover around the airport building, standing in the tropical sun to greet the newcomers. Something about those first steps onto Tuvaluan ground still stirs something in me to this day. It’s the memory of a loyal culture that loves and lives so freely.

Preserving those precious memories of some of the most incredible days of my life has transformed them into cherished reflections. They remind me that this project represents something so much bigger than any one of us. It’s a commitment to serve and love an entire nation that is blissfully afloat from many of the pressures of modern society. This bond will allow us to accomplish more together than we ever could alone. After all, Tuvalu means “Eight Standing Together.” It emphasizes the unity and stability of the geology of its atolls and lagoons, but also of its own cultural identity. The national emblem is emblazoned with the caption “Tuvalu Mo Te Atua”, Tuvalu for the Almighty, affirming that faith in Divine Providence will sustain their people against a sea of change and uncertainty.

It is a unique and humbling experience, to walk in the midst of an ancient people that have not forgotten the ways of their fathers, the teachings of Christ, and the morality and sanity of a calmer, arguably more civilized world. They huddle on handmade mats in simple homes, some lit only by firelight and the radiant faces of their children, to read scripture, pray, sing a few of the myriad of songs that have been preserved and passed down, or recite stories and genealogies of the ones that sailed before them.

A culture so rich and so innately aware of its self-worth in the eyes of Heaven does not simply sail away to neighboring shores. Nor does it sink passively into the Pacific. It reaches out to anyone and everyone that will listen, that will learn, that will give. It catches your eye, takes your hand, and holds your heart- asking not to be forgotten.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ta Olo, Ne?

Unlike the rugged volcanic mountains of our island in Hawai’i, born in the fiery chaos of volcanic eruptions, the sandy atolls that form The Eight Islands were built slowly, on the nearly-microscopic world of coral polyps. The reefs rose from the ocean floor and eventually broke the surface, breaking down into sand and piling up in wide, flat islands.

The people arrived in canoes, thousands of years before Captain Cook and Christopher Columbus- they brought an ancient culture, rich with customs unique to their family. They called the place “Eight Standing Together”, for the eight atolls that comprised their universe- in their language: Tuvalu.

They voted for their independence from Great Britain in 1978, making them one of the youngest countries in the world. They are the fourth smallest geographically, and the third smallest in terms of population. It seems like the modern world has forgotten about this pristine patch of ocean on the fringes of the Pacific Rim. They are Polynesian- they share much in common with their Samoan cousins, and their tiny atolls are home to the majority of the fish populations that support Japan and U.S. fishing industries.

Our project is dedicated to educating, empowering, and enterprising this tiny nation. But how does one begin to change the world? One person at a time. Our idea was pitched to a boardroom full of potential donors, friends of the university, and philanthropists. The initial worry was that Tuvalu’s plight had fallen on deaf ears, but Shauna Ockey contacted Toa Sailusi and expressed her desire to help us in our project.

“I knew in my heart that I needed to do something. There was something about Toa’s spirit, his determination to leave his island and gain and education that I was drawn to. That kind of courage is difficult to find, and I knew I needed to help,” Shauna said.

And the Ockeys sure did. And they aren’t the only ones. Support has come from the most unlikely of places- people love to hear the stories and see the video clip in this post. There’s a part of all of us that wishes we could reach through our screens and experience a little of true Polynesia.

That’s why we are anxious to return. We are coming to build a new building in which the children at the Olave Preschool will meet. We will continue sharing essential business skills with our Tuvaluan family. We have big ideas for waste management, water desalination, renewable energy, and sustainable growth economic models. We paddle in rhythm with the Tuvaluan government to bring the people of Tuvalu what they feel they need.

Our project leader is a man of vision and action. Our sponsors and mentors believe in our cause. And our team is committed to extending a hand of brotherhood and support across the waves of the Pacific. From the minute we touched the sandy shores of their atolls, the people of Tuvalu touched our hearts. We have worked persistently to return to the Blue Nation. We have not forgotten them.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Four years ago, Katoa Sailusi enrolled at BYU-Hawaii, the first student to come from Tuvalu. The highest elevation is 15 feet above sea level. When Katoa entered BYU-Hawaii, he became a member and then a leader in SIFE. Through Toa, SIFE members and advisors learned about and became fascinated with Tuvalu, its economy, quality of life, and standard of living. We learned that the typical family earns about $1,000 per year, that they needed school supplies, and that many of their citizens were unprepared to start their own business or to relocate and find jobs. As Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), we devised a plan to provide some educational material and help sell some of their products in the United States. Beginning last fall, we started collecting books and supplies from schools and organizations, totaling two tons of school material.

Shauna Ockey, a BAB member from Canada, learned about the needs of this island and our plans, and offered to assist by generously offering to fly a team of eight SIFE students on her corporate jet to Tuvalu. Eight students and three advisors spent give incredible days in Tuvalu in early March. I, Kylie, had the blessed opportunity to join students in this journey, and after a year and half of team preparation felt overjoyed to attend. Sara, also a SIFE member, helped prepare for the trip beginning in November 2010 and has contributed in organizational efforts prior to departure. We wore t-shirts that read, “Tuvalu: Education. Empower. Enterprise” with the SIFE logo on the back. The whole island was there to meet us as the plane landed. Many had never seen a jet before, and they watched as Katoa returned home to his family and village.

Upon arriving we met with the Ministry of Education and outlined the workshops and trainings that had been planned. They had set up a venue for 60 students enrolled as 18 year olds. Our topics included: six-step formula to success, self-esteem and confidence, resumes and cover letters, dress for success for men and women, entrepreneurship skills, positive image, the art of conversation, higher education opportunities, and goal planning and time management.

Through our study of Tuvalu, we identified a low self-esteem problem that existed among most of the 1,200 youth who feel they are trapped in a nineteenth century world while their access to the Internet, though limited, gave them glimpses of the 21st century opportunities. Students were trained to take meaningful notes, to review those notes and share them with a friend. One of the parents of our SIFE members donated laptops and computer equipment. Imagine Learning donated $15,000 in software to teach English to children in a fun and interactive way. We presented the computers at a student forum and trained teachers and the Ministry for Education how to use the software.

Tuvaluan women are skilled in handicrafts and art, and after meeting with 25 crafters who share types of hand-made items to be sold in the U.S. we will be shipping their products to a store in southern California, and the profits will be returned to their island and invested in their businesses. We also presented basic training on maintaining accounting records and basic business skills. We discussed the feasibility of creating a website on which we could share items for sale.

Donations of laptop computers together with educational software, thousands of textbooks, leadership training, entrepreneurial and attitude training, grooming and dress for success training, and resume preparation classes combined for a positive experience for every student. Following our workshops, we received 200 plus letters from students expressing their thoughts, ideas, and gratitude for what they had learned and what they plan to do with that knowledge.

Photography by Kylie Turley of Flybird

Script by Bill Neal and Taylor Rippy