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.