Micronesia: Social challenges for small islands

Spread across 2,500 km of the Western Pacific Ocean, the Federate States of Micronesia (FSM) are a developing country with a population of about 105,000 inhabiting 65 islands out of 607 dotting 3 million sq. km of ocean. Micronesia had a long relationship with the United States based upon the International Trusteeship System of the United Nations. Its subsistence economy depends on small-scale agriculture and traditional forms of fishing. Recently there has been a dramatic shift to salaried employment and a cash economy, and a high rate of emigration to the US in search of work. All this has fragmented the extended family, revolutionised roles of men and women, and introduced an ethic of individualism. The Micronesian Seminar (MicSem), a Jesuit-sponsored pastoral-research institute, reflects on the impact of these social changes on all aspects of life on the islands. After fifteen years under the Compact of Free Association with the USA which guaranteed the FSM and the countries of the region part of their budget, negotiations are underway for another period of funding. Assisting the governments to negotiate, the Seminar is also trying to educate people to use these public funds more carefully. Public services, especially education and health, badly need renewal. The MicSem produces radio programs on health care, promotes educational reform and better management of schools, and supports improving service at dispensaries. See www.micsem.org and Francis X. Hexel?s new book, ?The New Shape of Old Island Cultures: Half Century of Social Change in Micronesia? (University of Hawaii Press, US$20). [HL10906]