2018 Summer Internship Series: Ean Tierney in Micronesia

by: Ean Tierney ’19

The dock at Truk Stop Hotel at Sunset in Weno, Chuuk, Micronesia

Even amongst the well-traveled, few in the world are familiar with the series of remote, sun-scorched, wind-swept rocks that make up Micronesia in the Western Pacific. A frequent response when confronted with the information that such a place exists is, “Well, I’ve heard of it.” But one could be forgiven for letting it fly under your radar. It is truly out there. Off the grid.

The Chuuk Lagoon from the roof of Xavier High School

Here, many of the more common challenges associated with development are compounded by the remote and isolated nature of the islands. One such challenge is that, as processed and imported foods become more readily available to locals, the associated change in diet and lifestyle is causing rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes to skyrocket. As many as 4 in 5 Micronesians will become overweight or obese during their lifetime, with 1 in 3, on average, developing diabetes. In some parts of the region, complications from diabetes is the leading cause of death.

A road in the village of Penia, where 15 families received gardens

The basis for my project is rooted in a USAID intervention that took place a few years prior.  There, they provided supplies and training for 45 families to start and maintain a home garden on the island of Weno in the state of Chuuk.  The basis for the project was to reduce the dependency on foreign imports and to provide a channel through which to empower women. (The project was executed through the support of the local women’s council.)  My project, coming on the heels of this intervention, was to assess the general indicators of health and well-being of the families that received the gardens and compare them to those who did not—the idea being that greater access to fresh and local food would be positively correlated with improved measures of health.  If I could identify a strong connection between the two, then it could be fodder for a future project to expand and further improve the gardens.

A woman completes a survey in the village of Sapuk with the assistance of a local translator

My initial results (derived from a self-reporting survey that was distributed at random to families with and without gardens) suggests that there is indeed a correlation.  Hopefully this means that, in the future, this can be used as evidence to support further efforts to improve the health and well-being of the islanders.  At the very least, providing access to a healthy and active lifestyle in a place with poor health infrastructure, feels worthwhile, in and of itself.