Researchers interviewing students at Honolulu Central Middle School.

The project’s researchers carried out their fieldwork in three phases: April-May 2017, November-December 2017, and February-March 2018.

At the MAP symposium, Dr Shari Sabeti summarised and explained the social science research the project conducted.

“What social scientists do is we take the things that people tell us, and we look for patterns, and we try to group things together.

So we’ve looked at the patterns in what you’ve told us.

When we looked at your poetry, and what you told us, we were interested to know: what were the important things in your lives, and why?

One of the things that came out really strongly was the importance of kinship and family. Your extended family as well.

These things may be obvious to you, because they’re important to you — but if we had asked the same questions of children in Scottish schools, we would have got some very different answers.

In Majuro, you talked to us about your sense of where you belonged. You talked about which languages matter to you. So for example if you went into a shop wearing your Co-op school uniform, the shopkeeper spoke to you in English, whereas if you went in your own clothes, maybe someone spoke to you in Marshallese.

Photo © Christine Germano.

Your country is important to you, your sense of place is important to you. And through your own experience and your family’s experiences, all of you had the sense that these things could be quite easily lost.

You were aware that you acquired your culture from what your family taught you.

Kwajalein Atoll United Church of Christ. Photo © Christine Germano.

Religion, God, and church were the next most important things in your lives.

We found that for some of the children at the Co-op, there was a constant shifting in their sense of identity. We had some complicated conversations with people, about where you came from, where you belonged, where you were going. We talked about identity being transmitted across the generations.

We talked about fishing and cooking, and the fact that you don’t just learn about culture because somebody tells you something, but from doing an activity.

Photo © Christine Germano.

If you’re not near those members of your family, and if those practices are not open to you — fishing, cooking, and so on — what happens to that culture?

In Honolulu, kinship and family again emerged as very important. And again religion was important to the children there. In fact, in a way it was even more important, because it was the one place where the Marshallese community was together.

Marshallese children weren’t the largest group in Honolulu Central Middle School. What does it mean to be a Marshallese kid? Next to what it means to be a Chuukese kid?

Marshallese children in Honolulu talked about their sense of difference from the rest of the community. They talked about what they were missing from home. Memories from when they were younger. They were aware not only of how they acquired their culture, but also how they were losing their culture.

It was difficult for us to engage these children. It was important that we brought young Marshallese people with us to talk to the Marshallese children in Honolulu.

Aileen Sefeti and students at Majuro Cooperative School. Photo © Christine Germano.

We also made the art projects accessible. For example, offering the outlines for the students to colour in, fill in, and be inspired by — rather than a blank wall. And using spoken word poetry rather than a stricter literary form.

One of the outcomes of our visit to Honolulu was that the workshops singled out Marshallese children in a positive way, because they are often ‘lumped together’ as Micronesians.”

— Shari Sabeti


Read the student’s poetry and find out more about the poetry workshops:

A timeline of the MAP project:


This text was adapted by Olivia Ferguson from the presentation given by Dr Shari Sabeti.