Friday, April 23, 2010

Education

So I know I normally post updates on the happenings in the family however lately there has been something on my mind that I just have to get out on paper or computer in this case.

I was a history major and chose it not so much because I wanted to learn about history but I wanted to be able to learn how history affects modern society and how we can avoid repeating mistakes today. I tend to look at a lot of societal issues that way. So it's no surprise that my analytical mind has all but exploded since moving to the lovely island of Guam. Now this island has its charms. The beautiful beaches are pretty much the coolest part. However, it's also a third world society heavily dependent on the US government to function. After all we offered welfare up the wazoo just to occupy the island after WWII, welfare is certainly nothing unfamiliar to us Americans. Did you know that many of the ancestors of Guam's WWII victims are still paid war reparations for the treatment they endured during the Japanese occupation? Holy cow.

One might think this is a society that depends on funds solely from the US federal government, after all they do depend on them. However, thanks to my friend Wikipedia, Guam has a functional government that consists of a popularly elected Governor and a unicameral 15 member (known as Senators) committee. While it's nice to see democracy has found its way out here the lack of education is rampant. What good is a democracy if you don't educate your voters?

So here are a couple of issues that have been on my mind lately. Please note they are just my opinion based upon my observations and experiences.

Education

Now we all know many states (ahem, California) are firing teachers left and right and can no longer afford art departments and school supplies. This has pretty much been going on since I was a kid (the district would bus kids from neighborhoods outside our school's area in order to balance the ethnicity of the school's population.  As a result we had to provide our own transportation...buuut I'll spare you that rant). If you look at Guam, the average California school could easily be given prep school status. GovGuam recently built a brand new school, complete with air conditioners. However they left one of many things out. Library books. Yep, their library is completely empty. I spoke with one of their Social Studies teachers last May and he said he was the fourth teacher assigned to his class THAT YEAR. He has to supply papers, pencils and even books as most of his students cannot afford to provide their own. I just wanted to hug him for his enduring heart for those kids.

In June 2008 the school district discovered some major problems in the infrastructure of JFK High School here. Among many reasons, asbestos and mold forced the district to relocate the student body to a temporary campus until renovations were complete. The construction company went on strike shortly after the construction commenced and the district still has yet to settle things to get this school back in action. My question is, why didn't they see this coming when they picked up the bid and why on earth do they continue to put this poor school on the back burner. There must be over 100 handmade posters taped to the fence of the school from students and teachers, angry with the school board. I don't blame them one tiny bit.

Driving

This is a topic no one leaves Guam without having an opinion about. I know I have to be careful about what I say but man, I just have to get it out! Generally it is known that islanders drive slower than the rest of the world. There isn't room for freeways, I understand that, I even understand the slow pace of life. But Guam takes this problem to a whole new level. It is absolutely INSANE here. The main road on the island is called Marine Corps Drive (MCD for short). It spans most of the length of the island, 17 miles from the Air Force Base in the north to the Navy Base in the south. It is riddled with pot holes, everywhere. But get this. It has 33 STOPLIGHTS. It currently takes one an average of 1 hour to get from one end of the road to the other. That is an average of 17 MPH! It may sound crazy but it's completely true. Every time another fatal accident occurs on MCD, another stop light goes up. Like a band aid. I wish this government could invest in some drivers education instead. DUI's are way too common. People "fiesta" every weekend and there is never a shortage of Budweiser in the coolers. I am willing to bet every time I get on that road I will drive past a drunk driver. Seriously.

Since the north half of the island is mostly residential, most of us have to drive at least 10 miles, usually more to get to the store, church or beach. Our church is 13 miles from our house, about a 40 minute drive on an average day. We know it's far but we are committed to it and enjoy going. I have trouble putting a distance limit on church, it's important to find one that fits! Anyway, due to different commitments around the island I drive into town about 4-5 times a week, no drive is less than 10 miles. Now picture this. Most cars on the road are what we lovingly call "boonie cars" or "guam bombs".

Every square inch of the car is rusted, dented and/or broken. In fact, when a car reaches the end of its life, one will drive it off the road into the edge of the jungle leaving it to anyone to part it out. So burned out upside down cars are the norm here. It's cheaper than paying to have it disposed of.


So it is easy to understand most of these cars cannot exceed 45mph. The max speed limit on MCD is 35mph. Most of these cars barely get up to that. It is not uncommon to get stuck behind a "Chamorro Road Block," two cars scooting along at 25mph on the road, next to each other preventing other cars from passing them. Pretty sure that's got to be illegal in the states. Or it should be. It aggravates the trash out of people, as a result road rage is a huge problem here. I admit I am one person to pass a car in anger once the next lane clears up, but for the record I would never pull any stupid moves. Now if they just did this on purpose to aggravate us mainlanders, that is one thing. But the kicker here is many of these people are COMPLETELY UNAWARE of their surroundings. They'll have that drunk stare in their eyes, often drifting into the other lane, slowing for no reason or pulling out in front of a car leaving their car in a nice accordion shape. They'll slow from a fabulous 40mph to 10mph to make a right hand turn. Left lane = fast lane? There is no such thing. I can only wish the cops would ticket people for going too slow. Sadly they'll ticket a car for going 5 miles over the speed limit instead, and that is if they're even around. The Guam Police Department typically sends 3-4 cruisers to call outs. Is this necessary?

I guess this is where education comes to mind again. I can only wish this government would invest more in their own people. Many countries on this globe could use some of that. Educate the young, teach them to be responsible drivers and hold down a steady job. Amazing what a difference could be made!

WATER SAFETY

So this is probably another big anger point for me. Mostly because there are too many lost lives here due to poor choices in the water. Everyone here knows Guam is surrounded by a reef line. It makes for some gorgeous Scuba diving and swimming. But it also makes for an incredibly dangerous shore line. MOST people have the common sense to swim within the reef line. That is, in the lagoons after the wave breakers. The reef has a way of creating a washing machine like current that will swallow even the strongest swimmers. It scares most people to stay within the safety zone. However there is a whole other group of people, mostly fishermen who often ignore these concepts. As some of you know the Navy's helicopter squadron here provides 24/7 Search & Rescue operations for the Navy and Coast Guard. They'll be called out to look for missing boats, lost swimmers, hikers and fishermen. Sadly most of these efforts are often recovery efforts. We just had two fishermen disappear from the reef late Friday night. The fishermen were free divers (no Scuba equipment) who used spears to catch large fish. Many will often wear weight belts to help them stay under. While I understand there are fish that only come out at night, why on earth would one free dive at night during one of the windiest months of the year?  These horrible situations area a result of zero common sense. As a result tens of thousands of dollars are spent by the Fire Dept (boats and logistical ops), Coast Guard (boats and divers) and Navy (helicopters) looking for these people. In the States, the Coast Guard will send a bill to the victim's family. As a result of the bad decisions these two divers made, over a hundred people spent over 24 hours searching for them. And what about their families? What they are left to endure, parents, wives and children, having to cope with such a loss.

I suppose this is where the education theme comes in again. I wish more children were taught at an early age how to approach the waters around this island. I once learned that women in some of the surrounding islands are not even taught to swim, it goes against cultural standards. I don't know if that is completely true but it wouldn't surprise me. Tribal culture is still very prominent in this area of the world. It saddens me to see the lack of respect people have for not only their own lives but their family's and government resources. Knowing how much these people depend on the government, that may be one tie-in right there.

So there's my two (or maybe 62) cents on some of my experiences. If you're still reading, you may just be bored but my heart thanks you. My biggest wish is that I could do something to help educate these younger generations. To give them a better chance at a successful life. It's tough for us outsiders to be taken seriously, after all we never grew up here. However it is time we all learn from these mistakes and better this society. I'd love to see Guam improve it's reputation, it certainly is a beautiful island. I guess we'll just have to see.

5 comments:

  1. I heard on the news. That the Dept of Education received a grant from the US government. With the millions that they will receive, they plan on buying laptops for middle school and high school students. I think having a safe place to learn with proper supplies should be a priority over laptops.

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  2. Oh my, I couldn't handle that roadway and the driving skills over there! That would drive me bonkers. They really should invest in some dui awareness. Stay safe over there!

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  3. that was sooo well written (and hilarious I might add)! I really enjoyed reading that, Caitlyn! I was also a history major for the same reason you stated! The ignorance due to a lack of education is so disappointing... especially for such a friendly population. It still shocks me just how kind and warm the locals are (for the most part, every group has it's exceptions...)

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  4. Thanks for the history lesson. My human daddy is a school teacher and so he knows about some of the problems in the schools, even in the private ones. Doesn't this world realize that children are the future??? Oh an my human momma totally agrees with your road rage. She could NEVER drive that slow all the time!

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  5. A-men sista. 62 cents, indeed!

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