In the consultant-dependent world of the Marshall Islands, the Waan Aelon in Majel (Canoes of the Marshall Islands) program stands out.
“Everyone who works at WAM is Marshallese,” said Director Alson Kelen in a recent interview.
“WAM is about training,” he said. “It’s what we do.”
While the program has relied in the past on non-Marshallese staff in various capacities, it has developed to the point where it can rely on home-grown talent, he said.
“When we bring people from outside, we depend on them to do the job and we don’t do our work,” he said. At WAM, “we struggle to do things, but we do it.”
To put grant proposals together, they’ll gather as a group and put the information on the wall for everyone to discuss and offer ideas. “Everyone participates,” he said.
Trainees in the regular three- or six-month life skills and vocational trainings run by WAM are usually a combination of young people who either dropped out of elementary or high school, or simply never went to school. Kelen explained that young people who did not have opportunities for school are WAM’s focus. He pointed out that it is often school dropouts who end up with problems here or in the United States. “My wish,” he said, “is to have unlimited money to help this crowd.”
Many of the hundreds of Marshallese who have completed these extended training programs with WAM have gone back to school and gained employment here or abroad. Some now work for WAM, training new groups of young people who they hope will use life, vocational and academic skills learned at WAM as a pathway to a better life.
One of their efforts is tracing former students to see where they are now and what aspects of WAM training programs worked or helped them, he said. “Our trainings play an important role to help WAM evolve into a better program,” he said.
The National Training Council has been a major ongoing partner with WAM to support the range of skills trainings the program offers.
Developing and expanding “resilience” among Marshallese is a big part of Kelen’s day-to-day work and vision for the WAM program.