GEF trainees prepare wood for carving projects. Photo: Sealend Laiden

Lukwej the Wood of Choice for the GEF Program

Its busy times for WAM as the GEF trainees learn valuable skills in advanced carpentry and carving. Their first few weeks in February involved logging large Lukwej trees, and then milling them. This beautiful local wood was cut into slabs and some was seasoned in the salt water right outside WAM. The trainees of the GEF program started with making their own wood mallets in preparation for their training in carving. They also did carpentry work for the WAM office giving it a much needed upgrade.


Large Lukwej tree being milled by Oliber Mack and Matson John. Photo: Sealend Laiden

Large Lukwej tree being milled by Oliber Mack and Matson John. Photo: Sealend Laiden

Stacked Lukwej slabs in WAM's Canoe House. Photo: Sealend Laide

Stacked Lukwej slabs in WAM’s Canoe House. Photo: Sealend Laiden

Lukwej slabs being cured in saltwater with the assistance of trainees Dickson Randy, Matson John and Trainer Gregory Jokray. Photo: Sealand Laiden

Carpentry skills being used by Abija Lometo & Rusty Riklon. Photo: Sealend Laiden

Carpentry skills being used by Abija Lometo & Rusty Riklon. Photo: Sealend Laiden

Lukwej slabs curing. Photo: Sealend Laiden

Lukwej slabs curing. Photo: Sealend Laiden

In the days ahead they will being given small business start-up training enabling them to be self-employed upon graduation.


A New Program for WAM

Whats happening at WAM these days?

A new Apprenticeship Project has begin funded by the Global Environment Facility/Small Grants Program. This new program at WAM will focus on Advanced Carpentry/Furniture Building Skills and Entrepreneurial Training.

The program will have a broad and long-reaching impact on the trainees and the community. With the skills acquired in carpentry the trainees will be made aware of the use and availability of locally sourced wood products to create such things as furniture, cabinets, caskets, cultural tools etc. This will reduce the need for such items to be imported. At the same time the trainees will be made aware of the environmental need of replantation of food trees. Training will be provided in such areas as basic business practices and financial planning so that each trainee can be empowered to have the goal of self-employment.

We are excited to be able to provide such training in these areas and can foresee the benefits of such training having a positive effect on the trainees and the community for years to come.


NTC Graduates 2016. Photo: J. Bowman

Vocational/Lifeskills Trainee Achievement Commencement Day 2016

After many  stormy day’s for weeks the sun came out and shined, as did the Vocational/Lifeskills 2016 Trainee Graduates! There was approximately 120 in attendance made up of family, friends and community leaders to see 14 young men and 4 young women receive their graduation certificates for completing the WAM program. The graduating Class of 2016 wore a t-shirt they personnel designed for just this day.

In just 6 months these trainees became more self-confident, improved their decision making, learned how to work together as a team and acquired many vocational skills. On display for family and community to see were the two sailing canoes built by the trainees as well as the many other woodworking crafts they had made. The trainees are provided with a Literacy course and they displayed their achievements in this area by presenting opening  and closing speeches both in English and Marshallese.  We are sure that these skills will help them in their future endeavors whether that be further education or employment.

After certificates of achievement were awarded all enjoyed a good lunch under the tree at the Marshall Islands Resort, and then some fun in the sun with the canoes. We congratulate them on their achievements at present and wish them many more to come in the future.



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Trainees Experience On the Job Training

In these last few weeks of our National Training Council Program the trainees had the opportunity to experience what it is like to be in the workforce. Local businesses opened their doors to the trainees giving them the chance to see just what its like to have a job.   There were lots of smiles when we visited the various businesses to see how they were doing. Below are just a few pictures of some our trainees during their work on the job training. All trainees expressed that it was a great experience! They found working with other people, pricing inventory, and working in carpentry to be the most interesting part of the experience. The only thing they would change would be to have a longer time with the on the job training.


WAM trainees and staff bringing provisions ashore. Photo: Alson Kelen

WAM Retreat

WAM trainees and staff had a great time at Eneko Island July 22-25th.  They shared responsibilities and the things learned made for a fun weekend.

Each day of the retreat began with trainees cleaning up the area before starting the daily activities. Trainees were taught about the importance of keeping the coral and fish alive.

They also were taught how to source local resources for there lunch and evening meals. In doing so they learned how to make coconut pudding, rice balls, ‘beru’ and different dishes that could be made from breadfruit. The trainees were also introduced to the cultural skills of throw net fishing. They enjoyed learning this skill and were able to use this new skill to catch and serve fish as a part of the evening meals.

The trainees also engaged in fun activities to help them build their decision making and team building skills. They participated in the egg throwing competition; tug – a – war competition; wet dress relay and a volley ball competition.

Here are quotes from the trainees about how they felt about the retreat:

‘Working together makes everything possible’

‘To learn about life’

‘Learn about what’s right and wrong’

‘Strengthen their skills and knowledge’

‘Learn about the culture’

‘Getting to know more of each other’

‘Making the right decision’

‘Learning how to cook traditional food’

‘Respecting each other’

All participants in Eneko Retreat weekend felt it was a huge success!



Instructor Binton Daniel learns first aid skills at the Red Cross workshop. Photo: WAM

Teaching WAM Folk to Save Lives

WAM trainees learn how to help in emergency situations. Photo: WAM

WAM trainees learn how to help in emergency situations. Photo: WAM

Eyes were popping and a reluctant attitude abounded as the 19 Waan Aelon in Majel (WAM) trainees were asked to do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on one of their colleagues.

“Many aspects of first aid is not really appropriate culturally,” WAM Director Alson Kelen explained. “Asking a young man to ‘kiss’ his mom is, well, just not done.”

But Majuro Red Cross (MRCS) instructors were working hard to dispell this thinking during a two-day, “full on” first aid course designed to give people the hands-on skills need to save people’s lives.

“This is the first time the Red Cross has done this type of training for WAM and, I believe, for any organization here. It came about after the Red Cross’ Paul Alee contacted me and said they were thinking of doing some first aid training.

The Red Cross first aid workshop included some fun and games. Photo: WAM

The Red Cross first aid workshop included some fun and games. Photo: WAM

“I said great! What can I do to facilitate it,” said Alson, knowing that this was just exactly the sort of training that boosted the skill base for the WAM trainees.

Understanding Alson’s eagerness, the MIRCS team put together a successful proposal to the RMI National Training Council for funding for the course.

Two part-time Red Cross instructors, Richard Anta and Kennedy Kaneko, and First Aid Course Coordinator Harry Herming led the WAM program, which is a certificate level course. Assisting them was Telbi Jason, who is the MIRCS Administrator.

“They brought a ton of equipment and were very serious in their approach, which the students got,” Alson said. “The only slight issue was that the training material was all in English, but the instructors managed the translations very well.”

WAM trainees learn first aid skills thanks to the Red Cross workshop. Photo: WAM

WAM trainees learn first aid skills thanks to the Red Cross workshop. Photo: WAM

The trainees were split into three groups for the mainly hands-on program. “For example, they’d brought along baby dolls to show how to press in the right area to restart their breathing. That was really great because all of these folks will have families one day and every bit of information like this will help. It will help them in their workplaces too.”

The trainees learned CPR, treatment of choking, management of emergency medical conditions and general first aid skills (including treatment of muscular and bony injuries, bleeding, burns, and poisoning).

A huge benefit to WAM is that the program’s instructors also took part, so they will be certified first aid workers for ongoing programs.

Instructor Binton Daniel learns first aid skills at the Red Cross workshop. Photo: WAM

Instructor Binton Daniel learns first aid skills at the Red Cross workshop. Photo: WAM

Lead coordinator Harry said: “First aid training was totally new for these trainees. This was the first time they had learnt anything about first aid. But by the second day of the training the trainees were asking more questions, and were wanting to know more, showing they had become more and more interested in first aid as the training progressed.”

Harry believes the training was definitely successful: “The group of 19 young trainees who passed the course are now able to literally save a life. As well, Red Cross would of course like to repeat the first aid training to the next group of WAM trainees next year.”

He added that MIRCS can provide training to any other interested organizations. “We are just about to start training all the (100 odd) MALGov Local Police over the months of August and September.”

On the cultural side of things, Alson the instructors stressed to the trainees that it’s their obligation to put those feelings aside and do what was required. “its a difficult thing to do, but that’s part of our education on the first aid courses. “On this topic, Harry said: “For people who don’t understand, its a difficult thing (the idea of putting your mouth on your sister or mother), but once you have learned that it can really help someone and actually save their life this makes it easier. “Basically, he said, once you know why you must do something, it becomes easier.

“The trainees seemed to be completely into the course and I believe got a lot out of it,” Alson said. And this will be proven at the upcoming WAM graduation, scheduled for the end of September. “The Red Cross will be there to hand out their certificates of completion.”

Footnote: This article and photos first appeared in the Marshall Islands Journal’s August 5, 2016 issue. To subscribe to the Journal, check their website at




Erti John and Mary Ann Kiluwe spoke on behalf of the trainees. Photo: Karen Earnshaw

Open House at WAM

On having women involved in the WAM training program, Director Alson Kelen said:

We went to the Council of Chiefs and they did not need to stop and think about it, because they understood that everyone in the community has a task to do when making and sailing a canoe. It doesn’t matter if it’s building a house, going fishing or making a canoe … everyone has a role, including the women.

By Karen Earnshaw

Taula Milne’s education began at Rita Elementary School and continued on to Majuro Middle School. And that’s it. Done. The End.

Until, that is, he heard about the Waan Aelon in Majel (Canoes of the Marshall Islands) 2016 training program and signed up. “I came to WAM to finish school,” he said. “I’m learning to build a canoe and be a carpenter. And learning to sail a canoe … it’s great.”

Taula is one of 25 trainees now half way through their six-month WAM vocational program, which began as a wonderful cultural concept of reviving the art of canoe building over 30 years ago.

In all those years, WAM has passed many milestones, and last Monday evening was no exception. “For the first time ever, we’re holding an open house at WAM,” said Director Alson Kelen shortly before the event. Associate Director Tamie Bowman continued: “Alson is always emphasizing how important the trainees’ mentors are, be it their parents or a friend or simply someone they look up to. We were reaching the middle of the program and we decided to invite these mentors’ to WAM, to show them what we are doing and seek their help in supporting the trainees.”

And so at 5pm on Monday, families and friends of the trainees and the program gathered in WAM’s headquarters/school room next to Ministry of Education. The keynote speaker was Allison Nashion, head of the RMI National Training Council (NTC), which is the main source of funding for the program. “WAM fills many of the focus training areas that are important to NTC, with the goal being to give them a sustainable livelihood,” he said. As part of this goal, Allison said that NTC is a source of employment information for graduates of all the programs it supports. “Job seekers can come to our office, which is in the tall building opposite Marshall Islands Resort, and we can help them with resumes and prepare them for job interviews. We can also help them look for advanced training at places such as Job Corps in Hawaii.” He added that currently there are over 100 Marshallese students in the Job Corps program in Honolulu and Maui, Hawaii.

Following Allison’s speech, two students made remarks on behalf of all the trainees. First up was Etri John, who confidently read his speech, which touched on the many aspects of the training. “It has helped us learn many new things: not only how to work, but also about ourselves.” After the energetic applause for the speech, which he gave in English, subsided, Director Alson had a big grin on his face as he told the audience that when he’d first met Etri, the youngster could not look up and meet his eye, let alone speak before a room full of people. “He’s made great progress!”

The second student speaker was Mary Ann Kiluwe, who also delivered her speech, this time in Marshallese, which was also followed by a robust round of clapping.

On congratulating Mary for her moments at the podium, Alson added: “From the first days of the program, we have always been keen to include women, which brought a lot of comments from the community. People said to us, ‘Is this the Marshallese custom or is it UN (United Nations) custom?’ So we went to the Council of Chiefs and they did not need to stop and think about it, because they understood that everyone in the community has a task to do when making and sailing a canoe. It doesn’t matter if it’s building a house, going fishing or making a canoe … everyone has a role, including the women.”

In recent weeks, a group of the trainees has been working on making a new design for the WAM T-shirts and on behalf of the artists, Scamyo Namdrik told the audience how much they had enjoyed the process.

Following the speeches the audience was invited to visit the big A-frame Canoe House and view the cunning miniature canoes that have long been a signature product of WAM and the construction of two full-size sailing canoes. Also on display were a series of pandanus pounders and strippers the students are making for the jaki-ed revival program at the University of the South Pacific.

Clearly, the WAM trainees have been busy … and will continue to be as they move forward to a brighter future.

Special training for our trainees

The first week in June our trainees had the chance to be instructed in some very important information, this instruction will help them in the days ahead whatever there endeavors are in the future. The International Organization of Migration instructors, Ann and Luminda helped the young people understand the dangers of human trafficking. They also gave them pre-departure instruction in such things as the process of searching for employment, help in filling out an employment application and also how to locate and use the resources available to them where ever they migrate too. The course was interactive with the trainees enjoying the class and certificates of achievement were awarded.

WAM Trainees 2016 and staff. Photo: volunteer

WAM Trainees Getting in the Groove

WAM trainees have had much to be happy about in the past weeks. Counselor Tolina Tomeing helped the trainees to get birth certificates, social security numbers and ID cards. With these documents they will soon be helped to open up their own savings accounts at the Bank of Guam.  All of these things will help them in their future endeavors after graduation from the program.

During this initial part of the program, each trainee received a health screening courtesy of the Ministry of Health and the Wellness Center, whose staff educated them on healthy meals they can make, as well as the importance of physical activity.

On Constitution Day the WAM trainees and staff enjoyed participating in the celebrations and the canoe races. To see how much fun they had with exciting video coverage go to our Facebook page.

WAM Trainees first week doing inventory and cleanup. Photo: Tolina Tomeing

WAM Trainees First Week

WAM trainees got off to a good start their first week. They were instructed on the proper use of tools, how to maintain them and safely use them. Both girls and boys worked together in maintenance and cleanup of the WAM site.

New trainees on day one of the NTC sponsored program. Photo: Tolina Toeming

Orientation Day at WAM

A group of new trainees aged 17 to 25 came into WAM shy but within a matter of minutes Director Alson Kelen, with a little bit of movement to music, had them up and dancing and laughing.

The first National Training Council (NTC) sponsored program of 2016 is now underway. During the morning orientation Alson explained what to expect during the 26 week course, which will include classroom instruction and canoe building.

Alson then introduced the WAM team to the students they are:

Counselor – Tolina Toeming
Program Leader – Linton Baso
Trainer – Binton Daniel
Trainer – Sear Helias
Associate Director – Tamie Bowman
Accountant – Kristin De La Torre

Not present was Math and English Instructor Agatha Rollis. Watch this space for updates on the trainees progress.





Captain Linton Baso takes passengers for a ride. Photo: Tolina Tomeing

Peace Boat Cruisers Have a Blast

About 400 Peace Boat passengers, in groups of about 50 at a time, visited WAM Tuesday, March 22. Despite the language barrier, everyone left with a smile on their face after a tour of the Canoe House and, for some, a canoe ride.

The Peace Boat is a cruise ship belonging to a Japan-based international non-governmental and non-profit organization that works to promote peace, human rights, equal and sustainable development and respect for the environment.

To find out more about the program, go to

The home page of the New York Times in March, 2016.

WAM in the New York Times

March 25, 2016: An article in this week’s New York Times on Marshallese navigation techniques has gone viral and the link is being scattered electronically around the world, giving thousands upon thousands of people the chance to read about an ocean-going voyage in a canoe from Majuro to Aur that was achieved in June last year.

The headline on the 6,000-word feature article is ‘The Secrets of the Wave Pilots’ and is followed by an enticing introduction: “For thousands of years, sailors in the Marshall Islands have navigated vast distances of open ocean without instruments. Can science explain their method before it’s lost forever?”

The must-read story is written by Kim Tingley, who, with a number of scientists, joined the voyage of the Waan Aelon in Majel (Canoes of the Marshall Islands, WAM) canoe to Aur on the project’s chase vessel.

In it, she explains that the Director of WAM and captain of the Jitdam Kapeel canoe, Alson Kelen, is “potentially the world’s last-ever apprentice in the ancient art of wave-piloting.” Kim continues in the NYT article that “If successful, he would prove that one of the most sophisticated navigational techniques ever developed still existed and, he hoped, inspire efforts to save it from extinction.”

Waan Aelon in Majel Director Alson Kelen believes all Marshallese should read the New York Times story. “It’s all about us and our beginnings.” He says the article is also “a big step for the WAM program, but it doesn’t just tell the WAM story, it tells of our culture and who we are.”

Crewing alongside Alson on the voyage was Bilton Daniel, Sear Helios, Elmi Juonraan, Ejnar Aerok and Jason Ralpho. It had been hoped that master navigator Captain Korent Joel would be the canoe’s captain, but he was too sick to make the passage.

Working closely with Alson on this event and the ongoing WAM navigation revival project is Joe Genz, the Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Hawaii, Hilo, and a long-time visitor to RMI. He said Tuesday: “I am very pleased with how well Kim Tingley presented such a complicated story of community resilience and scientific discovery, and also how she portrayed the Marshallese in such a graceful way. Mark Peterson’s images are equally captivating and capture many of our experiences during the voyage.”

To read the article and view thel photographs, you can google the key words New York Times Marshall Islands in the News section or type in the following link:

FOOTNOTE: This article first appeared in the Marshall Islands Journal. To subscribe to the weekly newspaper, email


A section of the mural that Apo Leo painted for WAM. Photo: Karen Earnshaw

You’re alive for a reason

WAM's storage container was the canvas for Apo Leo's emotional work of art. Photo: Karen Earnshaw

WAM’s storage container was the canvas for Apo Leo’s emotional work of art. Photo: Karen Earnshaw

A traditional canoe with a lagoon backdrop features grandly on mural artist Apo Leo’s new work of art at the entrance to Waan Aelon in Majel , but the work’s main focus has an even stronger meaning than this depiction of the powerful Marshallese icon.

“The words on the painting reflect the WAM program and the need for us to be out there talking to the people,” the non-profit program’s counselor Tolina Tomeing said. “It’s saying your life is important and to not take it away. There is a reason to live.”

WAM Director Alson Kelen said the painting is “dedicated to the young people in RMI who had to go through a hard time” and took there lives as a result.

The mural was sponsored by the Single State Agency’s program Substance Abuse Prevention Treatment program, run by Julia Alfred. “WAM approached us with the project and we felt that art says a lot and is another medium to spread the word,” Julia said. “We have been in partnership with WAM for over 10 years and their canoe building is another medium in which WAM provides a sober-alternative activity.”

SAPT's Julia Alfred, WAM's Tolina Tomeing, and the artist Apo Leo. Photo: Karen Earnshaw

SAPT’s Julia Alfred, WAM’s Tolina Tomeing, and the artist Apo Leo. Photo: Karen Earnshaw

The words on the wall

Likit peim ioon menono ne am, kwoj ke enjake? Etan mene ej wun kwoj mour rainin kon wun ko, kon men in jab epwer.

Place your hand over your heart, can you feel it? That is called purpose. You’re alive for a reason, so don’t ever give up.

Apo’s magic murals

The WAM mural marks a year that Apo Leo has been adding color to Majuro’s walls, with his first works of art showing up in Bilimon’s Alley, Uliga. Since then, Apo has particularly enjoyed engaging youth in his painting. “I love to get people involved in the process,” he said. “But doing the canoe at WAM wasn’t so great,” he said, tongue-in-cheek. “I was pretty much done with it and the trainees and staff started coming over and telling me that this rope was in the wrong place, or that rope was tied to the wrong part… They wanted it to be exact.” And so he did just that.