A far-flung collection of 24 inhabited coral atolls spread over 800,000 square miles in the north-central Pacific, the Marshall Islands is among the most remote locations in the world. But thanks to a unique relationship with the United States, children living on several of these islands will have the opportunity to attend school in clean, new facilities. In November, U.S. Embassy officials helped open new schools on Likiep atoll and Wotje atoll. These schools, combined with additional aid provided by the United States to finance teacher salaries and other educational expenses, will enable Marshallese students to gain the education they need to remain connected to the world, despite their unique location.
Under the Compact of Free Association -- signed in 1986 and amended in 2003 -- the United States and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) have a close bilateral relationship. Each year, the United States provides over $35 million in assistance to support health, education, and infrastructure in the islands. As part of this assistance, four schools on remote islands have been completed in 2011, with more schools nearing completion in 2012. The schools each have four to six classrooms, an administrative office, and toilet facilities and are a welcome upgrade from old, dilapidated structures where students previously met.
On November 19, I was fortunate to join with local dignitaries and education officials to dedicate the Likiep and Wotje elementary schools. Located approximately 175 miles north of Majuro atoll, the capital of the country, the two coral atolls have between 400-700 inhabitants each. Wotje atoll has electricity and some phone service, but the only electricity on Likiep is from small diesel generators that are turned on for special occasions, and communication with the outside world is via ham radio and irregular flights from Air Marshall Islands. On both islands, the visiting delegation was warmly welcomed and local leaders expressed their appreciation for the new schools.
The United States is proud to assist the RMI in providing better education for its youth. With these resources, students are able to learn fundamental concepts in math, science, history, and English. Some students will remain on their atoll and be able to give back to the local community, while others will likely travel to Majuro or even the United States for additional educational opportunities. For each child, school will have been a valuable starting point in their journey. The new schools in the Marshall Islands are a testament to the deep and enduring relationship between the United States and the RMI, and we look forward to a continuing relationship in the years to come.