The sleepy island of Kosrae has an old-fashioned, subsistence-based way of life reminiscent of old Hawaii. Every family still cultivates the wide variety of plants that their ancestors brought with them to the island thousands of years ago. Taro, breadfruit, coconut, and banana are the foundations of a local meal. People weave plates, hats, and dwelling roofs from palm frond. Fishermen are aware of the lunar cycle to know when the fishing will be best. These islands are way out in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and the Philippines, but they are surprisingly accessible, especially to US citizens.
Kosrae is one of the four islands in the Federated States of Micronesia. The islands are tiny specks of land combining to be approximately the size of Rhode Island scattered over an area of ocean that is comparable to the continental US. This area holds immense geopolitical importance in the world. Some of the best wreck diving in the world is in Chuuk where there are ship and plane relics from World War II.
After WWII, the US took over control from the Japanese in the islands and Kosrae was a Trust Territory of the USA. In 1979 Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk, and Yap formed the Federated States of Micronesia, and then in 1983 the Compact of Free Association was founded.
Exploring a WWII plane wreck in Kosrae. Photo by Jeff Milisen. Read more about his diving adventure in Kosrae here.
The Compact of Free Association has influenced access to many resources for the developing island nations including health care, education, infrastructure, telecommunications, and transportation. English is the official language of the FSM, though each island has their own cultural language. In return for funding a very significant portion of the economy in the islands, the USA receives land and water rights for military use. With the Compact Agreement, US citizens only need a passport to visit or live in the FSM, and likewise for a citizen of the FSM in the US.
Currently 70-80% of the Kosrae economy is aid from the USA. Unfortunately, recent times see the USA turning attention away from the Pacific and towards fighting terrorism and wars. The government budgets are decreasing and the Compact of Free Association ends in 2023. It is unclear what will happen for the island people, but the USA will maintain military control of the waters regardless.
Matt Simpson, the Founder of Green Banana Paper, pioneered the WorldTeach program in Kosrae. He considers himself extremely lucky for the opportunity to experience life on a remote Pacific Island. When his year as a WorldTeach volunteer ended, he had fallen in love with the culture and island lifestyle and stayed on to teach at the high school for three more years. During this time, he took on the role of the WorldTeach coordinator to bring more volunteers to the island.
Matt recognized that many of his former students were unemployed or working for minimum wage in the USA. Now, five years since being a classroom teacher, he observes that very few of his former students from his four-years at the high school are still in Kosrae. Matt now laments seeing the Peace Corps and WorldTeach volunteer programs come to a close. Peace Corps was active in Micronesia from 1966-2018 and WorldTeach from 2008-2017. The cross-cultural sharing is a profound learning experience for everyone and the high school is currently understaffed.
Green Banana Paper was born out of Matt’s desire to recycle local resources and create on-island opportunities for young people. There are some 200,000 banana trees on the 42-square mile island. Green Banana Paper currently employs 25 people in Kosrae who would otherwise struggle to find work, sustainably manufactures an export product as a means to bring outside money to the island, and it’s all created from harvested banana trees that would otherwise be considered a waste byproduct of the fruit harvest. Read our page Our Materials -- Banana Fiber Paper to learn more about why banana trees are a rapidly-renewable and sustainable resource.
We’re starting a volunteer program to create an opportunity for curious and skilled people to continue to come to Kosrae! Volunteers are a great help for Green Banana Paper and this is a very unique opportunity to experience life on a remote island—cultural immersion and life in the tropics.
Please read our Opportunities page for more information about our volunteer program and pass it along to potential candidates—from gap year students to professionals.
One additional note: Peace Corps and WorldTeach volunteers were assistants and teachers at the elementary schools and high school in Kosrae. With the absence of these programs, the high school is now experiencing a teacher shortage. We can connect you with the Department of Education if you are interested in coming to Kosrae to work at the high school.
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