“Because you are an American Lady, you can do Something for the Marshall Islands.”

Fred Beren, a Filipino man who has lived with his Marshallese wife in the Marshall Islands for about three decades, does not know what is causing his country’s landscape and climate to change. But he thinks that Americans can do something about it. This belief comes from deep springs of hope; trust; and confidence, rather than a sense of blame or resentment. He understands that something bad is happening to his island home because he lives with the changes every day.

It is hard to imagine a home more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change- Fred’s home sits precariously on a small mound above the Pacific ocean, each wave lapping close to everything he owns. I stumbled upon Fred during a morning walk while taking photographs of the foreboding cemetery near his home. Friendly and sincere, Fred came out of his already ajar front door and seemed eager to connect.

He spoke fondly of a time when the Marshall Islands were “bigger” and more robust. He reminisced of a beach he used to swim at, where coconut trees provided shade (and perhaps a mid-swim break of sustenance). Now, he says this beach is nearly unrecognizable- the coconut trees have relinquished themselves to the shore- toppling under the stress of the advancing salty sea. He knows people who have homes near that particular beach who experience frequent flooding. Since he lives on the tide-side of the island of Majuro, he has noticed the waves increasing in intensity and height, particularly during the winter King Tide season.

When asked why this may be happening, Fred is not quick to blame. He wonders if the ice melting in other parts of the world might be contributing to the rising sea in his backyard. But during our conversation, I never sensed an iota of “agenda” or that he was repeating warnings that were preached to him in any way. Rather, Fred came across as a humble, simple, concerned man who loves his home. When I asked if I could take pictures of his back yard (the Pacific), he was hesitant at first because it had not been cleaned. He was referring to the garbage that washes up on shore, present on every remote island I have ever stepped foot on- inhabited or uninhabited. He loves living in the Marshall Islands because there is “no crime… it is safe here and the people are friendly.” But since he is very close to the ocean, he worries about bigger waves or further sea level rise in the future.

We walk to Fred’s backyard and notice gleeful Marshallese children bodysurfing on a consistent break just to the south of his home. Fred is concerned that I may fall and pays careful attention to my every rocky step as if I am a toddler navigating a stairway for the first time. As I thanked him profusely for his candor, he rushes to top my gratitude, thanking me for flying to his home and taking time to learn his story. I probed a little to find out why he was so appreciative of the opportunity to share his experience. In response- his parting words: “Because you are an American lady, you can do something for the Marshall Islands.”



8 responses

  1. ameakins@me.com

    I think this is the point of why we do this, and why this is the good fight. Those who will be hurt first and hurt the worst are the good people who live simply never taking too much. These are the people who really understand the full impact of the beauty of the earth and understand the value of life. Thanks for the face and the human quality.

    August 7, 2011 at 8:08 pm

  2. Susie Burgess

    Fred is the reason that you are working so hard. This was a touching story Brook.

    August 8, 2011 at 7:18 am

    • Thank you Susie! He was so touching to talk with- I’ll share more pictures with you!

      August 17, 2011 at 8:31 pm

  3. Hi Brook,

    My name is Alexander Peter and i work with the Marshall Islands Conservation Society as an Intern. I just want to congratulate you for your outstanding work here. I love your blog and i’m looking forward to read more about your work.
    This is something that us, Marshallese need to address or tell the world that we are facing these challenges and that Climate Change do occur here in the Marshall Islands.

    August 8, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    • Alexander- it was such a pleasure meeting with you and I will continue to admire your work! I’d love to highlight you on this site in the future. You are up to such great things and you have a very kind and compassionate spirit. Thanks for all of your hard work- tell your team hello for me!

      August 17, 2011 at 8:29 pm

  4. Brook, I am an adoptive mother with a daughter born on RMI in October 2009. I came upon your blog and appreciate the infomration you are providing. I hope you don’t mind if I share your blog with the other RMI families I have gotten to know thru adoption. Keep up the good work and I will follow your blog.

    August 18, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    • I’d love to hear more about your experience- want to send me an email at bmeakins@me.com? Congrats on the new member to your family (relatively new!), and of course- please share! I welcome your thoughts and the thoughts of your friends, and would love to know more about the process you went through and are still in the midst of. Thanks for your support!

      August 18, 2011 at 7:45 pm

  5. Everett Hill

    Brooke, the powerful and telling statement in this story is the “Because you are an American lady…”

    How often are we seen as the great protectors of the world. Yes, the United States needs to step up and lead in the world to limit or prevent global warming and the melting of the polar ice caps. However, other countries, like China, need to also step up and introduce positive changes to reduce the air pollution and gunk they spew into the air from their factories.

    We do have a powerful voice in the world, but it is not the “americans” doing it. It is individuals who step up, such as yourself, and teach others about the reality of what is happening. Telling the personal stories for the people who can’t share them with as large an audience themselves is powerful. Each of us needs to continue to read these stories and pass them along.

    Keep up the great work…E

    August 31, 2011 at 11:05 am

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