Small Island, Huge Health Gains
Kili Island welcomed Canvasback Wellness Center staff for a recent outreach visit. Though among the smallest of the Marshall Islands—less than a square mile of land—Kili participants achieved huge health gains in very little time.
Invited by the 177 Health Care Program, Wellness Center staff members Kristin Smith, Ann Alik and Kenny Lang flew to Kili to offer a 10-day wellness program. The 34 program participants received diabetes-related health education that included healthy cooking practice and physical exercise. And outcomes were very exciting: for three participants, blood sugar levels dropped by at least 190; one of the three started out with a blood sugar count of 388 and dropped it to 117 during the wellness course.
Kili participants expressed a committed desire to keep up the exercise they had begun during the program. Cooking instructor and exercise coordinator Ann Alik worked with islanders to create a walking club that would continue to meet on a regular schedule. And Kenny Lang, in charge of the Wellness Center garden on Majuro, discovered a number of islanders ready and willing to plant a large vegetable garden.
Gardens have long been a symbol of hope and promise. But on Kili in particular, vegetable-tending is also a symbol of victory in the battle against diabetes and the struggle to eat well.
Historically, food options have been narrow on 200-acre Kili, home to perhaps 800 Bikini Islanders and descendants relocated there by the U.S. government in 1948. Kili has no lagoon to allow the year-round fishing found elsewhere in the Marshall Islands, and its tropical soil produces copra, coconut, limes, breadfruit, squash, bananas, papayas and sugar cane. It is necessary to supplement these crops, so government-issued foods routinely arrive by ship: chicken, white rice, white flour, and sugar.
Excepting the chicken, these nutritionally poor foods play a key role in the onset and progress of diabetes. Vegetable gardens are the only way to ensure the availability of nutrient-rich foods.
Kili Islanders planted a range of leafy green vegetables during the Wellness Center outreach visit. The seeds, too, bear symbolic value, for they came from the garden on Majuro and provide a link by which the people of Kili are united with other islanders working to defeat diabetes.