Kiribati


Kiribati is an archipelago consisting of thirty-three Micronesian islands in the mid-Pacific. Located at the juncture of the Equator and the International Dateline (due south of the Hawaiian Islands), it has a population of approximately 100,000 and stretches over a vast oceanic territory of 3.5 million square kilometers (the width of the United States) and is the only country in the world that lies within all four hemispheres. Many of the islands in Kiribati are barely above sea level and, with rising oceans due to climate change, are imperiled.  In order to survive, inhabitants (the majority of whom reside on Tarawa) will be required at some point before mid-century to find another place of habitation. The government has purchased a large tract of land on Fiji and Anote Tong, the nation’s President, is encouraging his fellow citizens to begin “migration with dignity” to other nations in the South Pacific.

Latter-day Saints have been in Kiribati since the early 1970s when Waitea Abiata, a local elementary school teacher and headmaster, sent a dozen of his students to study at the LDS Liahona High School in Tonga.  During their time in Tonga, all the students converted to Mormonism and when they returned home began sharing the gospel with family, friends and neighbors. Among their first converts was their teacher who had sent them to Tonga. He also became the first branch president in Kiribati. Since then (1975), the Church has grown rapidly and consistently. At present, there are approximately 17,000 members of the Church in Kiribati, concentrated mostly in Tarawa and nearby islands. 

At the invitation of the Pacific Area Presidency, a team from the Liahona Children’s Foundation visited Kiribati between Christmas and New Years (2014) to determine the level and extent of malnutrition among members there. The Liahona team, consisting of Sara Walker (an international public health & nutrition specialist ), Robert Rees (Vice-President of the Foundation) and three Latter-day Saint sisters from Australia (Carol Armstrong and Liz and Courtney Pocock of the Island Rescue Project), travelled to Tarawa, Kiribati in late December to screen children and pregnant and lactating mothers in the Tarawa East and Tarawa West Stakes. The Liahona team was assisted by local members, senior missionaries and Brother Iouta Tune, former head of the Church-run Moroni School in Tarawa, former stake president, and current Church Self-Reliance Manager for Kiribati. The purpose of the screenings was to determine the degree and extent of malnutrition.

In total, we screened 550 children and 25 pregnant and lactating mothers (These figures include 100 non-LDS children and mothers). Of the children screened, approximately one-fifth (20.4%) were identified as malnourished, whereas 8% of the mothers were so identified. Of the 20% of children who qualified as malnourished, 5.5% were identified as wasted, 13% as stunted, and 8.7% as underweight.

Conditions on Kiribati predict that malnutrition would be a serious problem. Kiribati is one of the poorest and least-developed countries in the world. It has few natural resources, limited local food sources (except for fish), very limited water resources (mostly from rainwater) and very high unemployment (over 60%). The infant mortality rate is 54/1000, compared with 6/1000 for the U.S. Life expectancy is nearly twenty years below that of U.S. citizens. Bacterial infections and food poisoning are common, as are skin diseases; diabetes on Kiribati and the Marshall Islands is the highest in the world. Without the aid of humanitarian organizations like the Liahona Children’s Foundation, the Island Rescue Project, AusAID, the United Nations and the European Union, and assistance from neighboring countries, things would be even worse.

It took several years to navigate the logistics of getting supplements that met nutritional standards to the island country. But in August of 2018, a group of volunteers returned and re-screened the children and officially enrolled children in our nutrition program.