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NPS Alumnus Turned Faculty Continues Longtime Effort to Advance Literacy
U.S. Navy photo by Javier Chagoya

NPS Alumnus Turned Faculty Continues Longtime Effort to Advance Literacy

By Javier Chagoya

NPS Alumnus and retired Marine Corps Capt. Tony Pollman, now an NPS Associate Professor in the Department of Systems Engineering, had a mission to help bring literacy to the children of the tiny island nation of Vanuatu, whose population of 286,000 is spread over an area of 4,700 square miles in the 80-island archipelago. However, the best-laid plans sometimes go awry.

As the shipment of books was being readied to set sail, one of the worst tropical cyclones in Vanuatu’s history struck in March 2015. Major damage and 16 fatalities, severely crippled the islands already precarious infrastructure. It would be months later, and for some of the collections, two years before their delivery would take place.

“Following the destruction of Cyclone Pam, the national library and the 26 school houses spread across the region were destroyed or severely damaged,” said Pollman. “The thousands of books that finally arrived ended up sitting in a warehouse in Port Vila, the Vanuatu capital and customs port of entry for the nation.”

It was imperative to have a representative from the Peace Corps on hand at the docks to ensure the books made it to the outlying villages. Pollman’s contact for the Peace Corps in Vanuatu was Dane Carson. “He was instrumental in ensuring the book delivery,” added Pollman.

Another issue that affected the distribution of the books to the various islands is the lack of communication amongst the various tribes as languages from one island to the next vary. There are also deep tribal rivalries, which still exist since Vanuatu only became an independent Republic in 1980.

While there is one language that is loosely spoken among the islanders called Bislama – a pigeon English, the national identity continues in a state of coalescing. And ties to French and United Kingdom colonial powers still exist. For example, families split loyalties even amongst their children where one child learns French and the second is allowed to learn English, anticipating which power will have the dominant influence.

“The feedback I’ve received is overwhelmingly positive from school principals and the small community of teachers. The disparity in languages is a challenge but the children will still learn to read and write. Without the mentorship of the Peace Corps volunteers, the books would be a loss. You have to know how to care and manage for the books as well,” added Pollman.

The books Pollman delivered are in English for K-8 readers and many science textbooks for high school age children that were donated from Washington D.C. schools. NPS’ own Dudley Knox Library and personal donations from NPS staff also put books in the hands of the Vanuatu children. There are also books on health care including Hesperian Health guidebooks, valuable tools for understanding medical treatments when there is no doctor available.

“We managed to fill the requests of the teachers on the islands based on the World Bank Family Network resources. There is such a wellspring of books out there that if they don’t get re-used, many U.S. school districts dispose of them,” concluded Pollman.

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