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New FSM president meets with Close-Up students, offers insight for development

PALIKIR, Pohnpei (FSM Information Services) — On May 14 David W. Panuelo, president of the Federated States of Micronesia, met with 11th and 12th grade students affiliated with the Close-Up extracurricular program, who visited the Office of the President as part of a larger tour of the FSM national government.

The students, hailing from across the FSM and representing both public and private schools, were given the opportunity, and encouraged, to ask President Panuelo questions about anything they wanted to.

“The Office of the President, this office, is your office,” said President Panuelo in his welcoming remarks. “I may represent you abroad, but I am always your servant.”

Before the question and answer session, President Panuelo offered a few words of advice. “I was once like you, and [when I was in high school] I didn’t really think about what my career would be. So…what I want to tell you is that I have been through it, and that whatever you feel passionate about — turn it into your career,” said President Panuelo. “I want to emphasize how important each and every one of you are to our nation-building process…without you, we won’t go anywhere.”

President Panuelo encouraged the students to participate in society and in government, to “read the news and interact with people,” noting that, while the Nation has laws that are intended to lay the foundation for our democracy, “the best law is our conscience…we will only grow if we respect our environment, if we care for one another, and we actively participate.”

Several students had the opportunity to ask questions directly to President Panuelo, who asked that they speak to him as if they were talking to a friend.

FSM President Panuelo encourages students to follow their passion, and find a way to turn their interests into their careers.  FSM President Panuelo encourages students to follow their passion, and find a way to turn their interests into their careers.

One young woman from Kosrae asked a question about President Panuelo’s views on female empowerment in the FSM, including whether or not the FSM is currently doing enough to represent women’s interests.

“I really believe in women’s empowerment,” said President Panuelo, noting that two of the candidates in the March 5, 2019 congressional election in the State of Pohnpei were women. “Our constitution guarantees equal representation for women in all of our offices.” President Panuelo advised that, in his view, the most efficient way for women to achieve representation in the Congress of the FSM is for women to work together as one.

Another young woman from Kosrae asked a question about the FSM’s economic development —particularly, what can the FSM do to grow its economy other than relying upon the two trust funds?

“Economic development for our country is the most challenging thing so far, but we do generate about 60-70 million from our oceans every year,” said President Panuelo. “As for the private sector...growth has been slow because so much of it is wholesale or retail; we’d like to see more development in export-oriented types of businesses.” President Panuelo encouraged the students to be proactive in coming up with potential business ventures, and cited a few examples of encouraging growth in the FSM, such as the Vital/FSM Petroleum Corporation factory being established on Tonoas Island in Chuuk State.

One young man from Pohnpei advised that he didn’t have a specific question, but that he wanted to share the problems at his school. “I need your help,” said the young man, who explained that his public high school has shortages ranging from not enough chairs for students sit on, not enough clean water for the students to drink, not enough textbooks for the students to read and study from, and crowded buses.

David W. Panuelo, president of the Federated States of Micronesia, poses with the Close-Up students and chaperones after their visit to the FSM Office of the President.  FSMIS photosDavid W. Panuelo, president of the Federated States of Micronesia, poses with the Close-Up students and chaperones after their visit to the FSM Office of the President. FSMIS photos

“As your president, I have to apologize for that,” said President Panuelo. “For you, as a student to come here and say these things — I feel your pain, and applaud your courage.” President Panuelo and the student shook hands to an equally applauding crowd.

President Panuelo then explained that although the FSM Department of Education doesn’t have jurisdiction over Pohnpei’s schools — the Pohnpei State Government does — that this administration intends to put more resources and effort into educational support and initiatives throughout the FSM, from Yap and Chuuk to Pohnpei and Kosrae.

Finally, one young woman from Chuuk, noting the recent online discussions about Micronesians in the U.S. State of Hawaii being denied the capacity to obtain driver’s licenses, asked a question about discrimination against Micronesians abroad.

“The good news is that I met with the U.S. ambassador [recently], and we are working to address that issue [regarding driver’s licenses]; that problem will disappear soon,” said President Panuelo. “But on the issue of discrimination on a social basis, yes we can experience that…and you can understand why, people [may not understand], or try to protect their turf — and ignorance can play into it. So what I would say is that when you experience these things, try to really — in a calm and peaceful way — approach people respectfully, mingle with the people, talk with them, and get to know them.”

“Yes [some of us] are experiencing discrimination,” continued President Panuelo, “But what I have to tell you is to be proud of who you are, and be proud of who we are, as Micronesians. Negative news will always follow us, but it’s up to all of us together to make the difference in those places.”

President Panuelo thanked the students for visiting the Office of the President, and urged them again to stay focused on their education and find a way to turn their interests into their future careers.