We Are Oceania
During surges of COVID-19 in the Islands last year, Jocelyn “Josie” Howard and another We Are Oceania staff member took food, masks, dignity bags and other personal necessities to more than 100 Pacific Islander families every month.
Then the nonprofit added staff and increased donations to more than 200 food boxes and 600 hot meals every week.
The efforts were just Howard’s latest in a lifetime spent supporting her fellow Micronesians in Hawai‘i – who at times throughout last year suffered more than a quarter of all confirmed coronavirus cases while being just 4% of the local population.
“I believe this is my calling and my purpose,” Howard says. “From a young age I left home and sacrificed a lot to be educated so that I can learn how to care for my community.”
Howard says she left her Chuuk home on Onoun Island, in the Namonweito Atoll, at 13 for high school on another Micronesian island; at 20 she came to Hawai‘i for advanced college, hoping to train as a physician and then take her expertise home.
But with no hospital or electricity on her island, she rethought her plan and decided to focus on making life better for Micronesians who had come to Hawai‘i seeking better jobs, health care and lives.
“There was such a great need for service providers to understand how to work specifically with our people, and we realized at the same time that our people needed help to navigate the system.”
Howard has also worked in Department of Education schools as a cultural resource for Pacific Islander students and families, and also at Goodwill Industries. Her community often turns to her for help.
“Navigation is not only for the ocean, it’s for life,” she explains. “You navigate the currents of life. My grandfather told me that to be home, and to be able to be whole, you have to be palu: a master navigator in navigating life. At home they know how to navigate, but when they come here they don’t, so having a onestop is a start.”
That’s what We Are Oceania has become: a one-stop center that guides Pacific Islanders through whatever needs or concerns they have.
Lillian Segal, who serves on We Are Oceania’s board, says Howard is a constant source of inspiration.
“I’m always learning from Josie,” writes Segal in an email. “Josie is a strong, compassionate and dedicated leader who works tirelessly for her community on a daily basis.”