January 4, 2016
Dear Family and Friends:
We hope you all had a wonderful Christmas season. Unfortunately, we did not hear from Elder Parrish over the holiday. He is currently on a companion exchange with one of the two elders from Tabituea South, an island without any internet or telephone. We did, however, receive an email from Elder Musser, who was Elder Parrish's companion on Tabituea North. Elder Musser reports that one of our Christmas packages finally arrived and will be waiting for Elder Parrish when he gets back to Tabituea North, which should be in the next few weeks. We are hoping to receive a make-up Christmas call then. In the meantime, I found a report on Tabituea South that I found to be very interesting. I thought I would share a few facts about where Elder Parrish is currently serving.
While the church is well established in Tabituea North where Elder Parrish has been serving, the church has only had missionaries on Tabituea South for a little over two months. When Elder Parrish left for the exchange, it was unclear whether a hut for the missionaries had been completed or whether they would be staying with the only member family on the island.
Tabituea South is about a three hour boat ride from Tabituea North. Like most of the islands of Kiribati, it is very long and narrow. While it is 18 miles long, it is only one mile wide at its widest point. At its narrowest point, it is just 65 feet wide. It is composed of six small villages.
The population of Tabituea South is currently about 1200 people. It has been stable for many years, ranging between 1,000 people and 1,400 people from the 1960's to the present. The population is very young. Almost 40% of the population is under age 15 and 65% of the population is under the age of 30. Only 8% of the population is over 60.
Like the rest of the Kiribati islands, Tabituea South is still very much a subsistence economy, based on fishing and seafood collection, subsistence agriculture and making buildings and household items from locally available materials, mainly coconut and panderus. Only 39% of households on the island receive any money from wages or salaries. Around half of the households earn money from the sale of fish, crops (mostly dried coconut meat) and/or crafts. The average household income on the island is just over $1 per day.
The island has poor soil and inconsistent rainfall so growing crops is difficult. During dry times, water becomes an issue when the freshwater lens sitting atop the seawater is depleted and becomes brackish. Some residents have to travel almost two miles to obtain fresh water. Rising sea levels caused by climate change have depleted the fresh water lens and caused severe coastal erosion.
Firewood is still the main fuel, mainly in the form of coconut husk. Bicycles and motorcycles are the main methods of transportation. There are only two private cars on the island. There is one main road that runs the length of the island. There is a flight between Tabituea South and the main island once a week.
The percentage of people on Tabituea South who smoke is among the highest in Kiribati. 57% of all adults smoke and 30% regularly drink kava (alcohol made from fermented coconut).
Hopefully we will hear from Elder Parrish soon and can learn about Tab South firsthand!
Thanks to all for your love, prayers and support!