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Interior awards $1million+ to mitigate COVID-19 among Pacific Islanders in Hawai’i

Acting Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs Nikolao Pula
We are Oceania to provide support to families most disproportionately impacted
Source: Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) is announcing the award of $1,033,100 in CARES Act grant funding to help Pacific Islander communities in Hawaii that have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds will be administered by We are Oceania, a non-profit organization with culture and language expertise and liaises between Hawai’i state agencies and families from the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic Palau.  

 “The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially challenging for certain Pacific Islander communities in Hawai’i and these funds will provide much needed support,” said OIA Director and Acting Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs Nikolao Pula. “We are pleased to be able to leverage the expertise and experience of We are Oceania to combat and fight the COVID-19 pandemic that has disproportionately affected Pacific Islanders.” 

The Honolulu Civil Beat reported last November (and reprinted with permission in Samoa News) that Pacific Islanders in Hawai’i are more than twice as likely to die from or be hospitalized by the coronavirus than other racial and ethnic groups, after adjusting for age and gender, according to data from the Hawai’i State Health Department. The report indicated that Chuukese, Marshallese, and Samoans are among the most impacted. 

The funding will be used to support We Are Oceania's ongoing COVID-19 response in Hawai’i to migrants and families from the freely associated states, resident in Hawai’i, who are disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Funds will help train and provide specialists fluent in target Pacific Islander languages to answer and respond to queries about the pandemic, manage food drive efforts, deliver PPE, and provide cleaning supplies.  

Prior to the onset of COVID-19, language and cultural barriers were observed to be the cause of most gaps in services for Micronesian populations in Hawai’i. These barriers were amplified during COVID-19, as families with limited-English were unable to appropriately self-isolate or access testing and other services, thereby contributing to the disproportionate number of Micronesian populations among the Pacific Islanders most impacted by COVID-19. Since the pandemic struck early last year, We are Oceania has also experienced an increase in the number of calls and emails from other service providers on Hawai’i seeking cultural and language expertise in order to work effectively with Micronesian populations. 

For more information on grant assistance provided through OIA, please visit: