Bringing to the Forefront the Voices of Youth from the Marshall Islands: Anfernee Nenol Kaminaga, The Marshall Islands
By Tharindi Devasurendra – Monday, November 30, 2020
Anfernee Nenol Kaminaga, best known as Nenol, from the Marshall Islands (indigenously known as Aelōñ Kein Ad, Jolet jen Anij, and Lolelaplap) is 25 years old and identifies as a pansexual, genderqueer male. Nenol has lived most of his young life in Maine, USA but he has moved back to his home country a couple of years ago. Since he came back, he has struggled to reconnect or “re-root” back into his culture (manit) mainly because of his lack of knowledge of his own culture while living in Maine. He has been somewhat perceived as a radical and outspoken person because he is very vocal and expressive about his views on social issues and human rights. But recently, he has been able to speak on issues regarding human rights in the Marshall Islands and have been able to make positive changes in perspectives and behaviors within his community.
He co-created and led an LGBTIQ youth focused project, called “Brighten the Rainbow”, in the Marshall Islands which is known to be the first openly LGBTIQ initiative. He has been able to represent his country as a UNESCO Youth Ambassador for a UNESCO Youth Summit for Sustainability and as a youth representative of RMI (the Republic of the Marshall islands) for the 1st UN Youth Climate Action Summit. He has had the opportunity of creating young climate leaders while he was working with the International Organization for Migration as well as working on the ‘Do Better’ project showcasing resiliency in the eyes of the youth. Nenol’s work is intersectional, creating solutions and involving other young people in various initiatives to address social issues.
Presently, Nenol works with the “Youth to Youth in Health” organization (Jodrikdrik nan Jodrikdrik ilo Ejmour), a youth organization which strives to support adolescents by aiming to educate, empower, and guide them to a healthy and safe lifestyle. Some of their programs include a teen pregnancy prevention project and educational initiatives on the prevention of HIV and other STIs.
As waves of people around the globe are testing positive of COVID-19 and many countries are facing an economic and health crisis, Nenol has been working with his organization during this period to provide immediate support to affected communities. Some of the things that they have been working on include securing grants for projects on teen pregnancy prevention and awareness around substance abuse, as these are rising issues in the Marshall Islands. They are also working on other projects with the Ministry of Health of the Marshall Islands to raise awareness and create dialogues on STI/HIV prevention and sexual reproductive awareness. They are also working on a joint project with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the National Disaster Management Office of the Marshall Islands to disseminate media and awareness for COVID-19 prevention and protocols.
Nenol explained that the Marshall Islands had been doing considerably well with regards to their COVID-19 cases. He gives credit to the National Disaster Management Office for taking such swift action and being able to communicate to the public the status of the country. He also commends the closing of the borders preventing entry into the islands of foreigners and non-residents keeping the outbreak at bay. He applauds the public for complying to COVID-19 prevention guidelines, as the public has conformed to the prevention protocol.
Nenol approaches fundraising for his projects in a very intersectional way as he ensures that inclusive programs are implemented and addresses various issues across the board. Their work integrates the spirit of equality and authentic representation by bringing the less privileged and often neglected communities to the forefront of advocacy work and decision making spaces. The work they are doing has impacted the opinions and perceptions of young people about the experiences and lived realities faced by key populations, especially LGBTIQ communities. In his community, youth are seen as too young to be involved in decision making but regardless of several limitations, the youth have stepped up. Nenol and his colleagues are a testament to the growing youth leadership and collective effort in the Marshall Islands. Through this leadership, they were able to organize the first national dialogue which led to a youth declaration demanding a youth seat at the ministerial level of their national government.
The Marshall Islands and the key populations living there, including the LGBTIQ community, are facing the same limitations in accessing sexual health care brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic prevention and quarantine measures. Understanding the pre-existing stigma faced by key populations and LGBTIQ communities, Nenol’s organization is mindful that communities are reluctant to access sexual healthcare due to exposure to COVID-19, risk to their privacy, and discrimination in the healthcare facility. To mitigate these identified issues and to curb additional cases of discrimination, they involved medical professionals to provide safe and confidential testing for HIV and other sexual health related issues.