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New biography details Marshall Islands anti-nuclear fighter’s life

Darlene Keju

Darlene Keju’s courageous story of growing up on islands downwind of the 67 US nuclear tests conducted at Bikini and Enewetak, as told by her husband Giff Johnson.

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By a special correspondent in Majuro

The powerful story of a woman from the Marshall Islands who championed the cause of nuclear weapons test survivors when others were silent, and who implemented innovative community health programmes and services that gave hope to a generation of troubled youth is detailed in a just-released biography, Don’t Ever Whisper — Darlene Keju: Pacific Health Pioneer, Champion for Nuclear Survivors.

Written by Keju’s husband of 14 years Giff Johnson, the editor of the Marshall Islands Journal, the weekly newspaper published in Majuro, the 443-page book has been published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing and is available through Amazon.com.

“This book is a story of a personal transformation of a young lady who once knew little English to an advocate for her people, the victims of the weapons of war,” writes Fr. Francis X. Hezel, SJ, in the foreword to the new book.

“Then the further transformation to educational innovator, whose programme had far-reaching effects throughout her island nation.”

‘Courage to dream’
Hezel, who founded the Jesuit think tank known as the Micronesian Seminar in the early 1970s and is now based in Guam, says the book is the “tale of a woman who loved her people, seeing them as so much more than victims of nuclear irradiation and colonial despoilment.

“For those of us who have cheered on island Micronesia through the years, it is a welcome change to read a tribute to someone who is home grown.

“Although no saint or flag-waver, Darlene shared with Mother Theresa and Greg Mortenson (of Three Cups of Tea fame) the courage to dream daringly along with the commitment and patience to settle for one step — one family, one atoll — at a time.”

The book tells of Keju growing up on islands downwind of the 67 US nuclear tests conducted at Bikini and Enewetak, and then narrates Keju’s struggle as a teenager moving to Hawaii with little English ability.

She ultimately earned a master’s degree in public health, and used her US education first to expose to the world a United States government cover up of its nuclear weapons testing programme in the Marshall Islands, and later to inspire young Marshall Islanders to make changes in their personal behavior to transform the health of their communities.

Global stage
Keju took to a global stage at the World Council of Churches Assembly in Canada in 1983 to tell the world about the health impact of the American nuclear tests, and of the US Army’s discrimination against Marshall Islanders at its missile-testing base at Kwajalein Atoll.

“Darlene’s speech in Vancouver opened many people’s eyes, particularly in the churches, to the suffering of the people of the Marshall Islands and other parts of the Pacific in the wake of nuclear testing,” said Rev. Ekkehard Zipser, an official with the Protestant Church in Germany, who is quoted on the book’s back cover.

“The consciousness of people in Europe concerning the Pacific only really began to awaken after that speech.”

“So that people can watch Darlene’s riveting speech at the World Council of Churches Assembly, I recently posted a video of her talk on YouTube,” said Johnson.

“Thirty years later, it is still one of the most powerful presentations ever delivered by a Marshall Islander about US nuclear testing here.”

Her contention that many more islands than the four acknowledged by the U.S. government were exposed to nuclear test fallout was controversial at the time.

But formerly secret US nuclear test-era documents that have come to light in recent years — and are detailed in this biography — confirm Keju’s contention of widespread fallout contamination in the Marshalls.

Marginalised young
Don’t Ever Whisper also tells the inspiring story of how Keju went to bat for marginalised young people in the Marshall Islands, a largely ignored population with low self-esteem and a penchant for expressing their frustrations by suicide and other anti-social behavior.

She established the non-government group Youth to Youth in Health that empowered young people and their communities to take control of their own health and economic well-being through work that was praised as a model for the Pacific by the US Public Health Service and the United Nations Population Fund.

Keju died of cancer at age 45, but Youth to Youth in Health, now in its 27th year of operations, continues programs and services for at-risk youth that Keju pioneered.

Source: Pacific Media Watch 8340

Don’t Ever Whisper