Hafa adai! My name is Dora Borja Miura. I am Chamorro. I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a teacher. I have been a teacher in Saipan for over 21 years. I have taught at the elementary level and am currently teaching at Saipan Southern High School. This blog is told through my eyes.
“Sungun ha” is a Chamorro word that encapsulates much of how we live our lives in Saipan. It means, “endure”. I often heard it growing up from parents and aunts and uncles whenever a tough situation arose. As a kid, I was told to endure the hardship. It was not said to encourage us to simply accept the hardship but to inspire us to accept problems and figure out a way to resolve them. I was never allowed to complain about a hardship. I see this way of thinking in the classroom and I feel fortunate to teach here, where students don’t complain about their situation but instead use this situation to figure out a way to survive and thrive. We have great students.
Three years ago, Super Typhoon Yutu hit Saipan and devasted our island, especially the southern part of the island, where the students I serve and I live. Our homes were flooded, damaged, or destroyed. Some homes were left with nothing but 4 walls while others were left with nothing but a floor.
A former student of ours (my husband is a teacher too) called us during the thick of the storm for comfort as their roof was literally being torn from the rest of their house. With sustained winds exceeding 180 mph it was not possible to rescue them so we advised them to gather all their mattresses and to hunker down in their bathtubs until the worst of the storm passed. Others shared their stories of their families huddling in the one place in their house that was made of concrete in hopes that the winds wouldn’t touch them in there. Cars were being overturned, power poles and trees were crashing down and debris was flying all over the place creating a dangerous situation outside. Many had to leave their homes to ride out the storm in a shelter.
About a month after the storm, we resumed school. Our school was fortunate because the damage it sustained was relatively mild compared to some other schools (one school had to have tents erected by FEMA for their classrooms because their school building barely existed). Additionally, we were able to partner up with our community college: in exchange for use of our buildings in the evening for their classes, they supplied us with generators for power. For many, school was a haven.
While most of the island had no power, our school had a generator for our school hours. Students came back with smiles on their face, despite their situations at home. One such student, I’ll call her Angela, bounced into school eager to see her friends, get back to her books, and join the efforts of bringing up the school spirit, especially during this time.
Behind her bubbly smile was a young lady who lived in the storage room in the restaurant where she worked (thanks to the generosity of her boss) or in the front seat of her car with her father because their home was completely devastated. She didn’t want anyone to know of her situation because she believed she could “sungun” it. She spent weeks living in this situation before we found out. Her family’s personal belongings were being stored at a friend’s house but circumstances didn’t allow for that situation to last for too long, and at that point, it greatly affected Angela. My husband noticed a change in her demeanor and asked her about it. She then shared her situation. We helped her by storing her belongings until they were able to find a more permanent shelter.
There are many stories like this that speak of the culture of resilience of our students, our families, our people. For many, this resilience was re-awakened and strengthened during Typhoons Yutu or Soudelor. So, when times get tough, as they are now during the recent pandemic, we only need remind ourselves and our students that we are Yutu-strong and that if we can survive Yutu, we can survive and thrive in any situation.
Dr. Dora Borja Miura, Ph.D. teaches Math at where she serves as the Math Department Chair. Dr. Miura is an AP Seminar Teachher, a 2015 Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching, and the 2016 Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI, also known as Saipan) State Teacher of the Year.
In the classroom, she aims to establish community and inspire her students to bring that sense of community outside school doors as far as they are willing to go. At home, she is a wife of an amazing educator, mother of 16-month old, and an avid pogo player. In the community, she works with a phenomenal team to promote and inspire a love of mathematics in the CNMI through MathCourt competitions.
awakened and strengthened during Yutu or Soudelor. So when times get tough, like they are now with the recent pandemic, we only need remind ourselves and our students that we are Yutu strong and that if we can survive Yutu, we can survive and thrive in any situation.