College students with Saipan roots volunteer at Karidat


Lena Catherine Fox, right, and Maryam Abidi, left, pose for a photo with Karidat executive director Lauri B. Ogumoro at the organization’s office.
(Thomas Manglona II)

Lena Catherine Fox and Maryam Abidi don’t remember much about their childhood on Saipan. Both of their parents worked as professionals on the island in the 1990s. The two college students are volunteering at Karidat for the summer and learning more about their Saipan roots.

Fox, 21, is a rising senior at Pomona College studying sociology in California, while Abidi, 20, attends Ohio State University double-majoring in strategic communication and women studies with a minor in human rights.

Fox, who was born on Saipan, left the island when she was just 3 years old and moved to Hawaii with her parents, Beth and Andrew Fox, who are both pediatricians. Her return to the CNMI was made possible through an independent research grant from her college.

“I don’t remember anything about Saipan and I thought it would be nice to go back and learn more,” she said. “I have this great opportunity and my school helped me get here.”

Fox’s research focuses on compiling data on homelessness on Saipan, which she says is especially prevalent in the aftermath of last year’s typhoon.

“I spent the first week looking at data and now interviewing volunteers to get experience and get a better picture of homelessness on island,” she explained.

While she initially did not know what to expect, she said that there are striking similarities between where she grew up in Hawaii and Saipan.

“I found a lot of similarities, especially with the indicators of homelessness and the immense population of people that are living without stable housing and how drugs influence that. “

For Abidi, her time on Saipan as a child is a blur too, but her parents, Syed Abidi and Farhana Habib, have told her about it many times.

Much of her time has been spent on intake for cases, coordinating translations, and administrative work regarding human trafficking.

“I’ve been planning to come back…and it finally worked out,” she said. “Lauri Ogumoro (Karidat executive director) has been telling me about all the work Karidat does and it aligns with my academic interests and the kinds of academic investigations I do at school.”

She was even able to connect the office with student translators in the mainland, whom she said are objective participants in the cases. She added, “Being here has been really fascinating… As an academic and academic intellectual venture and also for me to be on the ground doing work with people that need it and helping them get whatever limited justice we can offer them.”

Fox and Abidi have also made time to enjoy the island’s beaches. “The beaches are great the water is warm and clear. Everyone is really nice here,” Fox said. For her part, Abidi said, “I can’t remember the last time I saw the beach. It is nice to see the beach right after work. “

While both students will be leaving the CNMI at the end of the month, Fox and Abidi are keeping their options open when considering whether or not to return.

Karidat executive director Lauri B. Ogumoro commended the volunteers for their efforts. “It’s been a joy for everyone to have them on board, they have been a tremendous help: they have accomplished a lot of different tasks like establishing a Karidat Facebook page, working on organizing our data for future grant applications and just quantifying the number of services we have provided in terms of housing and food assistance,” she said.

Ogumoro urges those interested in volunteering to call 234-6981. Their newly established Facebook page can be found by searching for “Karidat” on social media.

Thomas Manglona II | Correspondent

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