Aitutaki Teens

LDS youth in the Cook Islands know that all you need to be happy can be found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Many young people spend Saturday afternoon looking for something fun to do, something besides chores or schoolwork. But how would it be to live on a small island? Wouldn’t that limit the possibilities?

Youth on the small island of Aitutaki in the Cook Islands in the South Pacific don’t find their life-style limiting. They have found ways to keep busy and happy on an island that does not have a single commercial business.

Yes, you read that right—not one. They have no malls, no movies, and very few cars.

But the youth aren’t complaining. They simply look to one another and to the Church for most of their social activities, many of which are sports or culture related.

“The best part of living on a small, isolated island is that it is great not to have drugs or violence or gangs,” says College Mitiau, 17.

But there’s still peer pressure, right?

“What is that?” chorus the 20 young men and women. But they do have some peer pressure: the youth help each other stay active in the Church even though they are the minority on the island. Their small branch has about 90 members, while the island is home to 2,500 people.

Approximately 20 young people are enrolled in seminary, and the program is highly successful—they all have nearly perfect attendance. It’s not always easy to get up each morning, but they know the others will miss them if they don’t go.

Seminary builds not only their spiritual strength, but also their academic abilities. “Seminary stimulated me to want to achieve high grades and gave me the motivation to get it done,” says Elizabeth Parai, who shared top academic honors in the school with Jamie Rajek in 1994.

Like Elizabeth, Terry Glassie has found that gospel values affect more than the spiritual side of life. He received the Cook Island academic award and has moved to New Zealand to study engineering. “The Church helped give me direction in my life,” says Terry.

But there is one disadvantage that all the LDS youth are working hard to overcome. “The downside of living here is being isolated from the resources of the Church.” College says.

The Cook Islands have a strong heritage. The first settlers were Polynesians who arrived in A.D. 800. The islands were declared a British protectorate in 1888 and came under New Zealand’s control in 1891. In 1965 they gained independence, but they still retain citizenship rights in New Zealand.

The first missionaries arrived in the Cook Islands in 1950 and soon established the branch still in existence today. Although missionary work is slow, the members are setting good examples for their neighbors. The members are especially known for their hard work.

The families grow all their own food, and each family member shares in the work. Their diet includes breadfruit, taro, kumura, papaya, mango, coconut, and many vegetables.

When asked what her favorite food was, Angeline Mitiau said “junk food.” Everyone smiled because they rarely see any on the island. Some of them go months without eating any “junk.”

While they may not have the entertainment options some young men and women are used to, the youth on Aitutaki Island are perfectly content. They have the gospel, and they even manage to have fun on Saturday afternoons.

[photo] Photograph by Phillip K. Humphreys