BETA

Missionary service inspires BYU-Hawaii grad to create food charity in the Pacific

Kiribati, an island 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii, isn't a well-known spot to most of the world, but for 29-year-old Eritai Kateibwi it's home.

Tarawa, the nation's capital, is where Kateibwi and his wife live. Because of its close proximity to the equator, heavy heat, humidity and other harsh weather conditions, healthy, sustainable food is difficult to grow.

Salt-water intrusions and salty breezes tend to contaminate the soil and water that feeds the crops, not to mention the lack of space to try and grow crops on a small island nation.

According to an article from Mormon Newsroom, after serving a mission in Hawaii and graduating from BYU-Hawaii, Kateibwi decided to return home and try to help.

"People tell us to abandon our country to the sea," he said. "But my generation wants to stay. We have gone away to be educated, and now we are coming home to make a difference."

Kateibwi started the food charity Te Maeu. The food sustainability program uses portable, self-contained hydroponic gardens. These gardens don't require soil to grow, instead using mineral nutrients in a water solution.

Plants in hydroponic gardens grow quickly and can produce crops in just 30 days, using solar-powered pumps to make sure nutrients reach the roots.

Families around the island are learning how to manage their own hydroponic farms and recieve equipment and training. They also learn how to sell any excess crop.

Daniel and Rebecca Kitchen, full-time humanitarian service missionaries in the area, have been supporting Kateibwi and his efforts with the help of LDS Charities.

"We believe his traits of unselfishness, warm personality and hard work represent the good in Kiribati," Rebecca Kitchen said.

Kateibwi won the United Nations Young Champion of the Earth competition in 2017. The prize was $15,000 USD that he could use for whatever he chose.

He chose to put it all toward Te Maeu.

Learn more about Kateibwi and Te Maeu here.