Volunteering in the Federated States of Micronesia

Discover volunteering opportunities in the beautiful and remote Federated States of Micronesia.

Tim Patrick FSM
Australian volunteer Tim Patrick (left) with Atin John (right) at the Akoyikoyi School, Federated States of Micronesia. Photo: Darren James
Nina FSM
Australian volunteer Nina van Breugel (right) with Linda Teteth (left) at the Yap Gender Support Office. Photo: Darren James
FSM fish
Fresh seafood, Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia. Photo: Darren James
Nikisha FSM
Australian volunteer Nikisha Smith (right) from the Office of Social Services, Pohnpei, with Monique Panaligan (left). Photo: Darren James

About the Federated States of Micronesia

The Federated States of Micronesia comprises 607 islands spread across more than 2,500 kilometres of the western Pacific Ocean.

The country is made up of four states — Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Kosrae, each with its own distinct cultural heritage and traditions – but is unified by cultural and economic ties and a shared tropical climate.

These four states all have their own unique character:

  • Yap is known for its thriving traditional culture, seafaring people, and giant stone money.
  • Chuuk is revered among scuba divers from around the world, who come to Truk Lagoon to explore the fleet of sunken WWII Japanese warships that lie under its turquoise waters.
  • Pohnpei is a lush, mysterious garden island, a paradise of mountains, rivers, and waterfalls, and more recently, one of the world’s top surfing destinations. It is home to Nan Madol Ruins, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Kosrae is a quiet, peaceful island with pristine reefs and beaches.

The capital is Palikir in Pohnpei, and the largest city is Weno in Chuuk. The country spans two time zones: Yap and Chuuk are +10 hours ahead of GMT, Pohnpei and Kosrae are GMT +11 hours.

The Federated States of Micronesia receives aid assistance from Australia, the United States of American, Japan, China, and the European Union. The country suffers from relatively high unemployment.

While extreme poverty and hunger are not major issues of concern, poverty persists in the form of deteriorating access to essential social services, such as primary education, health, potable water, and a lack of employment.

Recent history and politics

The Federated States of Micronesia was formed in 1978, and administered by the USA as part of the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands until 1986. At that time the two countries entered into a Compact of Free Association, which guaranteed financial assistance to the Federated States of Micronesia in return for USA authority over matters of security and defence.

The Federated States of Micronesia is governed by the 1979 constitution, which guarantees fundamental human rights and establishes a separation of governmental powers.

The unicameral Congress has fourteen members elected by popular vote. Four senators, one from each state, serve four-year terms; the remaining ten senators represent single-member districts based on population and serve two-year terms. Congress elects the President and Vice President from among the four state-based senators to serve four-year terms. There are no formal political parties.

Australian volunteers in the Federated States of Micronesia

Australian volunteers have supported a wide range of partner organisations in the Federated States of Micronesia to achieve their development goals since 1990.  

Volunteering opportunities in the Federated States of Micronesia support communities across a range of development priorities, including:

  • Improving the quality of basic education
  • Women’s social and economic empowerment
  • Disability inclusiveness
  • Human rights
  • Disaster risk management
  • Climate change

Read about our impact in the North Pacific in 2019-2020

Life as a volunteer in the Federated States of Micronesia

Culture and religion

The nation is made up of many ethnic groups and each of its four states has its own culture and traditions. However, there are common cultural and economic bonds that are centuries old, including the traditional extended family and clan systems.

Micronesian etiquette focuses on displays of respect related to kinship, gender, age, political rank and religious title. Among matrilineal societies, respect for one's mother's brother is marked by the use of polite language and physical avoidance on formal occasions. Women show respect for their husbands by walking behind them in public or serving them first during meals.

Although members of the same sex may hold hands as a sign of friendship, public displays of affection between males and females are extremely rare.

Sharing food with visitors is important, and hosts take pride in providing sustenance to others. Guests are usually fed first and are expected to eat in moderation.

In general, Micronesian etiquette emphasises harmonious, nonassertive, and respectful behavior. In public, people tend to speak cautiously and avoid confrontation with others.

Clothing is casual and conservative: long pants for men and skirts and dresses below the knee for women.

The population is predominately Christian, with Catholicism and Protestantism the two main religions.

Language

English is the official language, however each state recognises its own local language as an official language. English is taught in schools and is the most widely known second language for most Micronesians.

Climate

The Federated States of Micronesia is a tropical nation, with a hot, humid, and rainy climate throughout the year. Pohnpei is one of the wettest places on earth, with up to 8.4 metres of rain per year.

Travel light! It never gets cold in the Federated States of Micronesia, so volunteers don’t need to pack heavy clothing.

Telecommunications

Reliable telecommunication links are available to volunteers.

Accommodation

Volunteers stay in apartments and houses. Volunteers will be supported by the in-country team to find appropriate accommodation, and word of mouth is often the best way to find suitable options. Generally, a six or 12-month rental contract is expected, although some hotels may offer a monthly rate while you search for something suitable.

Food and dining

The main staples in the Federated States of Micronesia are taro, yam, breadfruit, banana, and coconut, of which there are hundreds of varieties. Reef and pelagic fish, crabs, shellfish, pig, and chicken are also a big part of the diet. Pigs, especially in Pohnpei and Kosrae, are raised by nearly every family for ceremonial and cultural purposes, such as weddings, funerals, and feasts of celebration.

Selling and drinking alcohol is illegal in Kosrae.

Transport

Road conditions are good in city areas but in rural areas the roads are paved and driving can be hazardous. There is no formal training in road safety.

Volunteers often purchase second-hand cars from Japan and have them shipped to the Federated States of Micronesia.

Personal safety

Crime rates in Micronesia are relatively low, however, foreigners are more susceptible to crimes like petty theft, and extra care should be taken with belongings.

Mosquitoes are common and can transmit disease. Dengue fever outbreaks occur in Micronesia, and volunteers are recommended to use mosquito repellent at all times (especially at dawn and dusk).

Natural disasters are common, with the Federated States of Micronesia prone to typhoons, severe rain, landslides and earthquakes.

Swimming can be dangerous due to currents and waves. Volunteers should talk to locals about the safest areas to dive and swim.

Accessibility

We’re committed to ensuring that international volunteering is inclusive and accessible to Australians from a range of backgrounds, with diverse perspectives, identities and abilities. 

To support this, access and inclusion plans are available for volunteers with disabilities to assess their needs and ensure their living and working requirements are fully considered. Indigenous Pathways is an Indigenous-led program that focuses on providing culturally safe, flexible and tailored support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander volunteers.

Before applying to take up volunteering opportunities in the Federated States of Micronesia, it is a requirement that you research your assignment location. Successful applicants will discuss expected living and working arrangements with their recruitment officer.