Life in the Solomon Islands

Right now our team is in the Solomon Islands. As one of our closest neighbours, and one of Plan International Australia's focuses in the Pacific, we're here to find out more what life is like for young people growing up here. We want to better understand the challenges that face young women in particular, in a country with statistics that show they will likely face gender based violence in their lifetime if they haven't already. We're here to see the work our partners are doing to fight those statistics and to champion equality and the rights of young people in the country. The best way for us to find out what life is like here is to ask young people in the communities, and (wifi permitting) we wanted to give you the chance to meet them too.

Content and language warning: throughout our trip we've encountered stories of violence (including sexual violence against children) and conflict. Please be aware that language in this blog is uncensored.

DAY 1 | HONIARA

Honiara is the capital city of the Solomon Islands located in the Guadalcanal province. As we’re seeing across the globe, more and more people are gravitating towards the cities in search of jobs or furthering their education, but that doesn’t mean there are opportunities to match the demand.

When we say the city in Honiara we’re talking about a long stretch of road with buildings no higher than a few stories. The long road is plagued with potholes that cause traffic chaos as cars try to navigate around them and each other. It can take hours to crawl through the backed up traffic of vans and utes.

Traffic in Honiara

Vans for days.

Away from traffic the setting around us is a tropical paradise. Palms and banana trees border the roads and the mountains are lush with green. The sea (which we Melburnians remind ourselves is north, not south) is temperamental (a reminder that natural disasters here are a constant threat) but beautiful when still and dotted with fishing boats.

It’s difficult to reconcile the beauty you see and the friendly faces you meet with the statistics you hear about the Solomon Islands. More than half of women and girls here have experienced gender based violence. A third of girls are abused by the time they reach 15. Domestic violence is rife and a large portion of children are engaged in child labour.

Today we’re going on a Safety Walk with a group of girls from a nearby community. They take us to the heart of the area to show the walk they do daily along the main path. The path follows the river that recently claimed the lives of two people when flash flooding hit the area unexpectedly. There are homes here stretching up the mountains, sitting on stilts, some so high up it’s hard to fathom how people can get up there. Neslyn, 20, points up the mountain to where her home is. She says it’s only an eight minute walk to get up there and laughs as we look warily up the steep incline.

We start at the bus stop. There isn't much to indicate that's what it is with no signs or anything but it’s where vans pick people up to take them into town. The girls tell us that at night boys gather here and yell at or touch the girls. The boys drink home brew alcohol that’s incredibly strong and it’s not unusual for girls to end up pregnant.

Elima and Eli — both named Elizabeth and both 20 years old — are in their final year of school and keen to keep studying. Eli wants to become a pharmacist and Elima a marine biologist, but there is no marine biology course the the university here, the only one in the country. For both of the girls it’s likely they’ll need to move abroad to pursue their dreams, if they can afford to do so or get a scholarship. Many of the girls in the community have dropped out of school after falling pregnant or getting married or both.

Girls walk Honiara

Girls Safety Walk.

As the girls walk down the gravel road, vans barrel past sometimes with boys hanging their heads out the window and yelling insults. The girls indicate to a section of the road where Neslyn and her 19-year-old sister Monica’s aunt was raped. The girls walk or catch the bus past this spot every day.

When the girls double back they stand on the ends of the road where water runs through the bridge beneath. Around them boys play in the yard and large black pigs kick up a fuss with a screech. Plastic bags and bottles flow down the river. Here a young woman’s body was found after her boyfriend pushed her down the mountain.

For the girls, this area, the area they go through every day to get into town, is scattered with reminders of harassment and violence. But it’s the only way they can pass through the area from their communities.

At the end of the walk, we take the drone for a spin to show the path the girls have shown us from a birds eye view. The whirring machine hovering up to the sky sees what seems like all the young boys in the area come running from their yards out onto the street to see what’s going on. They look up at the strange object, captivated and running after is as it moves. Some ask Ella, our country program manager, what it is and she tells them it’s a camera. “Make sure you go to school.” She tells the boys. “Then you can become a photographer.”

DAY 2 | ISABEL PROVINCE HONIARA

At midnight we get a message that our flight to Isabel Province has been delayed. It means an extra hour to sleep in but is also consistent with flights to the province that have been delayed and cancelled over previous days.

This morning we’re in the taxi close to the airport when we get the call the flight’s been cancelled. We’d been running against traffic in good time but turning around puts us in the thick of things. We spend the long ride in bumper to bumper traffic contemplating our next move.

We decide to go back to visit the home of Neslyn and Monica. The one Neslyn pointed out yesterday that’s up the mountain. Fortunately we don’t have to walk but as the car teeters from side to side navigating the winding road and uneven dips and potholes walking seems like a more appealing option.

Right now the house has eleven people living there. There’s Neslyn and Monica’s mother Wendy, her husband from a second marriage, five siblings, and a new occupant who is thirty as well as her two week old baby. A week before the baby was born she was kicked out of the house by her mother. Wendy felt sorry for the mum and took her in.

In a small market haus (a small wooden shelter with low benches where Wendy sells food and phone top ups) outside the house we talk to Neslyn and Monica about what life is like for young women in the area. For girls here, they learn about sex and contraception at school and know they can go to the clinic nearby to get the pill and condoms for free. Yet many girls still fall pregnant. Here, if a girl falls pregnant or gets married she is expelled from school.

We ask why they think this still happens. They both feel it is a choice girls make.

Both girls work in the market to help support the family. Well that’s what they tell us, Wendy seems to feel they spend too much time with their friends. The girls talk about pursuing studies and careers, but like the two Elizabeths from yesterday they would be reliant on scholarships to get there. Monica looks up to her aunt who is a nurse, she wants to be like her.

When we ask Wendy about her daughter’s dreams as they go to get their photos taken, she voices her concern and want for them to be able to find jobs now so they can support themselves and their family. She and her husband have worked to keep the girls safe, to make sure they stay away from bad crowds. Her husband is a geologist, so he went to school and university. To them the education of all their children is important. The reality for many young people here though is that is can be hard to find opportunities beyond that.

Monica Wendy and Neslyn Honiara

Monica, Wendy and Neslyn outside their home. Image: Rodney Dekker.

As we wrap up we ask Wendy how she came to be with her husband. Both divorced and with kids it seemed to make sense to bring the families together so they could support each other.

Back at the office we talk to Ella about the difference between “young” and “old” women and girls. You could be 15 years old and married and society here would see you as old and you could be 30 an unmarried and you would be seen as young.

So I believe we have unlocked the key to eternal youth.

DAY 3 | ISABEL PROVINCE WEST GUADALCANAL

Up again, there’s no message of delays and this time we make it to the airport — disconcertingly small for those of us (me) who are terrified of flying — we get our bags weighed and onto the conveyer-belt and we get ourselves weighed with our carry-on luggage which is a slightly confronting exercise.

Then we wait.

Kennedy, our partnerships and program coordinator here sits beside us leaning back with his headphones in. He is pretty confident the flight will be cancelled. Ella in the office looked out the window this morning in the direction of Isabel Province and declared that would be the case.

When it rains in Isabel Province, the runway (which is grass) is slippery and planes can’t fly there. With ten minutes before our flight is scheduled to depart the flight is cancelled. We know Ella will be waiting with an ‘I told you so’.

For us it is slightly inconvenient and just means we’re onto Plan B. But as we’re in the car Lyn, who heads up the Pacific program, tells us about a family who were at the airport and due to get to a funeral. For the many families here who have family members scattered across the provinces, they can miss out on opportunities to visit sick relatives and even miss the chance to say goodbye.

Plan B is to drive to a community on the west coast of Guadalcanal Island (the main island). It will take approximately two hours we’re told, which means it takes about three hours in Solomon Islands time. Kennedy drives us, telling us it would only take an hour if it weren’t for the potholes which run along most of the road on the way there and force cars to slow to a crawl every few meters to get around them.

Potholes in Guadalcanal

Potholes you can swim in.

By the time we arrive it’s almost dark, but some of the kids at one of the local schools and their teachers join us for biscuits. We ask some of the older kids about school and their community. We also ask them about what happens when girls at school fall pregnant. As we learnt yesterday, when girls get pregnant in the Solomon Islands, they’re forced to drop out of school. One of the boys in the group thinks this is okay, that boys should go to school but girls don’t have to. He thinks girls just get into trouble.

The three teachers with the group are Maria, Savina and Denicia. All three have kids. We ask them what they think about girls being expelled from school when they fall pregnant. “I think that if they’ve got a baby, then they leave the baby at home with the parents or a babysitter and they can come go back to school. From my point of view.” Denicia tells us. The others agree with her. “Even when they are not pregnant but they are with boys, they are suspended or expelled.” She says.

The kids and teachers get their photos taken and at the end of the day we sit around the laptop to see the results. The group laugh and tease each other as they see their portraits. We say goodbye and head to bed in our cabins early, tomorrow we’ll be up at 5.30am.

DAY 4 | RUSSELL ISLANDS

We wake up before the sun while the sea is still. “It will be like glass” Lyn has promised us and she’s not far off. Today we’re taking a banana boat to Russell Islands to visit a community where through our local partners Solomon Islands Development Trust (SIDT) we’ve helped teach kids and their communities about climate change.

On the way to Russell Islands

En route to Russell Islands. Image: Rodney Dekker.

The boat ride is only an hour we’re told, which in reality is three hours, but out in the Pacific on the water surrounded by coral, islands, flying fish and even dolphins we don’t mind too much.

There are many islands that make up Russell Islands and the skipper is new and unfamiliar with where we’re going, so we pull into a neighbouring island to ask for directions. We also ask if we can use the bathroom so we’re walked down a path as community members wave and greet us to an overgrown area where the community goes to the bathroom in the bushes. A lot of the islands in this area lack access to running water and sanitation.

Once we know where we’re going we head on to the island where SIDT have been supporting the community through climate change adaption. We meet the chief and the chairman who introduce us to the community. They’re both incredibly proud of what they’ve achieved. They show us a plan that outlines the community, evacuation plans, and how they ensure people with special needs are accounted for if disaster strikes.

Here they have water from tanks, though they don’t have flushing toilets. They plan to get more tanks to support the community. With the knowledge they’ve gained about climate change the community has been building barriers with rocks and planting trees to prevent damage to the coastline. Some families have moved their homes inland. They’re planning for the long-term.

We take the boat to the local school. Most kids have a long walk from the school to the village, or even a boat-ride to neighbouring islands, so they board during the week. But today is Friday so we want to catch them before they head home for the weekend.

We meet the principal, Beslyn, who shows us the new toilet that’s been built in the school with the support of our partnership with SIDT.

Princiap Beslyn Piru Rusell Islands

Principal Beslyn Piru in front of the toilet built with the support of SIDT and Plan International. Image: Rodney Dekker.

Beslyn takes us to meet some of the classes and they tell us what they’ve learn about climate change. They talk about sea level rise, something they can see happening in front of them. 

The bell signals the end of the day and the week and we head back to the village. We talk to some of the women in the community, including Julie, the chairman’s wife. “I’m very proud of him.” She tells us.

“In our community it’s peaceful.” She tells us. “There is no fighting, no drugs here, I think because the chief and the chairman talk hard to the youth.”

We ask all the women who makes the decisions in the community and they all point to the chief and chairman, and they all feel that this is a good thing. We talk to Ruth, 29, who had a child when she was still at school, before she knew how people got pregnant. Now she lives with her four brothers. When we ask Ruth what happens if she disagrees with the chief or chairman she laughs and tell us she wants to listen to them because they are both her uncles.

Margaret is eighteen years old. She’s out of school this year after her parents needed her to help take care of her grandparents but she hopes to go back next year. Her dad has cancer and the hospital is a long and sometimes rough and bumpy boat-ride away, this, and the cost of going to hospital can make it very difficult for the community to access medical care if they get sick.

We speak to another Margaret, who is 58 years old and mother to six children, though one of her boys has died. She’s never married and when she first fell pregnant she was terrified of what her brothers would do to her. So she paid a “fine” so they would keep quiet and not hurt her. All her kids went to school but the youngest girl, who she needs to help out around the home. Margaret supports her family through her garden and goes out on the fishing boat to catch fish for them to eat. 

For our final photo shoot we get to see Margaret go out in the canoe to fish (well pretend to fish, they have strict rules about where they can fish so that they can protect their coral), our photographer, fully dressed, takes all the valuables out of his pockets so he can run into the water and grab the perfect shot.

We jump back into the boat, hoping we can get back to west Guadalcanal before the sun goes down. The way back is bumpy, sitting at the front is pretty brutal, though down the back of the canoe Kennedy’s lying down to take a nap “it’s like a rocking chair.” he tells us later with a laugh.

We ride back towards a rainbow coming down over Guadalcanal. We make it back just before the sun dips behind the water.

School children from our C4A program in Russell Island

Waving goodbye to the kids at the local school who have been learning about climate change.

DAY 5 | WEST GUADALCANAL

In the morning we gather in the dining area of Ben from SIDT’s homestay for breakfast. We know from snippets of conversation that Ben was a kid during the ethnic tensions that saw horrific atrocities take place in Guadalcanal.

Ben grew up in the village where we’re staying. He tells us that is was originally started by six families — around twelve people. Now there are 87 families and SIDT’s community profile shows there are now 500 people in the village with four different tribes. Only the large tribe can marry within the other three tribes. The other three tribes can’t marry between themselves.

The ethnic tensions started between people from the Malaita province and the local Guadalcanal population. More and more people had migrated from Malaita to Guadalcanal, and the two groups started arming themselves with weapons including homemade guns. People were killed, boys were forced to join in the fight, property was stolen and houses were burnt to the ground with families fleeing into the bush at night and living in constant fear.

The conflict came to an end with the introduction of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), led by Australia and New Zealand alongside representatives of six Pacific nations in 2003. The operation ended officially last year. Ben feels confident that the people of Malaita and Guadalcanal will be able to continue to coexist peacefully.

Together we go to one of the local schools who we’re hoping to work with through SIDT to improve access to water and sanitation. We take turns sitting with the girls first and then the boys to ask them what they want to be when they grow up. There are plenty of future doctors, nurses, teachers and even a few future pilots.

At the school there’s no access to water or toilets. If kids have to go to the bathroom they use the beach, the boys on one side, the girls on the other.

Who washes their hands after they go to the bathroom?

About three girls and one boy (out of about 14 kids) raise their hands.

And what happens if you don’t wash your hands?

Diarrhoea the kids say rubbing at their bellies.

The teachers say that because they’re going out to the beach to use the bathroom (a stunning beach that tourists will sometimes unknowingly swim in), there’s no tap there that would remind them to wash their hands.

school bathroom 

Beach/toilet.

We speak to Anna, 40, a teacher at the school who has four kids and has taught at many schools before this one, none with the issues with water like this one has. Stella 22, and also a teacher is proudly independent. She has her own place here at the school and feels that being single means she has freedom to do the job she loves.

Both Anna and Stella love the school but the difficulties with lack of water facilities mean they both feel they’ll have to leave unless it improves.

We wait for our second car to pick us up outside the school with the first one that's packed and ready to go. Anna’s little boy Daniel takes it in, fascinated as he inspects all the parts while walking from the rear to the front of the vehicle.

Anna tells us Daniel wants to be a truck driver when he grows up. We ask if he wants his photo taken in front of the car. He stares at the camera intently, striking poses. With that we’re on our way again.

DAY 6 | ISABEL PROVINCE

Alright team let’s try this again.

We’re prepped for a 6am flight to Isabel province which means a 4am start. Fortunately we get a call that the flight’s been delayed until 7am which is an extra hour to sleep in.

Up at 5am we’re ready for our early flight. At the airport the gate isn't open yet. The flight gets delayed for a couple of hours.

But at ten to eight we’re summoned to the gate and ready to board the very modest plane that will take us to Isabel.

As I mentioned earlier, the runway is Isabel is grass, which is why we’ve had so many cancelled flights. When it rains (and it rains a lot in Isabel), the grass is slippery. Today we have no such problems and as the plane lands there are people lined up with trolleys of luggage ready to board the flight back.

plane to Isabel

This grass runway is the culprit for all the cancellations.

The airport is by the beach. People arrive and depart on boats hauling their luggage across the sand. We do the same and take our boat to go and visit our partners at the Mothers Union.

Today is Mother’s Day, a huge celebration in the Solomon Islands that starts on Saturday and goes through to Sunday where everyone gathers at church. On the drive back from West Guadalcanal yesterday we had seen communities out burning rubbish, tidying up the gardens and tying decorations up along the road for the occasion. Today we’ve been invited by Mother’s Union to a ceremony where participants in the positive parenting program that we support will receive their certificates.

The program is aimed at mums and dads to help equip them to respond to the growth and development of their kids, to build community support networks in order to reduce domestic violence and to empower women and girls in particular to exercise more leadership in communities.

At the ceremony, we see different groups gather in the centre of the community building to sing and dance. First up are the kids, who work through their routine with traditional sticks topped with chicken feathers. Next the dads take to the stage, facing the mums and putting on a dance with song broken up into harmonies. Then finally the mums step up. I sit next to Edith who is 66 years old and a proud great grandmother. She explains some of the lyrics to me as the women gesture drinking and smoking. It’s about the women asking for money and the men saying they have no money, they spent it on drinking and smoking. The group laugh as one of the women rushes to grab a can and crack it open along to the words.

As the certificates are awarded Edith speaks to the group followed by 39 year old Henry. We get the chance to talk to them individually later that evening.

Edith tells us that when she first joined positive parenting she became emotional when she realised the topics being addressed resonated in her own home. She and Henry tell us a common story of husbands who will go out with their friends and spend their time and money away from their children drinking. For Henry in particular, the positive parenting program has helped to shift his outlook and work in partnership with his wife in raising their kids. For Edith, it’s changed the way she approaches parenting and she hopes to continue to support her children, grandchildren and now great-grandchild with a positive upbringing.

DAY 7 | ISABEL PROVINCE

Today we’re due back at the Mothers Union. We’re taking a car there and then a boat back, but when the car doesn’t arrive we decide to walk down the very steep and rocky road to the boat. As we look out to the sea we can see the tide is low and the boat is too far up the bank to push back into the water. We call a ute but the driver gets stuck in mud on the way and can’t come. Finally we have another ute come and collect us. We hop up into the back tray and we’re on our way.

We talk with Rodney, a police officer in the community, and his wife Hellen who tends to two of their kids Mark, who’s four and Leslie who’s a year old.

Rondney’s t-shirt reads "Family Violence Team". As a police officer, Rodney’s confronted with cases of domestic violence frequently. He tells us that often the women will take their husbands to jail after they’ve been beaten, but come back some time later asking for them to be released because they and their kids are dependant on the men to provide for the family.

Rodney faces the challenge of enforcing the law when it goes against community and church practices. He tells us about when a nine-year-old girl was raped by her grandfather. The community felt they had dealt with the situation. The law dictates the man must be taken away to jail.

We ask Rodney how the Positive Parenting program has impacted him and Hellen. For Rodney it’s about the way they raise their children, but he also tells us it’s helped him understand that there aren’t set “women’s” roles and “men’s” roles and that the two of them can work together in raising their family.

Rodney  and Hellen with their family

Helen with Leslie (one) and Rodney with Mark (four). Image: Rodney Dekker.

We take a boat out with Frieda from our partner organisation, Live and Learn. They’ve been working in the province to help address issues like hygiene and eradicating open defecation (people going to the toilet out in the open). In Isabel Province, the communities have good access to water, but the sanitation coverage like access to toilets is extremely low.

In the boat on the way to the first community we’re visiting we ask Frieda about how Live and Learn works with communities. Forewarning, the “s” word is about to come up a lot. I’m not going to censor it, because as Frieda tells us, it’s a very important word. She and her team go into communities and talk to chiefs specifically about using the word "shit" in their programming. It’s easily understood, universal and describes what it is.

Live and Learn uses processes like “shit mapping” to show communities what happens when they go to the bathroom in the sea or the rivers or the bush. The shit inevitably flows down to the water they swim in and where they catch their fish. Basically, they then end up eating shit. And people get sick.

We arrive at our first community and are greeted by the retired reverend John who is 72 years old. He tells us he worked as a minister during the ethnic tensions in Guadalcanal alongside the peace efforts of RAMSI.

We talk to Eric who’s the chairman in the community and has passionately brought people together to build their toilets. It’s an important aspect of Live and Learn’s work, that the community themselves take ownership over sourcing the materials for and building toilets that they will use.

We speak to a group of girls who aren’t in school but want to study further at the training centres. In these communities, people are self-sufficient and can live off the land, but they don’t necessarily have money. So when it comes to fees for school (or hospitals) their options are limited.

We also speak to Veronica who is 52 with four grown children and is impatient for her first grandchild. Veronica worries about her daughters getting into trouble, and often shoos boys away from the house if they come looking for them. It’s not hard to imagine, Veronica is fierce (but also lovely).

We meet Thomas who is 63 and currently constructing his own toilet and get some pictures of him at work. This community has taken on the role of building their own toilets so they can stay safe and healthy. It’s wonderful to see (and to know as we wade through the water and hop into the boat on the way home that’s it’s not being used for anything it shouldn’t be).

DAY 8 | ISABEL PROVINCE

It's our last day in Isabel Province. After all the effort to get here it's been incredible to see the stunning scenery and get an understanding of how communities work together to tackle the challenes they face.

We travel with Frieda to a community to hear a chorus of kindergarteners in song. Just like we heard on Mothers Day, the harmonies are beautiful.

Simon is the community chairman here. He calls the community together using a megaphone as the kindergarten kids wrap up their class. At just 39 years old he’s the youngest chairman we’ve seen.

In this community, they had toilets already, but nobody used them. There are a few reasons for this, the first is that there wasn’t the water access for them to be effective. When we speak to some of the women though they tell us they preferred to go in the sea. Fish shit in the sea after all, they tell me. It’s difficult to argue with that.

We speak to a group of girls about access to the toilet, but also what happens when they get their periods. Here they use cloth rather than pads which are expensive. If they can’t afford pads, they use the cloth. We also ask if they feel like they have a say in decisions made in the community. They feel that here, like in many communities, young women go unheard.

Live and Learn is working with this community to ensure the new toilets built are ones they have ownership of and that they’ll want to use.

For our final visit in Isabel we visit the community school. We meet headmaster James in his office which is full of stacks of paper for all the classes and charts on the walls of the teachers, the responsibilities and the schedules for the days of the week. Ominously there’s a slot on Friday afternoons for “punishment”.

Here, Frieda and the Live and Learn team run a workshop with the kids where they talk through all the different names for poo and have this handy diagram which gets plenty of giggles from the kids (and us):

Learning about poo

It’s a great day at the office talking about poo.

The team talk about diseases and diarrhoea and the impact that has and then they do a shit mapping exercise with the kids to plot out the school, the beach and the rivers . They use pink flowers to plot out where they all use the bathroom. They then show them how that ends up in their water and their food.

On the side of each classroom there are plastic bottles and soap on strings for kids to wash their hands. They’re all well and good but now, with the support of Live and Learn the kids have access to a way cooler and more effective method for washing their hands with a tap constructed using a plastic pipe with holes in it set up in a trough so kids can line up and wash their hands at the same time.

Back at our accomodation we have the chance to talk to Frieda. At just 30 years old Frieda goes into communities to talk to chiefs and communities to drive change. When she was at school she was quite shy, but now she’s so confident in her role and the chiefs are even trying to convince her to run to be a ward.

Frieda tells us about her motivation through her studies. Neither of her parents finished their studies, but her father, the chief in the community, wanted to see her finish hers.
“One day when me, my mother and my father went to the garden to plant peanuts — because my parents usually planted peanuts to market and buy my school fee — so when we were in the garden there was a plane passing us and my father said: 'see, those that have a good education can go into that plane. How about you?' That’s the challenging question that my father gave when we were in the garden. So I said one day I will be in that plane”

Frieda’s first plane ride wasn’t on a little plane like the one she and her parents saw. It was on a big plane to university in Suva, Fiji to do environmental studies. Now she’s driving change in communities, doing incredible things for the people of Isabel Province.

DAY 9 | HONIARA

It’s our last full day in Honiara. Today we’re visiting the team at Youth@Work, a youth-led organisation helping young people find employment. Plan International supported the Youth@Work Plus program that focussed on supporting young people with a disability to find accessible work.

We visit the office which is full of young people in training. Here we meet the teams who work with young people to identify where they want to do internships to help them find jobs that will support their particular needs and meet the communications team behind the youth magazine ‘YOSI’.

We’re introduced to Immakulata who is 23 years old and an entrepreneur. She owns a stall at the market where she sells food like barbecue chicken. Immakulata is deaf so our questions and answers travel back and forth through Auslan, Pijin and English but she’s very patient with us and we start to pick up some of the words. Youth@Work supported Immakulata to set up her business and now she hopes to use the funds she earns to save up for her young daughter’s education.

Youth@Work supports young people to either find an internship or start up their own business. For young people with a disability, entrepreneurship is often a choice through necessity, as many businesses aren’t equipped to support them. Immakulata and her husband, who is also deaf juggle earning a living and raising a young girl with support from Immakulata’s mother who helps her with the business.

Close by is Solomon Islands Pacific Community (SPC) where Janet, 20, works as a receptionist. SPC support the Youth@Work program and have helped to ensure Janet can get to work each day. Janet had to drop out of school because she lived too far away and her physical disability meant walking to school each day was too difficult.

Now, Janet has transport that takes her to and from work organised by SPC. She loves her job as a receptionist and wants to keep working and be able to support her family.

DAY 10 | HONIARA

And that’s (almost) a wrap.

Here I want to emphasise the work of our local team in the Solomon Islands who are supporting local partners doing exciting, innovative, compassionate and community-driven work. They all have their own stories that we hope to share over the months to come. They are dedicated to a better future for young people in the Solomon Islands and while the task before them is immense, complicated and always challenging, I can’t think of a group of people better suited to the job.

There are some burning questions that remain, that we want to follow up with our team and with decision makers. Policies like girls being expelled from school when they fall pregnant; communities where alcohol is everywhere and alcoholism is destroying families; horrendous and unacceptable statistics around domestic violence and sexual violence and dangerous gender stereotypes.

What’s heartening though is that wherever we went we saw strong communities who see it as their role to overcome these challenges together.

For our final visit of the day we head to the Ministry of Women, Youths, Children and Family Affairs. What’s encouraging is that these issues are on their radar, and we hope to see policies that recognise this in practice in the future.
 
Stand against domestic violence
 
Over 60% of women and girls experience gender based violence in the Solomon Islands and over 70% think it's acceptable.

This is just a tiny (but admittedly very long — thank you for persevering!) snapshot of life here and the 100+ we met with inspiring, shattering, complex, hilarious and unique stories. What it drives home is that we have so much to learn from our neighbours in the Pacific, and the work our partners and local team are doing is something to be truly proud of.

END.

P.S. Writing this final entry from the airport where our plane has been delayed. You never know, there could be a day 11 in the works.

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