VSA has been in the Solomon Islands since 1965. Our volunteers work with our in-country partners to strengthen education leadership and rural livelihoods, build good governance and promote social development options for urban youth. We are based in Makira-Ulawa, Temotu, Choiseul, Isabel, Western and Guadalcanal Provinces and Honiara. VSA has a field office in Honiara, staffed by an in-country Programme Manager.
Melanie Phillips is a Legal Adviser at the Ministry of Provincial Government and Institutional Strengthening, Solomon Islands. She completes her assignment in February 2014. View Profile
The Solomon Islands has over 900 islands, 5,000 rural villages and 550,000 people. Between 1999 and 2003 it experienced a period of conflict which took a heavy toll on the country and left a need for reconciliation and ongoing peace and security measures. A request for assistance by the Government in 2003 led Australia, New Zealand and other Pacific Island countries to help form the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) which restored peace and security. In 2012 RAMSI began the process of transitioning into a smaller, police-focused mission, removing the military component and working with partners on sustainable development.
"You begin to see the smiles and the colour as opposed to the hungry dogs and the rubbish."
Learn more about living and working in the Solomon Islands.
VSA has a long shared history with the Solomon Islands. Read Russell Priest's story of returning to the place where he had volunteered 44 years ago.
Check out this photo essay illustrating some of the beautiful sights to be seen around the Solomons.
Forestry products are Solomon Islands’ main export, with the logging industry accounting for around 70 per cent of exports and 10 per cent of government revenue. Many of the country’s natural timber resources have been exploited by foreign companies leaving little benefit for the local population.
There are limited formal employment opportunities and over 75 per cent of people have a subsistence lifestyle, depending on agriculture, fishing and forestry for their livelihood.
"Our ethos as an organisation is to deliver development support where and how it is needed, and requested."
Read about how some volunteers currently working in the Solomons are helping to support governance at all levels, from national government to families.
Work: Unemployment rates are high with few vocational training opportunities available to those living in villages. Our volunteers are working in several sectors of the economy, providing advice and skills to develop economic activity that is sustainable. They provide support for locally-owned forestry operations, conservation programmes, tourism ventures and skilled local labourers able to compete in several industries, building roads and water systems.
Transportation is a massive obstacle to development in the Solomon Islands. Read about Simon James' work in road maintenance and construction, building the local skills base.
Education: The numbers of children enrolled in all levels of schooling are some of the lowest in the Pacific region. This, and the shortage of trained teachers and resources, are fundamental challenges to achieving the education needs of young people. A lack of effective leadership within schools is a key restraint to providing quality education.
Our volunteers are working with the Ministry of Education to support national teacher-training initiatives and leadership in primary and secondary schools.
Read more about Laurie Williams' work with the Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development and at King George VI High School.
And check out this photo essay about getting a school library from New Zealand to Etemwarore Primary School - not an easy task.
Read VSA’s education case study inspired by the work of VSA volunteers promoting educational leadership in the Solomon Islands. (38 pages | 4.2MB)
Read about Steve Carter's work with the Solomon Islands schooling system to reduce
Governance: Restoring law and order, and re-establishing governance and public service delivery following the conflict in the early 2000s (at both national and provincial government level) are key governance challenges.
VSA volunteers provide legal advice and input to strengthen policies and procedures. Read about Melanie Phillips's work as a Legal Adviser at the Ministry of Provincial Government and Institutional Strengthening.
VSA assignments usually last two years, so local language training is important. We provide basic language training (pidgin) at the start of assignments and follow up training if necessary during assignment.
Understanding local customs is vital to a successful assignment. People do not usually approach things head on. In Melanesia there is a saying that, 'if you want to enter the front door, you walk all the way around the house first'.
The Solomon Islands is a strongly patriarchal society and holds conservative attitudes about the role of men and women in society. Women tend to socialise with women, and men with men.
We provide our volunteers with basic, furnished accommodation with gas facilities for cooking. In Honiara, you’ll probably have access to power (although power outages can be a daily occurrence), phone, internet, piped water, restaurants, a variety of shops and large expatriate population. Provincial towns are well serviced compared to rural areas, and most have access to power. In rural areas, power will be generator-based if it is available. Mains water supply is not recommended for drinking so boil water, use a purifier, or drink bottled water.
The Solomon Islands is a conservative country and some western style clothing is not appropriate. Loose fitting, light, cotton clothing is best. For men choose long pants, knee length shorts and short sleeved shirts. For women, dresses, skirts and t-shirts are commonly worn – sleeveless shirts are also acceptable. Don’t expose skin above the knee though, especially when attending traditional events. Being barefoot inside the house is the rule and remember that rural areas and provincial towns will be more conservative than Honiara.
Malaria is endemic in the majority of the Solomon Islands and all our volunteers must use malarial prophylaxis. Other precautions are still recommended, such as insect repellent and long sleeves / trousers in the evening if outside and a mosquito net if you are staying in villages. Skin infections can develop quickly so have a good supply of plasters, antibiotic cream and antibiotics. Public hospitals are found in all provincial centres and smaller health centres are scattered throughout rural areas. Health care is basic and you’ll need to be responsible for managing your own health while on assignment.
We provide all volunteers with a thorough security briefing prior to departure and specific local issues are covered during your in-country orientation. In general, there are no problems moving around the majority of Honiara and provincial centres during the day but it is not safe to walk alone in Honiara after dark. Over 98 per cent of land and coastal marine area is in traditional ownership. Strangers cannot wander freely through private or empty land without first seeking permission – always take a trusted local person with you.
We open a local bank account for all volunteers once they arrive in the Solomons where monthly living allowances are paid into. There are ANZ, Westpac and Bank of the South Pacific (BSP) branches in Honiara and all provincial centres have a BSP agent where you can withdraw money. A number of provincial centres also have solar-powered ANZ ATMs but BSP customers must withdraw funds through a teller. Local currency is the Solomon Islands dollar. Visit Westpac for current exchange rates.
The Solomon Islands has two cellular providers – Telekom and Bemobile. Coverage is increasing slowly but is not always reliable. When working, you can text and call internationally, but calls can be expensive. Internet connections are very limited and slow compared to NZ. There are Telekom buildings in the provincial centres and these are often the only places to send and receive faxes, check emails and use public pay phones.