Published on 8th May 2014
Since flash floods hit the Solomon Islands at the beginning of April, several VSA volunteers have been working with their partner organisations and other NGOs on the recovery effort.
Solomon Islands Programme Manager Alexa Funnell says “VSA’s skilled volunteers have really been able to apply their knowledge and experience to help in some critical areas of recovery.”
Ken Lewis is volunteering as a Communications Adviser for The Nature Conservancy in Honiara. Alexa offered his services to the Red Cross, who’d just lost their communications person the week before the floods who were keen to take advantage of Ken’s skillset.
With the world’s media focussed on the Solomon Islands, Ken helped manage interview requests and prepare the Deputy Secretary General of Red Cross Solomon Islands, Clement Manuri, for TV and radio interviews.
When Red Cross NZ’s Communications Adviser arrived in Honiara to share the load, Ken said he was able to turn his attention to the local media “to tell Solomon Islanders what was happening and pass on requests for volunteers and donations of equipment and relief supplies."
Squashing rumours was an important aspect, Ken adds. “For example, there were rumours about cash payments being made to flood victims, or about the purity of drinking water Red Cross was shipping to evacuations centres. I helped to correct these using the media.”
Ken has now returned to his volunteer assignment with The Nature Conservancy.
Blair Millar, who volunteers with World Vision, was responsible for much of the TV news footage seen on Kiwi screens. In addition to capturing footage in and around Honiara, Blair has also been working on putting together videos for World Vision to aid their fundraising for the recovery effort. Blair’s partner Rachael, also a World Vision/VSA volunteer, has been working on distributing food and water to evacuee shelter.
UniVols Lance Cash and Emily Steel have both been volunteering with the Honiara City Council, and Lance says “I found myself right in the centre of the action.” He undertook an essential “background” role – information management for Honiara City Council’s Emergency Operations. Lance and Emily gathered data from other emergency response agencies, liaised with NGOs, embassies and Government ministries, in order to report on the response.
While Lance is now moving back to his assignment, he says “the emergency response is also merging with my usual role. I am now planning for public consultations on land ownership issues that have emerged from the Honiara flash floods.”
Simon Trotter, the first of the VSA/Downer NZ cadets, was volunteering with the Solomon Islands Ministry of Education looking at improving derelict school infrastructure when the floods set in. Now his attention has turned to assessing the damage caused. He says many schools are now being used as evacuation centres for the thousands made homeless.
“It was 100 people to a single classroom at one of the worst I visited.” But while the need for food, water and shelter is still desperate, Simon says “using the schools as centres presents a big problem for the Ministry of Education. The main goal of Ministry is to provide continued safe education opportunities for children, which is very difficult when half of the schools in Honiara now contain thousands of evacuated people.”