Nick Taylor is volunteering as a Infrastructure Adviser with the Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development (MEHRD) in Solomon Islands as part of the VSA Partnerships programme. He will complete his assignment in July 2017.
Published on 19th May 2017
A small hiccup of fog in Christchurch meant that I missed my connecting flight to Honiara. So I ended up staying a night in Brisbane before making it to Honiara the following day. After this false start, the first week and a half has gone really well.
It was an eye opening experience coming off the plane and driving into town with the VSA Programme Manager for the first time. The country is vastly different from New Zealand in heaps of ways – much hotter, completely different culture and evidence that it is more under-developed. However, the people have been very friendly and easy to get along with. After a week I am already much more settled and feel comfortable negotiating daily life in Honiara.
The first week was made up of four days of VSA orientation and a few days of work. The orientation gives you a good footing and covers the general dos and don’ts of Solomons life. You get a taste of the language, the culture and how to complete day to day tasks.
Exploring around and living with the Downer volunteer who is already here (Howie) and other VSA volunteers has also been a massive help in adapting to local life. This was the best way to become settled and confident in Honiara.
I am currently in my second week of work. It has been good to meet the team and get a sense of what we do and what our purpose is. The asset management team for the Ministry of Education is currently made of up of six people – five Solomon Islanders and the one Downer volunteer. The team’s purpose is to facilitate the construction of new schools and manage the existing schools as assets. There are over a thousand schools currently on the numerous islands and 44 new projects for 2017.
Howie has given me the details of what he (and other Downer volunteers) have worked on and what the logical progression of these tasks is. It is more clear what work needs to be done (organising classroom tenders, inspecting current school construction, helping other team members and so on). I think capacity building with the local team is the most important task and possibly will be the hardest. A good goal to have nonetheless.
I am off on my first work trip or ‘tour’ already – heading to a remote island called Isabel, where I will inspect the roof of a large classroom / dormitory building. I will be comparing what the contractors have built to the construction drawings and looking for any major issues (with the guidance of the design team). It seems there will be a large cross-over of contact with different stakeholders (contractors, Ministry, designers etc.) in relation to the construction of new schools and facilities.
I have been lucky enough to have done a fair bit of exploration around the Solomons already. My first weekend was spent walking to a remote waterfall just out of Honiara. This was a great spot and we saw remnants of a WW2 Japanese plane in the jungle!
The weekend just gone was spent out of Honiara in a ‘resort’ called Maravagi. This was a 90 minute banana boat ride from Honiara. Again, it was another epic place with lots to do and plenty of good snorkelling.
I will imagine the next 10 weeks will race by, but so far it has been a very good experience.