Nick Taylor volunteered 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 completed his assignment in July 2017.
Published on 16th August 2017
As he finishes up his volunteering stint in the Solomon Islands, Nick Taylor contemplates what he learned along the way...
Three months in the Solomons as a Downer / VSA volunteer was a great experience. It is something I will not forget in a hurry. The Solomon people were amazing during my time, particularly those at the Ministry of Education (MEHRD) who I got to know well.
The people are friendly, welcoming, up for a laugh, and generally good sorts. I rarely came across anyone who I didn’t get on with. The same can be said for people I met in the expat community.
My experience in the Solomons was something I could not predict. You can only understand what it is like once you are there. Living in a developing country was an eye opener in a lot of ways - it made me realise how different life can be for some people, and how these people can respond to their situation. The Solomon Islanders adapt to their circumstances and make the most of life as they know it.
Working with the Solomon Islands Ministry of Education was a new and rewarding experience. The team was great to work with and very welcoming to new volunteers. The work I helped with was split into two main areas:
1. The infrastructure team (my team) helped facilitate the planning, design and execution of 40 new classroom builds across the Solomons. My main contribution here was working with the team to impart advice and implement achievable systems and processes. These processes would help the team to project manage the classroom builds and ensure savings could be made in terms of time, effort and money. Working with the team was key to implementing new systems to ensure they would take ownership of them and want to use them after volunteers leave.
2. I helped create awareness and processes for disaster response procedures. My team planned and ran the Ministry’s first ever fire drill. This was (mostly) successful and something the locals found very amusing. The next step is an earthquake drill and then adaptation of the systems to be used in schools across the Solomons. This was a major challenge, as approval of new processes is a slow and difficult job. Success happened in my last week and the fire drill took place on my last day!
General life in the Solomons was easy going and a lot of fun. There are a lot of activities to keep you busy and entertained. During my spare time, I did the following:
Further advice to people who are thinking of applying to volunteer:
New volunteers should be aware of how great people in the Solomons are. This goes for the locals and expats. Both groups are very welcoming and friendly. If a small amount of effort is made on one’s behalf, a new volunteer can quickly feel comfortable and welcome. This is definitely the response I (and others) have had.
Volunteers should embrace the local customs and cultures. I believe this is what made my experience such a positive one. New volunteers should be aware that the Solomon Islands is not a threatening place and is safe as long as you make smart decisions. These smart decisions can include not walking alone at night, not displaying money in public and not attempting to engage with aggressive or suspicious people.
In summary, I had a great time in the Solomon Islands. Friends who have been there in the past told me I would enjoy life there. Once I went, met the people, started work and began life as a Honiara resident, this was quickly confirmed.
The experience is something that I would strongly recommend to anyone contemplating it.