Burns Creek School - Solomon Islands
 

The Solomon Islands consists of over 900 islands along two volcanic chains in the south-west Pacific Ocean.  The Solomon Islands was granted independence in 1978, and has a population of over 600,000, who are predominantly Melanesian.

The Society in Australia has one twin in the Solomon Islands – St Louis de Montfort in Burns Creek which is twinned with St Joseph’s Conference in Nyngen, NSW.  Burns Creek is a ‘settlement’ which means that is it government land that people have been occupying for the past 20 years or so. There is no running water or sewerage, no mains electricity and roads are gravel and severely potholed.

A striking feature of the settlement is the number of children. Part of the work of the conference members is to care for children from broken relationships in the community. Many seemed to have extra “adopted” children and it is normal for families to take in children who do not have adequate care.

The Vice President of the Society in the Solomon Islands, and St Louis de Montfort conference member, Sr Julian Ketai, started a school in Burns Creek three years ago because of the many children in the settlement with no access to education.  The school is a special work of the Society in the Solomon Islands, and is run by a Board from the local parish and community.  

The school has two sections, an early childhood education school (ages 3-6) and a primary school.  Both are built from wood and pandanus palm with dirt floors and no windows. The facilities in the classrooms are basic and there are up to 60 children in each class.  There are 780 students and 12 teachers, some of whom are part time volunteers.

      

Sr Julian is herself a volunteer who commits her time to the running of the school and has been described by Western visitors as a ‘living saint’.  This term does not sit comfortably with her, but aptly describes her selfless commitment to her community through the work of the Society, which is seen replicated in many countries that Australia twins with by Vincentians who themselves, often lack what we in Australia consider to be ‘the basics’.   

The Society in Australia is looking at ways to further develop twinning relationships in the Solomon Islands, and to provide support to the work of the school through project funding.

 
Spotlight on Myanmar
 

The Republic of the Union of Myanmar is a south-east Asian nation comprising of more than 100 ethnic groups.  Previously known as Burma (since the 19th Century), Burma gained independence from Britain in 1948 and is almost the size of New South Wales.  Its population is 54 million.  The largest city is Yangon (formerly Rangoon), the second largest city is Mandalay, 600 km north of Yangon.

While English is not widely used throughout the country it is being studied by young people in schools in the cities. The common language used for communication nationally is Burmese.

The St Vincent de Paul Society was established in Myanmar in 1883, with the National Council being instituted in 1978.   Most of the Society’s conferences are from about 200 km south of Yangon to the highlands in the far north of the country, approaching the border with India.

Myanmar is twinned with Australia as its sole donor, and currently there are 83 active twinning relationships with Australian conferences, mostly located in Victoria.  The Myanmar National Council is going through a process of aggregating conferences and there are a number of conferences in Myanmar available to be twinned with Australian conferences.  For more details on twinning with a conference in Myanmar, please contact the Overseas Development Program Facilitator.

 

Ozanam Natural and Organic Cosmetics Project

Seeing a need and market for more affordable and safe physical hygiene and beauty products in Myanmar, St Peter’s Conference in Mandalay submitted a project proposal through their National Council last year.  The project requested funds to setup a workshop and provide training for young people in the manufacture of hand-made organic soap and cosmetics.  Small business training was also included to build the capacity of young people trained to seek employment or commence self-employment.

                          

An active member of the conference volunteered to provide the training required from her own skills and small business experience.  While providing income for the youth involved, the project also aims to provide some profits to the conference for its continued good works, and in bringing Christ to local ‘Friends in Need’.

The Gardenvale Conference in Victoria funded the project, which is unique in terms of being initiated, developed and driven by young people, as well as benefitting young members of the local community.  The project workshop has been completed and three training sessions undertaken, with 57 young men and women being trained.  

The ‘Ozanam Natural and Organic Cosmetic’ business is licenced and registered to operate in Myanmar, and has developed its business logo.  Some project funds will assist with enabling production to commence.

 

 

Agricultural Project in Medan, Indonesia
 
In January 2018, Kristus Raja Conference in Medan, Indonesia submitted a project application for an Onion Growing Project to St Vincent de Paul Australia.  The project was kindly funded by Kristus Raja’s Australian twin, St Michael’s Conference in Thirroul, NSW.  The Australian Donor provided 27,120,000 IDR (equivalent to approximately AUD 2,600), and some additional funds for the project were also sourced locally from conference members and friends in the community. The aim of the Onion Project was to assist farmers in the local community to improve their income by growing, harvesting and selling onions.  
 
Phase 1

The onion plant is a quick maturing plant, taking about four months in local conditions from planting to harvesting.  Onion seeds were purchased and provided to farmers for them to plant and cultivate. Unfortunately, before the onions were ready to be harvested, Mount Sinabung, which is not far from the cropping fields, erupted and destroyed the onion plants.  The local conference members then set about coming up with another idea to expend the remaining funds of the project and to help farmers in the area.

Phase 2
 
Some research into another more robust crop to try determined that coffee plants are more tolerant of ash and high temperatures associated with volcanic eruptions.  Although coffee plants take three yearsto producea harvestable crop, the beauty of this crop is that it the trees will continue producing harvests for years to come, therefore producing a more sustainable source of income.  The conference located a nearby parish with an established coffee plantation that was a bit rundown and needed some work.  This local plantation was used as a training facility for farmers who were beneficiaries of the project.  Education and training about planting and growing seeds, organic fertilisation, insecticides and pruning trees was given to beneficiary farmers. 
 
In May 2018, the first trial was conducted by buying and distributing 6,500 coffee seedlings to 32 farmers.  A second trial involving the distribution of 6,000 seedlings to an additional 30 farmers commenced in September 2018.  The seeds to grow the seedlings for the second trial were sourced from the harvest of the existing plantation, which had started to produce coffee beans after the conference worked to maintain the plantation.  Additional seeds from this harvest were also sold (unprocessed) at the local market providing a source of income.
 
In 2019, another 20,000 seedlings are planned to be grown from seeds from the plantation, and distributed to around 100 families.  So by the end of the year, this project will have benefitted 162 farmers and their families.
 
 
Phase 3
On realising that lower prices are paid for unprocessed coffee beans as opposed to processed beans, another phase of the project was initiated.  Coffee beans were purchased and dried, roasted and ground to be sold as higher-value coffee powder.  The plan was that when the coffee plantation started producing enough fruit, then this value-add process could be added to the project.  Unfortunately, the conference member managing this process had an accident and this activity could not continue because of lack of manpower and expertise required for processing the coffee beans.
 
While waiting for their coffee plants to mature, farmers are planting other quick maturing crops, such as potato, carrot, cabbage and chilli to support themselves. Although there is still small eruptions happening occasionally which can affect the young crops, farmers are able to produce some income to support themselves and their families.
 
 
 
This project is a great example of the work that can be done through the St Vincent de Paul overseas partnership program.  Often an initial injection of funding, as provided by the St Michael’s conference, is all that is needed to give people a bit of a kick-start.  In this case, the Kristus Raja conference met challenges and came up with an alternative sustainable plan, used existing resources at their disposal, and extended the project to benefit the community.  This project has the potential to continue to multiply its benefits and make a real and long-lasting difference to the lives of members of the local community.