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.
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.
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.
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.