For each of the six weeks of Lent, the Diocese of Parramatta is sharing one of Caritas Australia’s feature stories of lives changed through support and empowerment programs.
SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT –1 March 2021
Margret, Solomon Islands
Margret, 39, is a teacher at a vocational school for deaf students in the Solomon Islands. Having been born deaf herself, she knows the challenges that this poses to education and employment. She enjoys teaching students practical life skills that will help them earn a living. However, the school faced water shortages for about half the year. Staff and students had to walk off campus twice a day to collect water. Then Tropical Cyclone Harold struck, damaging school buildings as the threat of COVID-19 loomed.
With Caritas Australia’s support, Margret’s school was able to install water tanks, repair school property, and help prevent the spread of coronavirus. As a result, the school is able to maintain its own water supply for drinking, cooking and washing. It’s also boosting food security by increasing its agricultural production to build resilience in the face of future disasters.
Margret says her early childhood was difficult until she learnt sign language at the age of seven.
“I faced discrimination. My needs felt neglected and I felt excluded from the community,” Margret says. But after she learned sign language, “I could communicate with my other deaf friends. It reduced my frustrations, and made me feel more confident and happy.”
As she grew older, she was keen to share her knowledge with others. She studied life skills and home economics before attending teacher’s college.
In 2009, Margret started working at the San Isidro Care Centre, a vocational school for deaf and non-verbal students. The live-in school in Guadalcanal province is the only educational facility of its kind in the Solomon Islands, and aims to equip students with the skills to make a living.
Margret is now married with a two-year-old daughter, and teaches sign language and life skills like sewing, cooking, nutrition, hygiene and hospitality to teens and adults. Some of her students have never been to school before.
Growing up in Honiara, Margret was used to water always being available. However, sourcing sufficient water at the school was an ongoing challenge.
Its four small tanks always ran out of water quickly or remained empty during the dry season. Staff and students would have to walk for up to half an hour to collect the water they needed for drinking, cooking, washing and growing vegetables.
Although the Solomon Islands is a nation surrounded by water, it still experiences drought and water shortages. Around 40% of people in rural areas in the Solomon Islands don’t have access to even basic drinking water supplies, which can lead to the spread of communicable diseases like cholera and typhoid.
In 2019, with the support of Caritas Australia, the school was able to install eight large water tanks and a rainwater harvesting system. This meant the school was able to catch and store sufficient drinking water to supply students and staff throughout the entire year. Students also gained carpentry, building and plumbing skills by helping to install the water tanks, tank stands and guttering.
Then Tropical Cyclone Harold struck in April 2020, destroying the roof of a staff house and damaging the school’s vegetable garden. This led to food shortages as the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic loomed.
Caritas Australia supported the school by providing cyclone-proof materials to repair the damaged staff house. It helped the school raise awareness about COVID-19 prevention measures, including how to install makeshift ‘tippy taps’ outside classrooms to ensure students washed their hands. Also providing fabric for students to make face masks to protect themselves, their family and community.
Thanks to Caritas Australia’s supporters, the school now has access to sufficient, safe water to supply the school’s population of 150 – and students are able to focus on their studies. With the increased water supply, the school can also cater for more students. The improved water infrastructure and food security will benefit generations of students to come.
“Water is always available now for drinking, washing, bathing, gardening,” Margret says. “Unlike before, when we had to go 25 minutes away to collect water during the dry season. Water is so important for our life, our music and culture.”
“This Caritas Australia-supported project massively improved the school’s water supply, sanitation, hygiene, and overall wellbeing of the students and staff of the school,” says Dennis Uba, Caritas Australia’s Solomon Islands Country Representative.
Through Margret’s example, San Isidro students can look forward to a future of dignity and generosity. She hopes that the school community will also aspire to ‘Be More’ by working together to strengthen its food security.
With Caritas Australia’s support, the school hopes to upscale poultry production, add livestock and diversify its vegetable garden using drought-resilient seedlings. This will improve the nutrition of staff and students, as well as boosting the school’s income. In the spirit of St Oscar Romero, ‘We plant the seeds that one day will grow.’
“I am proud that our school community works together with Caritas Australia as our partner in ensuring that we live in a healthier environment,” Margret says.
“Thank you very much, Caritas Australia. Thank you very much, Project Compassion.”
You can talk to on the ground workers and staff through Caritas Australia’s virtual immersion sessions. Details here.
To donate to Project Compassion, you can donate through Parish boxes and envelopes, by visiting www.caritas.org.au/projectcompassion or calling 1800 024 413.
With thanks to Caritas Australia.
 World Bank 2017 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.H2O.BASW.RU.ZS?locations=SBA