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.
Fifth Sunday of Lent – 3 April 2022
Shaniella, Solomon Islands
Shaniella grew up in a remote village in the Solomon Islands in a province which has limited educational and job opportunities – and one of the country’s highest poverty rates. After leaving school, she decided to move closer to the capital city, Honiara, to study hospitality and tourism. However, her vocational training school was hit by a landslide and cyclone in quick succession, destroying its water supply system and the vegetable garden that it relies on for food.
With your generous support, Caritas Australia has helped the school to install water tanks, re-establish its garden and provided training in disaster risk reduction. Shaniella can now complete her job skills training and the school has enough food and water for its students. She is also better prepared when disaster strikes and can share her knowledge with her community back home.
Shaniella, 23, grew up in a village in the Solomon Islands’ southern Makira province, with her father, mother and three brothers. Her father is a primary school teacher and her mother is a homemaker.
She studied until grade 11 at a local school but was unable to complete her final year, as she did not pass the exam required by the Solomon Island’s education system to enter grade 12. With the poverty rate in Makira province at around 32 per cent , she knew that without relevant job skills, she would struggle to earn a living.
Girls’ and women’s participation in secondary education, training and employment in the Solomon Islands is significantly lower compared to male students . Limited opportunities in remote areas, few live-in facilities at colleges away from home and community attitudes relating to the traditional roles of women, all contribute to their lower participation rates. 
In 2020, Shaniella decided to move away from home to study at a Rural Training Centre outside the capital, Honiara. The vocational school is supported by Caritas Australia Solomon Islands (CASI), through the Happy, Healthy, Holistic Community Development program.
It caters mainly for young women who come from lower socio-economic backgrounds, although it is now starting to enrol male students also. Some students did not pass qualifying tests in the country’s formal education system but would like to continue learning. Others have missed out on school altogether but are keen to learn vocational skills.
Shaniella chose to study hospitality and tourism, in addition to compulsory subjects, like life skills, cooking, sewing and agricultural production.
However, the school is in a particularly disaster-prone area of the Solomon Islands, at risk of tsunamis, flooding and landslides. Not long after Shaniella started, the school was hit by a landslide, flooding, and a cyclone, all in quick succession.
“I was in school that time when the landslide occurred,” Shaniella says. “I was devastated because I had no knowledge of what to do and where to get information. I saw students in the school panic, I could hear people’s screaming, crying and shouting, as if the world is going to end. It was a bad experience for me, especially because I am here, leaving my family at home in another island.”
The landslide destroyed the school’s main source of water, a gravity-fed system which Caritas Australia Solomon Islands (CASI) had helped to rehabilitate in 2011. It also damaged school buildings and devastated the garden which the school relies on for food.
With your kind support, CASI was able to help the school to install eight water tanks. This restored students’ access to clean drinking water and the ablution block. The tanks also supply water to nearby schools, health centres and the wider community. CASI then supported the school by providing it with improved planting materials, 200 chickens, and training in agricultural skills and poultry management, to help it to boost its food security.
To ensure that the school is better prepared to respond to future disasters, CASI also ran Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) training workshops, raising awareness about risks in the school’s environment, evacuation procedures and how to respond during an emergency. It provided additional support when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, by helping the school to improve hygiene practices to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Around 80 students, teachers and community members have directly benefitted from this program so far, with around 2000 people benefitting indirectly.
Now, Shaniella can complete her job skills training, with enough water and food to eat, as well as better hygiene and sanitation. She is improving her ability to earn an income, learning skills which will expand her job opportunities. The school community has increased and diversified its crop supply and its number of poultry has quadrupled. Students are also better prepared to respond when disaster strikes.
“Shaniella represents well the kind of young women from poor households that the school seeks to empower and educate,” says Dominic Baona, CASI’s Field Activities and DRR Coordinator. “School leaders have also identified her as one of the best in her class. She will bring with her all the knowledge, skills and experience acquired to her own community and family when she returns to the village.”
Although the Solomon Islands has largely avoided the worst of COVID-19, the economic impacts on tourism will continue to significantly impact the country for the immediate future. However, Shaniella is confident that she is well-positioned to take her place in the hospitality industry, when the country opens up to international visitors.
“I would like to thank you for your continued support for the school and community when they were in need,” says Shaniella.
With your generous support, we’re able to help young people in the Solomon Islands to build bright futures for themselves – and for future generations.
Along with your generous support, this program is supported by the Australian Government, through the Australian Humanitarian Partnership (AHP).
You can help students like Shaniella to forge a path out of poverty by making a donation through Project Compassion boxes and envelopes, visiting lent.caritas.org.au or phoning 1800 024 413.
With thanks to Caritas Australia.