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Caritas helps Solomon Islands school overcome water shortages


Caritas Australia is encouraging Australians to ‘Be More’ as part of its Project Compassion Lenten Appeal which supports vulnerable communities around the world. Money raised from the appeal will help people like Margret, 39, who is a teacher at a vocational school for deaf students in the Solomon Islands.

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Having been born deaf herself, Margret knows the challenges that this poses to education and employment and she enjoys teaching practical life skills to students that will help them earn a living. However, the school faced water shortages for about half the year and 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 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 now 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 said 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,” she said.  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 per cent 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 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 prevention measures, including how to install makeshift ‘tippy taps’ outside classrooms to ensure students washed their hands, as well as 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.

“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,” said 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.

The school hopes to increase its poultry production. Picture: Neil Nuia/Caritas Australia


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