Honiara, Solomon Islands – It’s after 7am as Alison Lenga Ila and her five-year-old son Junior join the morning rush of school children and office workers.
The 28-year-old works as an office cleaner, her first formal job. After dropping out at the end of primary school, Alison searched for work for many years. She had occasional work—cleaning houses and a stint as a street vendor selling food—yet all her attempts led to very little, leaving her frustrated and homebound.
She’s excited about holding down her first professional job, yet behind the confident façade, Alison is well aware of what having a job means to her family as she is the sole breadwinner in a family of three.
“Now that I have a regular income, I make sure I manage it well,” said Alison. “I save some of my pay for my son’s school fees, I put some of it into our staff savings club, and what’s left over I use for food and transport.”
New work opportunities for Honiara’s growing urban population
Alison says she would have still been at home and jobless had it not been for the Rapid Employment Project, a World Bank-supported initiative that emerged from the government’s concern over the lack of jobs for Honiara’s growing urban population.
Alison grew up in Honiara, but her parents, like many of city’s residents are from other provinces and migrated to the capital in search of a better life. With limited economic opportunities in rural areas, young people have been moving to the capital in search of a better life for decades. Yet, as a UNDP study demonstrated, migrants in Honiara face high levels of unemployment, expanding squatter settlements with sub-standard housing, and a deteriorating social environment.
Starting in 2010, the Rapid Employment Project sought to improve living standards for those in vulnerable urban communities by creating short-term jobs through the building and maintenance of community infrastructure.
“When the women in my community asked me to go with them to join the project, I thought it was a great idea, but I wasn’t sure what to expect,” said Alison.
Through a week-long training program, Alison and the other women in her community learned the basic work skills that are expected by employers and personal financial management; a training that left a big impression on her.
After completing their training, Alison and her group got the call to start a 52-day work placement. They focused on providing civic services – such as street cleaning, building footpaths, fixing and repairing roads and bridges. Alison’s group was tasked with cleaning the street along Honiara’s Chinatown area.
“What we earned was small, but what is more important is what you do with that money,” Alison said. “I used my pay to buy stocks of canned tuna, noodles and sugar to sell to families in my community. This kept me going even after I completed the street cleaning.”
Six months later, Alison spotted a job vacancy ad for an office cleaner. She visited the Rapid Employment Project and asked their help to polish her CV. A few weeks later she got a call back. After one job interview, she was employed.