FEATURE STORY

Supporting Vulnerable Youth to Build a Stable Future in Solomon Islands

September 30, 2016

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Young men (including Charles Maueta on the left) hang out in suburban Honiara. Each year, thousands of people move to the Solomon Islands capital, Honiara in the hope of finding paid work. In a country only beginning to recover from a civil conflict that tore the country apart between 1998 and 2003, jobs are scarce, especially for young people with no experience or qualifications. They sit around each day, some drink homemade liquor, others smoke tobacco or marijuana, others chew betel nut and play cards.

© World Bank / Alana Holmberg

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Solomon Islands’ economy remains vulnerable due to continued reliance on natural resources and aid donors as well as the high numbers of unemployed and undereducated youth.
  • Around 23% of the Solomon Islands’ population live below the poverty line due to high unemployment rates, caused in part by ethnic violence from 1998-2003 called The Tensions.
  • The World Bank-funded Rapid Employment Project (REP) provides life skills training and short periods of employment experience to vulnerable young people to increase their employability.

HONIARA, Solomon Islands - Charles “Sasala” Maeuta passes a marijuana joint to the guy beside him without taking a hit. His friend on the other side of him passes a plastic bottle filled with a clear, illegally homemade alcohol called Kwaso. Again, Charles declines.

Most days, he sits with his friends atop a pile of abandoned car frames by the side of the road as the sun sets over Vavaya Ridge in Honiara, the Solomon Islands capital. As it gets dark, he’ll set up his market stall and sell betel nut and cigarettes to his friends. At the moment, it’s the only way the 31-year-old can make any money.

“We feel bored doing the same thing every day. When it’s like that, a friend will bring alcohol and we drink just to wrap up the day,” says Charles, who has been unemployed for five years. “If we had work, we’d stop drinking or hanging out with friends. We’d be more focused.”

Such is life in the Pacific Island nation still battered by the aftermath of five years of ethnic violence from 1998-2003 known locally as The Tensions. The unprecedented unrest between rival ethnic groups from Guadalcanal and Malaita Islands over land and other issues killed hundreds of people, displaced communities and disrupted commerce with lingering impacts today.

Two-thirds of the Solomon Islands’ population is under 30 years of age and only 17 percent of the working age population have formal jobs. Youth unemployment and limited socio-economic opportunities for the urban poor are critical challenges for a nation still weakened by the conflict that ended 13 years ago.

 


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Bernadette Tahiseu at home in her village along the northern coast of Gualdalcanal, Solomon Islands.

© World Bank / Alana Holmberg

All around, the effects of The Tensions are evident. Bernadette Tahiseu, 43, fled to the bush with her family when the fighting came to their coastal village on Guadalcanal in 2001. When an international treaty brought peace to the Solomon Islands two years later, she returned to find their concrete houses destroyed by militants and their village burnt to the ground.

“We didn’t recover well,” she says. “The money we get now, it is just to feed the family. We haven’t gotten the money to rebuild yet.”

Almost a quarter of the Solomon Islands’ population live below the poverty line[1]. Bernadette and her husband Luke, both uneducated and unemployed with nine children to support, can only afford to send their secondary-age children to school even though primary school fees are 50 Solomon Islands dollars (the equivalent of $6.43 U.) per term.

“In the future, money will be hard to get, the price of things in shops will be high and if they don’t work for a living they will have a hard time in life,” Bernadette says of her children.

Despite more than a decade of peace, the Solomon Islands’ economy remains vulnerable, with growth reliant on aid donors and the extraction of natural resources. The breakdown of social systems, limited development in rural areas, and high numbers of unemployed and undereducated youth is putting pressure on the nation.

In response to such challenging conditions, a World Bank-funded program called the Rapid Employment Project (REP) is providing life skills training and short periods of employment experience to vulnerable young people to increase their employability.

“It [REP] helps people by giving them some basic skills that they can use; for example, helping to sell goods at the market,” explains Patterson Sikua, a 25-year-old participant in the project.

As a REP participant, he has completed pre-employment training and a 150-day work contract cleaning streets around the city. He is also a member of a youth drama group that uses free performances to educate school students and the wider community about correct rubbish disposal through performance.

“For me and others in the drama it helped a bit in providing work,” he says. “It doesn’t last long, but it gives us the experience that can help us get a job with other projects.”

In six years, the REP has employed more than 12,000 young people from vulnerable communities, created more than 664,000 labor days, and provided more than $2.8 million in wages. It has seen Solomon Island youth build 34 infrastructure projects and support more than 1,200 other community projects throughout Honiara and other areas. The project is effectively targeting vulnerable groups, including unemployed women and youth, with 60 percent of the participants being women and 53 percent being youth aged 16 to 29.

The Solomon Islands have made significant progress in restoring social and economic stability since the start of REP in 2010. However, the country remains fragile, with deep development challenges persisting. Some of the stresses that contributed to The Tensions could potentially resurface.

Andrew Fioga was a militant commander of the Malaita Eagle Force after his father was kidnapped, tortured and murdered by Guadalcanal militants. He eventually signed several peace agreements and served time in jail, and now has found some inner peace after retrieving his father’s remains and burying them on Malaita.

Today, Andrew he runs a church youth group — the Honiara Boys Brigade — and is passionate about mentoring young people.

“These kids, I want something best to be done for them. Always in life there is a vice-versa,” he said. “What the country needs is good leaders who put education as priority. When education is not there, you see a lot of school drops. A massive part of our population, the young people, might do things that aren’t acceptable to society like gambling, alcohol and drugs. Then you have more problems like crime coming up.”

Mostly, he worries about opportunity for his son.

“If I could prepare ahead, so that he has something to do to earn money, something that he can start with,” Andrew said, “that would be great for him.” 






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