FEATURE STORY

Voice of Conflict: Charles Maeuta's Story from Solomon Islands

November 1, 2016

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Charles Maeuta, 31, has been looking for work for five years. Only 17% of the working age population in Solomon Islands have formal jobs. Charles sells betel nut and cigarettes to his friends to make money. Without a formal qualification, the work Charles can get is limited. Recently he applied for a job as a prison warden, another at a beer factory. When asked what was getting in the way of further education, he shrugged simply: he has’t done anything about it yet. Even his friends with college educations find it hard to secure jobs.

© World Bank / Alana Holmberg

Charles Maeuta, 31 and the only one of his siblings still single, is worried about the future.

He knows that on the Solomon Islands, someone like him – unemployed, a vocational school dropout – is unable to support a family. He doesn’t know if things will change, or how he can change them. To make a little money, he sells betel nut and cigarettes to his friends at a small market stall in his aunt’s driveway.

Charles’s struggle typifies the experience of many young Solomon Islanders, especially in Honiara, the capital. There are few job opportunities, and those lacking basic qualifications such as a school diploma have little chance. Many of Charles’ friends are school dropouts who sit around each day drinking homemade liquor, smoking tobacco and marijuana, chewing betel nut and playing cards.

“Sometimes we feel bored about doing the same thing every day,” Charles said. “When it’s like that, a friend will bring alcohol and we drink just to wrap up the day.”

It wasn’t always so bleak.


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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. However, 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. Charles, along with many of his friends are college dropouts. Even the ones with qualifications can’t find work. They sit around each day hanging out, some drink homemade liquor, others smoke tobacco or marijuana, others chew betel nut and play cards.

© World Bank / Alana Holmberg

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Charles and his friends watch the sunset in Honiara, Solomon Islands. 

© World Bank / Alana Holmberg

Charles grew up in the island nation’s Western Province with his mother. Despite limited job and education opportunities, he stayed there during The Tensions (1998 to 2003), a period of ethnic conflict largely between militants from Malaitan and Guadalcanal provinces. As a part-Malaitan, Charles knew it would be unsafe to travel.

When the conflict eased, Charles moved to Honiara at age 15 for his final years of high school. He then went to a vocational school in Malaita, where his father lived, for two years before returning to Western Province to complete his practical placement in carpentry.

While some Solomon Island schools provide meals for students, the vocational school only offered lunch. With no money to buy food to fill in the gaps, Charles was constantly hungry and found it difficult to concentrate.

“I didn’t finish vocational school because I was always hungry,” he said. “In the morning we didn’t have breakfast, we only had lunch. I didn’t have money to buy anything. That’s why I got fed up.”

Now he was a dropout, like many of his friends.

For three years, Charles stayed at his father’s village “hanging around.” Eventually he returned to Honiara to work for a relative, but when the job finished, he became another of the many unemployed Solomon Island youth looking for work in the capital.

To Charles, the key is to get a job and some money.

“If we work, then I think our ways would change,” he said. “We’d stop drinking or hanging out with friends. We’d be more focused on the job. I’m interested in a job like a prison warder. Like a job that’s suitable to someone like me with my education background. I’ve applied to a factory that produces beer and [applied to become] a prison warder.”

However, nothing has come through for Charles yet.

“It’s hard to find a job because of competition,” he said. “Where there are jobs, you need a qualification to get hired. Some of my friends with qualification are still looking for work.”

He continued:  “I am worried about it because I don’t have a job and I think about my future. What if I just stay like this?”