Makira, October 2018 – The island of Makira is thick with rainforest. The hills that crest its center are heavy with dense jungle that drops down ridges and spills onto the plains, interrupted only by the scars of roads leading to logging sites. Banana trees and coconut palms are everywhere.
Jobs, on the other hand, are not.
Youth unemployment is leading to alcohol abuse
The lack of jobs has made life harder for the island’s young people. It is clear when speaking to Michael Gopala, a 30-year old from Kokana, a small village on Makira’s North coast. His story – and how his optimism was derailed by a lack of opportunity – is, unfortunately, all too common in the Solomons.
Michael graduated from carpentry school in the capital, Honiara. He stayed on, looking for employment but eventually had to return to his village where there was no work and less opportunity than the city.
“I was frustrated. I was bored. That’s when I started drinking and making homebrew to mix with ‘kwaso’ (a local distilled spirit) and beer. I would make this in the bush with other young men and soon it became a problem for me,” he explains.
“We would drink out in the bush all night and come back and cause real trouble. We would get into fistfights, we would scream and swear at the community and really frighten people, and families would have to leave their houses and hide in the bush until we had slept and were sober.”
Phyllis Saa of the Kokana’s Women’s Council, remembers the time – and Michael – well.
“We were frightened. Women wouldn’t walk in the community at night if the boys were out and drunk,” she explained. “When they came home they would yell at us and the children would have to sleep at other people’s house to get away from them.”