Kelly Rae reflects on her recent visit to the Safe Strong Communities Project in the Solomon Islands.
I’m in Malaita in the Solomon Islands visiting our partner, the Anglican Church of Melanesia. It’s teeming with rain today. There's a solid curtain of water as I look out across the village. Freda and Rebecca, our partner staff, are here too. I have joined them at a Savings Club meeting. The women gathered visibly lean in to hear Sicilia, the Gwaunaoa Savings Club leader over the rain. A retired teacher, Sicilia (pictured above) has thrived in her role nurturing the women’s self-confidence, skills, and independence. Each member is saving at least $8 a week, and no longer need to take out loans in times of crisis. Their main priority is covering children’s school fees and starting small businesses.
We continue our journey, stopping to meet Father Walter at the Diocese of Malaita. The personal transformation he has experienced through ‘Gender and Theology’ training is heartening. ‘I grew up in a strongly male-dominated culture – it’s in my blood,’ he tells me. While he found the first few days of the training confronting, he places his hand on his chest and insists, ‘The training moulded me, it helps'. Faith leaders can deepen their understanding of gender and gender-based violence. Creating safe spaces for this exploration and change takes great skill, respect for faith and culture, and grace. I’m grateful for our partnership and the change that is unfolding here.
Rebecca and I sit in the shade between meetings, and she reflects on the women she works with: ‘There’s power in them, energy.’ Cathy is leader of the Aibu Savings Group and mobilised them to make brightly coloured sarongs to sell. The project provided the fabric and dye, with profits shared among members. This helped get them through the hardship of COVID lockdowns. Their confidence and business plans have grown, and they now jointly sell 10kg bags of rice in their village. When the group started, Cathy says their mentality was, ‘What we earnt today, we spent today’. Now they set goals, save and allocate spending carefully. As we head back to our vehicle, I think about the young people in these villages who will have a different start to life, all due to their mums, aunties, and grandmas' perseverance, hard work, and dedication.
The Safe Strong Communities Project receives funding from the Australian Government, through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).