A job is more than a source of income. The skills, connections, and confidence built at work can give people independence, a way to provide for their children, opportunities to explore business ideas, and a sense of purpose.
In towns throughout Solomon Islands, many people have never been ‘formally’ employed. The potential of young women and men in these communities is immense but difficult to realize considering many have to drop out of school due to financial or other circumstances, or haven’t had the opportunity to gain employment experience that will help them secure other jobs.
The Community Access and Urban Enhancement Project (CAUSE), is aiming to change that for communities across the country. Nearly 20,000 Solomon Islanders have undertaken over one million days of work and training through CAUSE and its predecessor, the Rapid Employment Project.
CAUSE, funded through an International Development Association grant of US$15 million and $7.3 million in additional financing from the Australian Government, now operates in the capital, Honiara (Guadalcanal Province), as well as Auki (Malaita), Gizo, Noro and Munda (Western Province). It includes skills and training, job placement and short-term income for workers building essential community infrastructure. For those involved, the sense of independence when they receive their first paycheck, or open a bank account for the first time, is immense.
“I finished school in Form Two, I can’t read or write well and stayed home to look after my children, so this is the first time I have had a job,” said Mary Solo, a 40-year-old CAUSE participant. “This job has been important for me; I have 5 boys and 2 girls, so the work was important. I can use this money to buy corn, which I then sell on the roadside. Through [CAUSE] I’m getting money for my bills, and I can put profits to school fees and to savings.”
However, the benefits of CAUSE go beyond this sense of opportunity and independence gained from employment; the project also is also helping to improve community infrastructure including, walkways, footbridges, public parks, jetties, markets and staircases.
A CAUSE-led school revival
On the outskirts of Auki, the capital of Malaita Province – a three-hour ferry journey from Honiara – Aligegeo School sits in a wide clearing on a densely forested hillside. The students; girls and boys in bright uniforms, are milling around their school’s upgraded building, a large washroom near the-multi-colored dormitories. The washroom had been out of service for decades, however they are now home to refurbished stone basins – upgraded by CAUSE participants – that are newly equipped with flowing fresh water.
“Students – especially the female students – needed this new project,” said Alick Bebesia, Principal of Aligegeo School. “The girls found it hard to get water before, and this will give them more time for studies. This is especially important because we have a high population of girls so they have needed the ablution blocks and water access quite badly.”
Catherine Nogeli is one of the workers involved in the work at Aligegeo School. A mother of five, Catherine has just signed up for her third round of CAUSE work because of the benefits it has given her and her family.
“When I got paid, I used the money to buy goods to sell at the market and help with my family,” explained Catherine. “I used half the money for business and the other half was for clothing and school for my children. I have five children, with two in school now. It’s important to me to be able to help them with school fees and contribute in that way.”
Beyond her earnings, her work as part of CAUSE has given Catherine an opportunity to develop her leadership skills.
“As a [project] team leader, I learnt how to lead a group, monitor work, and look after tools,” Catherine said. “It helped because I could apply these lessons in the community, I can lead people, speak with more confidence, and I found it very useful.”
Upgrading a vital health resource and stepping up to COVID-19
Nearby sits the province’s major healthcare facility, Kilu’ufi Hospital, which is now emerging from two tough years of the pandemic – with upgraded sanitation requirements, and a scramble to create and upgrade isolation wards for COVID-19 patients. The center’s tuberculosis ward was hastily converted to an isolation unit.
With support from CAUSE and its participants, the hospital now has new sanitation blocks, reinforcement for isolation centers, and new footpaths, improving hygiene from the old mud paths while also allowing easy access to physiotherapy wards for people living with disabilities.
Multiple waves of COVID infections that swept through Solomon Islands alongside social unrest and rioting in the capital in November 2021 created serious economic fallout and significant challenges were felt around the country, especially by the poorest and most vulnerable. However, as a proven and effective government project, CAUSE was in a position to step up to help address these issues. Through US$7.3 million in additional financing from the Australian Government, CAUSE was able to scale up its hiring and training, build more infrastructure, and include pandemic awareness and vaccination requirements into the project.
“Seeing CAUSE on the ground was great,” said Rex Maukera, Health Director for Malaita Province, who is based at Kilu’ufi Hospital. “These projects are very important for infection prevention control. We appreciate that the project listened to us and acted on what we needed.”
Throughout Auki, other new CAUSE-built projects include community walkways, essential upgrades for clinics, and easier access to markets and schools for isolated communities.
“This is a ‘win-win’ – the provinces need the infrastructure, the people need the work, and the communities need trained, busy youth who have incomes to power them on to their next opportunity,” explained Stephen Maesiola, Permanent Secretary of Solomon Islands’ Ministry of Infrastructure Development.
“This is a rare combination of all those needs, and you can hear it when you speak to the workers themselves. We’ve all seen the impact community infrastructure can have where it’s needed most; but to hear the workers of that infrastructure talk of their own benefits is the real measure of how effective this is.”
CAUSE, which began in 2018, is implemented by the Honiara City Council and Solomon Islands Ministry of Infrastructure Development, in partnership with provincial governments in Guadalcanal, Western and Malaita and the Australian Government’s $7.3 million in additional financing for the project is provided through the Papua New Guinea and Pacific Islands Umbrella Facility (PPIUF) Multi-Donor Trust Fund.