In a traditional New Year address to the nation last week, Solomon Islands Governor General, Sir Frank Utu Ofagioro Kabui, GCMG, CSI, OBE, focused on the educational needs of Solomon's youth at a time when educational and vocational skills training are increasingly necessary to help young people find meaningful, paid employment, either at home in the Solomons or overseas.
The Governor General's address coincided with a recent report issued by the Australian Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee in which it was said Australia's Regional Development Scholarship programs are set to double in size over the next five years to 19,000 scholarships for the Asia-Pacific region.
Already twenty-seven Fijian students graduated in terms of the existing program in 2009 in subjects ranging from health, agriculture, engineering, the environment, business and governance.
It is to be hoped Solomon Islands youth will be able to benefit from the expansion of Australia's Development Scholarships in the years ahead.
Capacity building and the mobilisation of the government's efforts to provide better, quality education and training are long-term issues, but the reality is that, today, many young people are unemployed and there are few, if any, pilot interventions underway which will help young men and women get waged employment or become self-employed.
The problems are compounded by several interrelated factors that go beyond the Solomon's high population increase and yet uncertain economic growth, including limited rural development, minimal levels of entrepreneurship and, of course, inadequate access to relevant education.
Though many of the young people of the Solomons lack opportunities and experience, especially those living in the rural villages, I am confident they can easily be motivated and able to offer new ideas and insights that can assist economic growth and aid their development and well-being. In this regard, I am also confident that the Member of Parliament for Small Malaita will gain fresh ideas as to how to develop his proposed voluntary youth scheme after his initiative last week in holding consultation talks in his constituency.
In Thailand , from where I am writing, one of the most successful legacies of a former Prime Minister is what is called the OTOP scheme. This stands for "One Village, or group of villages, One Product." The idea is to encourage rural people to produce quality products unique to their region. The Thai government helps by marketing the products, both internally and overseas. The OTOP products cover a large array of local goods, including handicrafts, cotton and silk garments, pottery, household items, carvings, wooden bowls and food, to name but a few. The scheme has not only created many jobs locally but also provided many young people with a means of earning a living.
The origin of the One Village One Product movement actually originated in Oita Prefecture in Japan. The purpose was to improve upon and refine locally available resources and to create jobs and income for the communities, to able the respective communities to become self-dependent, to preserve traditional culture and craftsmanship, to promote human resource development, and to develop creativity in developing products in harmony with local culture and way of life.
Japan's External Trade Organisation (JETRO) is helping to promote Thailand's growing and successful "OTOP" products in Japan .
From my own knowledge of the OTOP products and my knowledge of the handiwork of the talented Solomon Islanders, I cannot see why it should not be possible for a similar scheme to operate throughout the Solomons, given that wood carvings, bowls, basketry, souvenirs and other artifacts are plentiful and very modestly priced.
I would encourage like minded people such as the Member for South Malaita, the government, regional partners, and all those concerned enough to care for the unemployed, especially the youth, to give some serious thought to examining a One Product One Village scheme in the Solomons.
A possible solution for the rural poor
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this letter are those of Frank Short and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solomon Times Online.
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