The Commonwealth Youth Programme South Pacific (CYPSP) is working with grassroots organisation Uttermost Rural Development Foundation (URDF) to address to needs of ex-militant youth in North Malaita, Solomon Islands.

According to Redley Ramo, founder of and lead facilitator for Uttermost Rural Development Fund, the youth of North Malaita had a key role in the ethnic tensions of 1998 - 2000 and, to date, little has been done to stop them becoming involved in violence again.

"After the ethnic crisis," says Redley, "the government tried its best to get them to go back to North Malaita, but there was nothing down there, so most of them flocked back to Honiara. Before we can ask them to come back, we have to prepare something for them so they can be occupied."

For the last three years, the URDF has been working with North Malaita's youth to pilot projects which will earn money and give them something to do. They started a cocoa nursery project, a football team and a goal-oriented savings club.

Redley says the cocoa nursery, which now has 40,000 seedlings, was an obvious choice.

"North Malaita region used to be the highest producer of cocoa and copra, so it makes sense to start there - people already have the knowledge and know-how."

Paul Peteru, Commonwealth Youth Programme South Pacific Programme Manager, says the focus needs to be on the sustainability of these projects.

"There have been a number of stop gap measures employed since the ethnic tensions, but, arguably, nothing sustainable. Sustainability to us and URDF is working with the resources that the communities in North Malaita already have and can keep up."

Paul says partnerships like this are a focus for CYPSP right now.

"It's all about sustainable livelihoods for young people and their communities. At the last Commonwealth Youth Ministers' Meeting in Sri Lanka in April, peace, reconciliation, respect and understanding became priorities. In this partnership we have been given an opportunity to work with a reputable, youth-focussed organisation - URDF - to see how we can support those young Malaitans."

CYP is providing technical assistance to URDF, mentoring and helping the organisation to grow.

Redley says his key concern is that young people are supported to build futures for themselves and their communities.

"Where are we heading? Does the youth of this nation have a future? Do we have a plan for these young people in the next five to 10 years? I'm very concerned. We should be taking the lead, and preparing a platform on which young people can help themselves by designing their own future."

Redley explains that rural areas have a 'brain drain'- their young people are being drawn to cities for education and work, and rarely return to help organise and build the capacities of their communities.

URDF are hoping to build on income-generating projects for young people still living in North Malaita and then will try to encourage young people living in Honiara to come back to the area.

URDF and CYPSP will be working on a large-scale mapping exercise which will assess the specific needs and challenges of different groups of young people in North Malaita. This will allow UDRF and CYPSP to provide customised training and support for small groups of young people.

CYPSP and URDF are holding a stakeholders' meeting in Honiara on Monday, July 14 which will take a 'linked-up' approach - working from the bottom up and looking at the key linkages which need to be in place with government and local industries. This will be followed by four days of community consultation in North Malaita.