Mbanika Island is a rural Island in the Solomon Islands – but it’s closer to Queensland than Perth is.
At a quick glance the Island is home to excellent diving and picturesque views, but at a closer look, its town Yandina is destitute.
The Solomon Islands is currently ranked 156 out of 188 countries in the latest United Nations Human Development Index report.
Gold Coast local Rebecca Milward travelled to Yandina this year to provide aid and described how she was still emotional after seeing the impoverished conditions the community lived in.
“I still feel guilty being back home and knowing how much we have and how little they have,” she said.
“The whole community is so selfless, they have very little but they offered us plenty and looked after us so well.”
Mrs Milward is part of aid project Sanitary Solutions for Yandina Women, directed by Toowoomba local Machi Rietveld. 12 women from the Gold Coast and Toowoomba are part of this project.
Along with women from her church group, Mrs Rietveld started working on this project two years ago.
She started when her daughter-in-law, who is from Yandina, mentioned the problems the town was suffering.
“We found out that that some of the girls in high school would not sit exams because they do not have the money or access to buy sanitary items and so they did not leave home,” Mrs Rietveld said.
Something as small as a clean sanitary pad can change the quality of life for women living in these communities.
Mrs Rietveld and her group have used their own skills in sewing to teach Yandina women how to make cloth sanitary pads.
This group has also made a commitment to start improving the local kindergarten and health clinic.
Communications associate at the World Bank Group Kara Mouyis said the ability of the Solomon Islands government to provide basic infrastructure, and health and education services was limited.
“The dispersed nature of the islands, and weak transport links, also limits people’s access to markets and jobs,” she said.
“Access to services varies by location with access to electricity and piped water much higher in Honiara than in rural areas.”
Many rural areas of the Solomon Islands like Yandina are still suffering from the consequences of political unrest in the period between 1998 to 2003.
There is also a widespread gender inequality that restricts the opportunities and safety of women and children.
Mrs Reitveld said she was motivated to help after hearing the stories that women from Yandina shared with her about how they cope with this inequality every day.
“Some of them shared with me how they cope without our modern convenient sanitary items that we buy over the counter and take for granted,” she said.
“It was an eye-opening experience, we needed to help them. We raised enough money to give 10 new hand powered sewing machines to the main churches on Yandina. We left heaps of supplies behind for each group.“I wanted the women to be able to keep making them and hopefully be able to sell them and make some extra money for their families."
“Hopefully life is a little happier for them and hopefully we have made a difference.”
On top of the sanitary items, Mrs Milward taught the Yandina women how to sew pillowcases into dresses.
This created a unique opportunity for the women to have an income.
“One of the best moments for me was when I overheard the ladies chatting about how much they could sell the dresses for at the markets,” said Mrs Milward.
Mrs Milward has now turned her attention to the infrastructure lacking in Yandina.
When the island’s coconut plantion stopped producing crops, there was no longer constant income or work for the community and most buildings and houses fell in to disrepair, meaning access to clean water, electricity, health care, education and jobs is difficult.
Mrs Milward is using a Gofundme page and community events to raise more funds to improve water supply and schooling infrastructure.
“Something as simple as Colourbond roofing and gutters to catch clean rain water would do wonders,” she said.
She also plans to fill a shipping container with smaller essential items including backpacks full of schooling equipment, toys and more sewing materials.
“All the things we take for granted, would change their lives dramatically,” she said.
Projects like this may seem small but they play an important role in the work that is being done to improve the Solomon Islands.
Ms Mouyis said the World Bank Group had been working with the government of the Solomon Islands to maximise public benefit from government spending.
“The World Bank is supporting the improvement of living standards by empowering communities to design, build and operate small-scale infrastructure to meet their highest priority needs,” she said.
The Australian Government provides $162 million in aid to the Solomon Islands, and there has been some improvement in the area’s living standards in the last 10 years.
Mrs Milward and the Sanitary Solutions for Yandina Women group will be returning again in September next year once they have raised enough money and gathered enough supplies.