Treating children with care in Solomon Islands
© UNICEF Solomon Islands
Hillary carrying her daughter
As we sit in Hillary’s village in the Solomon Islands, the children gather around to observe the visitors. They play a simple game with coloured rubber bands, causing many stifled giggles. Hillary absently ties up her daughter’s hair as she describes how being a Community Volunteer, helping those who suffered a grave natural disaster, has affected her and her family of four children. “The training I received made me change, it led me to better understand the needs of my children,” says Hillary.
The village we are sitting in, like many in Western and Choiseul Provinces of the Solomon Islands, has been striving to recover from the powerful earthquake and ensuing tsunami which hit on 2 April 2007, destroying houses, displacing families and killing 52 people.
Children feared the sea and refused to play on the beach for weeks afterwards. To support the children’s recovery UNICEF teamed up with the Social Welfare Division and launched the Community Welfare Volunteer scheme. Part of a long-term effort to strengthen the welfare system in the Solomon Islands, Community Welfare Volunteers not only play a key role in ensuring communities understand the effects of the disaster but also recognise the strengths they posses in caring for their children.
So far UNICEF and the Social Welfare Division have conducted three separate week-long training sessions for a total of 126 participants, who are now working as welfare volunteers for their villages across Western and Choiseul Provinces.
The training made Hillary realize that the community must take action.
Taking a strengths-based approach, the training equips volunteers to identify good practices for children’s welfare within their own communities. The week-long training is filled with role plays, group activities and games to increase participants’ understanding of child protection and to help them facilitate the same activities in their communities.
In a community with very low literacy and where children often do not attend school, generating change can be difficult. The key for Hillary is to get the whole community involved.
“We’re making a new community committee”, Hillary tells me. “I have a role in the new committee so now I can really start working to help my community.”
The course also identifies some of the protection concerns and vulnerabilities children growing up in the area may experience. These range from harsh discipline to sexual abuse, topics which ignite lively discussions during the course.
A community mapping exercise identifies areas in which children feel safe and where they are more likely to be protected, as well as those that may pose a risk so this can be reduced or eliminated.
The Social Welfare Division in Gizo, Western Province, supports the Community Welfare Volunteers through the training and then later with monitoring visits. Any concerns the volunteers have over specific situations or events are referred to the Social Welfare officer and followed up if necessary. In this way, the volunteers are not only strengthening their communities but are also expanding the welfare system and enabling villagers to access more focused help if it is needed.
Judy Basi, the Social Welfare Officer in Gizo, and her team of two have their work cut out for them to support so many volunteers. But they firmly believe the system will ensure communities can better care for their children and in the long run improve the welfare of their respective villages.
“The Community Welfare Volunteers connect community members to the Social Welfare Division so we can support them to support their children,” Judy says.
With more communities gaining volunteers, and with the support of UNICEF and the Social Welfare Division, communities are acting to enhance their children’s well-being and striving to fulfill Hillary’s wish. Her summary of what is needed is powerful in its simplicity: “We must treat the children with more care.”