RAMSI’s Community Outreach program is the main way the Mission consults ordinary Solomon Islanders, whether they live in town, the bush or along one of the country’s snaking coastlines.
The Outreach program aims to visit as many communities as possible throughout Solomon Islands, and give them a chance to learn more about how RAMSI is working in partnership with their Government, to raise any questions or concerns they may have as well as provide important feedback to RAMSI.
Getting out across the country
In a country where the vast majority of people only have access to information through word of mouth, the Community Outreach program is indispensable for reaching ordinary Solomon Islanders.
Over 100 outreaches are held on average each year, with every Outreach aiming to simply and sincerely exchange information with each community. Each community has its own set of concerns and issues to raise, ensuring that no outreach session is ever the same and that the discussion is always lively, and to the point.
People are also encouraged to use Outreach meetings as an opportunity to ask questions directly of RAMSI and government personnel so they can hear the answers on the spot. Feedback collected during the Outreaches are then passed on to the RAMSI and the Government.
Lead by RAMSI's Culture and Community Coordinator, Chris Tarohimae, a former school principal and master facilitator, RAMSI's Community Outreach teams are drawn from the three contingents that make up the Mission - civilian, police and military, together with relevant Solomon Islands Government personnel.
The Outreach program is very much a two-way process. It provides a chance for personnel from the different areas of RAMSI’s activities in Solomon Islands to work together and learn more about what others are doing in the Mission. Many advisers also partner with their Solomon Islands counterparts and colleagues to participate jointly in the Outreach program.
As well as the regular meetings the RAMSI Outreach team also participates in a wide range of community events throughout Solomon Islands, from national and provincial celebrations to internationally-recognised activities such as International Women’s Day and World Anti-Corruption Day.
At each of these events, RAMSI’s Outreach team aims to provide fun, interactive and memorable ways for Solomon Islanders to get to know more about RAMSI’s work.
Activities include Talem RAMSI, a ‘postbox’ where Solomon Islanders can send a free RAMSI postcard and message to friends and family anywhere in the country.
Wokabaot TokToks: Community meetings, RAMSI-style
Wokabaot TokToks, held once every few months throughout Solomon Islands, are larger-scale RAMSI Community Outreach meetings, designed to encourage even greater discussion and debate in communities about the work of RAMSI, and how it operates in partnership with the Solomon Islands Government. Each Wokabaot TokTok lasts for around five hours and involves workshops and discussions primarily led by the communities themselves.
A series of these sessions was recently held on the island of Gela, part of the Florida group in Solomon Islands Central Province, where the RAMSI team met with three villages – Olivuga, Leitongo and Ravu - to share many ideas and enjoy many a robust discussion.
Following a welcome by community chiefs under the shade of a beautiful, 15 metre-high raintree, the two New Zealand military representatives in the RAMSI group, Major Ian Piercy and Padre James Molony performed an intense haka (a Maori challenge) for the people of Olivuga. The haka brought a mix of fear, bemusement and laughter into the Olivuga community, as the two proud New Zealand men, in a show of Kiwi strength, thumped their chests and challenged the community Chiefs in a ‘warrior to warrior’ physical challenge, performed as a mark of respect.
Once the talking commenced, however, the people of Olivuga showed their outstanding awareness of the work of the Solomon Islands Government-RAMSI partnership. Questions to the RAMSI group were tough, constant and covered a wide range of topics. They included who pays RAMSI advisers’ salaries (the answer: the Governments of each of the 15 countries that contribute to RAMSI), and whether or not the people of Solomon Islands are in favour of RAMSI’s presence: “Do people really like RAMSI? What sort of support does RAMSI have?”
In his response, RAMSI adviser Francis Sade referred to the 2009 People’s Survey, which indicated that 88 per cent of Solomon Islanders still support RAMSI’s presence: “Seven years after RAMSI’s arrival, there is still clearly very strong support for its work,” explained Mr Sade. “But in the end, it’s up to the people of Solomon Islands to decide whether they want RAMSI to continue its work here.”
During discussion in the picturesque village of Leitongo, an unexpected highlight came from one of Leitongo’s burgeoning leaders, 16-year old Hilda, who led much of the discussion within her group and articulated much of what her community was feeling. Hilda showed a comprehensive knowledge of RAMSI and the impact on her country of the Mission’s arrival in Solomon Islands in 2003. Her comments echoed many others in saying that one of the biggest changes she had seen compared to the tension time was the ability for Solomon Islanders to move freely around the islands.
However, as is the case with all of RAMSI’s Outreach activities, discussion was not all positive. One chief showed his frustration about how, to him, the partnership between RAMSI and the Solomon Islands Government has had little effect on life within Leitongo village beyond the end of the tensions. He then asked the group why RAMSI was not able to build a new water supply or a new school for Leitongo, something that to him seemed like a far more tangible outcome for the people of Leitongo village than capacity building or institutional strengthening.
RAMSI’s Sandra Henderson, who works within the Office of the Special Coordinator, explained in response that RAMSI had a specific role within Solomon Islands, which focussed on the areas of law and order, re-building the economy, and helping to improve the Government’s ability to do its job effectively.
“RAMSI’s work is primarily to provide a stable environment for the country to get back on its feet,” said Ms Henderson. “The country is now in a position where Government, donors and development agencies have a safe environment in which they can assist with projects like new water supplies or new schools.”
The following day, the group travelled to the beautiful village of Ravu, where the community delegates discussed what they knew of RAMSI’s work. Much of the discussion focused on the role of RAMSI, and how this has changed following the return of law and order to Solomon Islands.
Michel Buleban, part of the ni-Vanuatu contingent working within the RAMSI Participating Police Force, explained that one of the key roles of RAMSI is its work with the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) to strengthen this important institution.
“When RAMSI arrived, its first priority was to step in and restore law and order to the country. RAMSI’s focus is now on supporting the RSIPF to do its job properly, providing assistance when needed. RAMSI’s goal is to restore the strength of the RSIPF so it can do its job well and have the confidence of the people of Solomon Islands.”
Local school teacher, Steven Sala, when asked to list what he knew of RAMSI, made the point that RAMSI had helped him understand more about the Pacific region. To him and his group, the fact that RAMSI is a regional mission was vitally important. “RAMSI is a sign of regional unity. Our brothers from the region are supporting us.”