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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Power of Paper!

J. Roughan
27 August 2009
Albert Hauhere, a newly trained teacher from West Are'are in the middle 1970s, decided to make a lasting contribution to his village. He didn't have any money to speak of but he did have a workable plan. With the help of dozens and dozens of young village people he could construct a solid football pitch right in the middle of the village. Houses and homes lined the pitch but in the middle was a professional football field which  over the years hosted many a football tournament, acted as a recreation focus for school kids and held other events.
At the beginning, the fly in the ointment was no matter how willing the kids were to help they needed work tools--pics, shovels, knives, etc--to bring their dream to reality. This is when Albert tested the power of paper. He sent a letter to the Auki administration asking it to help the village of Nariekeara create its own sports field. After all, Auki had already grandly announced that it had received a $10,000 grant to help in provincial sports fields. But his letter received a negative reply . . . yes, there had been money available for sports fields but it had already been completely used up for expenses to the Auki sport's field.
Needless to say, Albert wasn't happy at all. However, I asked him to do two things: first, file away a copy of his original letter and the Auki reply and secondly, mention these facts when applying for help from overseas. A letter to New Zealand, fortunately, brought a much happier reply. A New Zealand organization was quite interested in his project and replied with a cheque to cover the cost of buying field making tools.
But that wasn't the end of the story! Late in the 1970s, just before independence, Nariekeara was visited by a government school inspector, John Seagraves, who saw for the first time the football pitch right at the heart of the village. He was duly impressed. The grass was more like a golf course, drainage ditches worked perfectly and the football field's lines were clear and accurate. John asked a few questions as to who was the person behind the project, how was it accomplished, who had funded the necessary tools, etc. etc. 
However, the education officer became upset when he found out that the funds for the project had come from overseas. Why weren't local funds used? It was a poor way of starting off a country, he said, by seeking overseas funds when the same funds could be given locally. Albert asked the education inspector to wait a few seconds while he went into his own home to retrieve the file he had been saving for this very moment. 
Albert's thin file of a half a dozen letters told the whole story: a copy of his own original letter, Auki's rejection response, copies of his letters to New Zealand and finally, the last letter which had carried the cheque to buy the tools necessary to build the field. Once Mr. Seagraves had read the correspondence, he quietly put the folder down and no more was said. Clearly Albert Hauhere had done the right thing but the message was clear and simple: Paper had Power.
How often people have come to me telling me of their projects, their plans, their dreams. Many would relate to me that they had shared these very dreams and plans with their honorable but nothing had come of them. When I pressed them for more detail, more often than not only words and tok tok were shared with their MP. Did they present the Honorable with a paper detailing how they intended to bring their dream to reality. No, the usual answer came back. They had spoken about their plans, their dreams but no paper of any kind was presented. 
Many Solomon Islanders hate paper! Talk, speaking and conversation is their thing. All this paper work is white man's way and we in the Solomons do things differently. Unfortunately, it is paper that makes the world turn . . . not money. If we don't master paper, then it will come back to master us.
As much as we don't like paper and see it as more an enemy than the more we will lose out. There are plenty of young Solomon Islanders coming on stream who handle paper very well, thank you. Those of us who find the paper route too difficult to follow, then get those of the family who are good at putting things down on paper to help us out in our dreams. If Albert could do this almost 40 years ago, certainly we should be thinking of it today.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Report Card and Millenium Development Goals!

J. Roughan
6 August 2009
Last week's Report Card results say much about Solomon Islands chances of getting close to hitting its Millennium Development Goals (MDG) target. Nations across the world, the Solomons included, publicly promised nine years ago to pull out all stops to have its poorest people achieve, by year 2015, the majority of the millennium development goals.
Our political masters committed the country to getting rid of extreme poverty, having universal primary education, reducing child mortality, improve maternal health, ensure the integrity of our environment, etc. The latest Report Card survey results were, among other things, measured how far along this road we had traveled as a nation. Unfortunately, this recent Report Card's failing grades say we are not even traveling in the right direction.
If each section of SIDT's Report Card is closely studied, it becomes clear that government is falling farther and farther behind on its promise to its own people. This promise committed government to raise the quality of life of our poorest and the nation's least powerful.
Health Services  56/100
Urban, rural and those living just outside of towns and cities were asked to rate government's efforts in health matters. Before marking  government on how well or poorly it has been working on teh nation's health--work of hospitals, clinics and aid posts as well as the doctors, nurses and other staff--the person was asked to weigh up their experiences over an eighteen month period.
Too often our survey takers heard complaints that the needed medicines were absent or out of date or that the health worker was less than enthusiastic in trying to aid the sick person. Many low marks in this area are traced back to personal experience of people when interacting with the government's medical establishment.
Quality Education 65/100
The Sikua Government's best score comes in the education sector. People do recognize when government is trying hard and reaching out to its people. But they are not blind to an overall view of education. They are not slow to critique local teachers when they fail to attend class, continue to demand school fees in the face of government's efforts to strike them out and are saddened by poor school buildings and such. 
Resource Assistance 55/100
Citizens know well that their gardens, forests, reef and sea are their life blood. Once one or two of these resources go into decline or worse still, in danger of disappearing, then life becomes most difficult. That is why those surveyed gave government a low mark. Its field officers weren't working out among people, weren't teaching villagers how to get the best out of land and failed to establish markets for people's products.
$$$ Availability 45/100
The global financial tsunami is hitting the nation's small people hard these days. Of course many are lucky who can call upon garden, forest and sea for food and sustenance. But more and more small amounts of money are needed to buy 'luxuries' like soap, taiyo, matches, cooking oil, etc. But store prices scare them. Their prices go in only one direction . . . up, up and up!  That is why the typical Solomon Islander needs small amounts of money to begin to taste The Good Life. Yet, this is the very area where less and less is the order of the day.
Average  55/100
The MDG is a useful yardstick measuring government's track record.  How well or how poorly is the political establishment treating its people. Today's Report Card is another way of measuring how the government of the day performs its primary duty. After 20 years of measuring the results, it's sad to say that rather than our poor growing out of their poverty, they are falling lower and lower. When will things change?