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Engaging Youth For Community Change In The Solomon Islands 1

Engaging Youth for Community Change in the Solomon Islands

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Across the Solomon Islands, young people have traditionally been excluded from driving community change, with Elders taking the lead as decision-makers. Material poverty and lack of access to meaningful work sometimes leads to youth disengagement, displacement from home and involvement in drugs and crime.

Patricia Kennedy Ola Fou
Patricia Kennedy is Ola Fou’s Training Leader in the Solomons

TEAR’s partner Ola Fou is engaging young people to become agents of change in their own communities and organisations, equipping them to be future leaders.

“Traditionally, youth are not seen as people who can contribute,” says Patricia Kennedy, Ola Fou’s Training Leader in the Solomons. “We see differently. We say they are people who have potential, who can do bigger things. Young people have so much energy and so many creative ideas. They don’t need material things – they need guidance and opportunity.”

One way they do this is through a traditional method called ‘talanoa’. Patricia explains how it works...

If you want to know the heart, you must talanoa. If you allow me to tell my story, that’s talanoa.

Patricia Kennedy Ola Fou’s Training Leader in the Solomons

“Talanoa is how we start a conversation, and it’s how I do most of my youth work. When we sit together with young people, we start with one general question and let the conversation or the topic flow. You let everyone reflect from their own position and share from the heart, of their own story. People unveil their feelings. We are relational people, who want to sit around the fire and talk. That’s how we learn and how the information comes. If you use this, it has a rich result.

If you want to know the heart, you must talanoa. If you allow me to tell my story, that’s talanoa.

We even use this with stakeholders. When we meet, we talk about the informals first, about family or home. Then the conversation leads to why we are meeting. If you just ask lots of questions, no one will trust you. We find it very effective because after the meeting we relate not as stakeholders but as partners.”

In some of the most remote communities, these methods of connection are essential to building trust. As Patricia teaches young people to work to improve their communities, she also models how to reach out to young people on the margins.

“I used to visit a village in a rural province. Every time I went, I didn’t see any young girls. So one time, I decided to stay overnight. And I discovered that once the girls were 14, or even 12, they were married and stopped their education.

So I asked if I could walk with them as we went for a bath. It’s about a 20 minute walk — water is very scarce there. As we walked we could talk. I used talanoa. They talked about home and gardening. Then I learned that they think their gender, the one the Lord gave them, is not good. They think they have only two options: get married or look after their mother’s house. We came to talk about them having something to contribute, how they could have a say in things.

This happened over many conversations, me going back to the village and staying over. Slowly, their mindset changed. They began to understand that all of us are equal. Now we talk about marriage being a partnership.”

It is experiences like this that Patricia brings to the classroom. Her students are encouraged to connect with other young people to plan village development activities like cleaning up the village, connecting small businesses to new markets or protecting their natural environment. One student has been planting mangroves, another started a plastics recycling business. A group of girls sell food at a local market. All of these initiatives are challenging the traditional notion that young people have nothing to contribute – while still respecting the position of the Elders who are consulted every step of the way. After all, as Ola Fou nurtures young people to create positive change, they are investing in the Elders of tomorrow.

I thank God for making me a Solomon Islander. I thank him for my people and my beautiful country. When I look on the natural beauty of my island, I am reminded of how good God is, of his miracles. When I look at the results that have been achieved through Ola Fou, I am reminded that God can make the impossible possible.

Patricia Kennedy Ola Fou’s Training Leader in the Solomons

Ola Fou

TEAR Australia supports Ola Fou’s youth development program, in which young people learn how community transformation happens, and how to lead and manage these changes. Ola Fou means ‘new life’, and the program not only teaches skills, but also unites young people with the support of churches and community leaders.

Patricia Kennedy is Ola Fou’s Training Leader in the Solomons