Malaita, the most populous province in Solomon Islands, is blessed with resources. Its islands have reefs teeming with seafood and fertile soil for growing pineapple, cassava and countless other crops. They boast people who can craft ships and fashion the shell money that functions as traditional currency and coveted jewelry.
There is no shortage of potential in the province, but channeling it to create jobs and stimulate progress can be a challenge. Of Malaita’s estimated 158,000 residents, more than 45,000 are under 29 years old, and they are most affected by the disconnect.
But as part of the substantial youth population in the country, young people in Malaita need to be empowered to become solution providers and peace advocates. Their participation is key to peace, stability and sustainable development in their communities and the province.
George Faubata from Daolusu in the Langalanga Lagoon is one of the bright minds whose ambitions were dimmed by a lack of opportunities in Malaita. Since dropping out of school after Form 5 (Year 11), George spent his days in Daolusu gardening and woodworking.
In George’s community, and throughout the lagoon, mangroves often stand in as a sanitation facility.
According to the 2009 national census data, 47 percent of all households in Malaita do not have access to a sanitary facility. About 43 percent of households in the province use a pit latrine.
Over the years, George saw people his age leave the community for university. They got an education and returned. But the problems in Daolusu persisted.
“Then it occurred to me that I could help leaders address the people’s needs,” George said.
“That is why I came up with the idea of trying to give people access to proper sanitation here.”
George is the program coordinator of Stone Raisers, one of the three winning teams of innovators at the Malaita Youth Peacebuilding Innovation Forum held in September this year. The United Nations Peacebuilding Fund (UNPBF) project, jointly implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Women, organized the event in partnership with the Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs and the Youth Division of the Malaita Provincial Government.
The forum in the provincial capital, Auki, linked promising young people with resources they needed to solve sanitation and other social challenges — and essentially turn a profit in the process. Youth from Malu’u in North Malaita to Maramasike Passage in the south spent three days with inspirational speakers who offered insights into innovation, entrepreneurship, failure and success that comes with striving to make the country a better place.
The event in Auki was a follow-up to the first ever Youth Peacebuilding Innovation Forum in Honiara last year. It brought the opportunities of that forum to youth in Malaita, who might be farther from formal employment but are powerful peacebuilders and changemakers nonetheless.
George, the 28-year-old innovator, stressed that community leaders should tap the youth demographic to address continual challenges.
“From the time of our forefathers until now, nothing has been done about poor sanitation,” he said.
While pitching the Stone Raisers concept with team members at the Youth Peacebuilding Innovation Forum, George said the communicable diseases children often catch from swimming in contaminated water cause them to miss school. And improper sanitation affects overall public health.
“We want the community and other stakeholders to contribute to address the issue of poor sanitation,” George said of Stone Raisers’ community-led total sanitation approach.
George hopes his team’s toilet model will serve as an entry point to improved sanitation practices in his region and other rural settings.
The Stone Raisers’ prototype includes modifications that contain odors and make it easy to flush with a small amount of water. The design, influenced by a community elder who has issues bending his knees, is accessible to individuals who cannot sit or squat easily.
The Stone Raisers enterprise aims to address multiple Sustainable Development Goals and help rehabilitate the marine ecosystem, which sustains Langalanga communities in terms of food and funds.
Stone Raisers and the other winning teams — Malcassava, which created a prototype of a grinder to make chips and flour from the staple cassava, and Malamanila Juice, which developed a bamboo juicer to process local pineapples — will receive a support package to kickstart their ventures.
For the eight other teams that pitched their ideas and the rest of the participants, information they learned at the forum will help them take their own plans off the ground.
“The three-day forum itself will not solve all the challenges that young people face,” UNDP Solomon Islands Country Manager Azusa Kubota said.
“It is an important step, however, to illustrate their achievements and their potential and to inspire innovative solutions to long-standing issues.”
For George, his team’s success at the forum made him confident that he can help raise the standard of living in his area.
“I will not drop this load,” he said.
“I will continue to work with young people in the community because this is where I grew up, and I see the potential that young people have to improve things.”
He said as a young person now equipped with knowledge and resources, he can engage other youth through his project and help them to be productive members of society.
“At least all the young people have to master something — carpentry, plumbing, making these toilets, working with bricks,” he said. “Whatever it is, they have to master it so that when they get married they feel independent and also give back to their families.”
And that embodies the aim of the Youth Peacebuilding Innovation Forum — empowering young people to spark change within their communities.