Engaging Solomon Islands Youth in Climate Change Action

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Case study from Solomon Islands Red Cross
By Julie Webb
(posted on behalf of the Australian Red Cross Youth E-zine)

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Engaging Solomon Islands Youth in Climate Change Action

  1. 1. Engaging Solomon Islands Youth in Climate Change Action Case study from Solomon Islands Red Cross By Julie Webb HANGING OUT IN SOLOMON ISLANDS Solomon Islands is a society where the power and decision making authority is traditionally based on seniority so young people have long faced challenges when trying to voice their concerns or when trying to participate in decision-making. This is an even bigger issue because Solomon Islands has a very young population – with people under 29 making up 69 per cent of the population. 1 People aged between fifteen and twenty-nine make up twenty-nine per cent of the total population, but in urban areas the percentage is higher at thirty-six per cent, making youth issues of particular concern. 2 An International Labor Organisation study in 2001 found that about 7,500 young people enter the workforce each year, but that the maximum increase in employment since 1982 has only been 3,800 places. 3 Youth unemployment or underemployment is seen as a chronic issue is Solomon Islands. There has been an increasing drift to Honiara on Guadalcanal in the years since Independence in 1978 and there are more and more urban settlements in and around Honiara with very limited physical and social Sport plays a big part of life for young infrastructure. For young people who have come to people in Honiara Honiara from their rural village with their families or in search of better education or work opportunities the disempowerment can be even greater, as there is the compounding loss of a sense of place and community connections; particularly when the opportunities fail to materialise. Young people here are even less well supported. BARRIERS TO GETTING INVOLVED As a young person growing up in Honiara, the capital of Solomon Islands, George Baragamu says the hardest thing was making connections with other people so he could have access to opportunities – for work and for fun. George started as a volunteer with Red Cross in 2006 because he wanted to take the initiative to find his own opportunities. His time at Red Cross has been a good exchange. George has gained professional experience and a paid job as the Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction officer, and Red Cross has a passionate and intelligent young employee who inspires others through the Climate Change Program. It has also been a chance for the national society to learn how to engage young people in Solomon Islands. George has created an active group of young volunteers to deliver climate change activities and through this he has expanded the connections and linkages for the young volunteers. George says young people face difficulty in making connections with other young people and joining existing networks and youth groups – which can help them to build social networks and find opportunities. Existing groups can tend to be closed and insular and are often focussed in a specific area or church. In addition, many existing youth groups do not have a strong female presence so are not inclusive of all young people. 1 Department of Finance and Treasury, Solomon Islands Statistics Office, Household Income and Expenditure Survey 2005/6: National Report Honiara, September 2006. 2 Although the majority of the population live in rural areas, there has been drift to Honiara on Guadalcanal in the years since Independence in 1978. The resulting pressure on land and jobs in the urban centre led to an outbreak of ethnic conflict in 1998 – 2003, primarily between the people of Guadalcanal and those from Malaita who made up the majority of the domestic migrants to Honiara. 3 International Labor Organisation 2001 Employment Opportunities for Youth in the Solomon Islands Suva: International Labour Organisation.
  2. 2. George says that young people in Solomon Islands face particular challenges because most government policy and legislation do not reflect youth issues and so they are left vulnerable. Things are changing slowly. In 2007 the government established a Ministry of Women, Youth and Children's Affairs and launched the policy goal: To uphold and promote the rights of...young people...through effective partnership and strong commitment, thereby creating equal opportunities for all to advance the wellbeing of this nation. 4 Along with the establishment of the Ministry there are other positive steps emerging such as the establishment of the Youth Division at Honiara City Council that has a role in linking up existing youth groups. Another barrier for young people is the education system. A growing number of children are unable to enrol in primary school due to a lack of schools and teachers to meet the demands of a population explosion. Many young people are also prematurely pushed out of the education system because each year, especially after grade six, the number of school places reduces. 5 There can also be pressure to seek paid employment early to contribute to the family income, but there are little employment opportunities for young people. 6 The lack of employment and education opportunities and the difficulty in making connections mean that many youth ‘stap nomoa’ meaning they stay at home and don’t do a lot, waiting for opportunities and connections to come to them. Young people are also most often financially dependent on their family for support, a disempowering situation that is particularly hard in Honiara where, as George says, “money is key to everything”. A study in 2003 7 reported that the widespread issues identified by young men and women and their communities across the Solomon Islands focus in five areas: Learning opportunities Participation Livelihoods Youth activities Reproductive health. Central Market Honiara SOLOMON ISLANDS RED CROSS Solomon Islands Red Cross is a National Society with twenty-one paid employees in their headquarters and the four provincial branches. As well as Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction it delivers programs that focus on health awareness, disaster management, dissemination, blood donor recruitment, welfare and first aid training. It has four active branches in some of the most remote areas of the country. Solomon Islands Red Cross has looked at the growing population of young, urban people with a lot of time on their hands as an opportunity. Red Cross has been working to engage young people in their programs and activities as a way to address some of these issues and that improve the lives of Solomon Islanders. Nancy Jolo, Secretary General says that engaging young people like George to lead their programs is one way to promote youth development and it is an opportunity for them to take leading roles with responsibility and challenge. It is a 4 Policy Goal 24 of the Coalition for National Unity and Rural Advancement Government Policy Statements (CNURA), January 2008. CNURA Translation and Implementation Framework, February 2008 5 United Nations Development Program MDGs In The Pacific The Challenge of Securing MDG Gains in Solomon Islands 13 Feb 2007 6 Hassall and Associates International, 2003, Youth in Solomon Islands: A Participatory Study of Issues, Needs and Priorities, Final Report. 7 Hassall and Associates International, 2003, Youth in Solomon Islands: A Participatory Study of Issues, Needs and Priorities, Final Report.
  3. 3. chance for young people to develop their work skills and gain important work experience. George is a good example of a volunteer who has gone on to formal employment in his case within the Red Cross. The chance for skills development and work experience is valuable for young people and involvement in the Red Cross is also a great way for them to build their networks. The devastating earthquake (magnitude 8.1) and tsunami that hit the Western and Choiseul Provinces in April 2007 were a test of the skills and capacity of Solomon Islands Red Cross. The death toll was in excess of 50 people, with an estimated 9,000 people displaced. Damage to housing and other infrastructure was significant. Solomon Islands Red Cross and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are in the final stage of their rehabilitation work in the Western Province. In the relief operation the majority of volunteers were young people. They had the energy, strength and the time to give to the operation, as they didn’t have family commitments. THE CLIMATE CHANGE PROBLEM IN SOLOMON ISLANDS George says that he is committed to working in climate change because it is a cross cutting issue – it will affect all other sectors of society in a country that is vulnerable to climate impacts. Climate change is already having an impact here in the Solomon Islands. Villages have experienced: Rising sea-levels Salt water intrusion into crops and planting fields Contamination of fresh water aquifers and Greater erosion along the shorelines, thus reducing Island size There are also increasing reports of new experiences such as drought in some areas for the first time, as in the Reef Islands, Temotu Province. In other parts of the country normal high tides are now increasing in size due to sea level rise. The frequency and the intensity of cyclones are also changing, resulting in more flooding than before and more loss of property and lives. This means more disaster response by the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and the Solomon Islands Red Cross Society. 8 These impacts mean that all the 900 islands – whether they are atolls, artificial or mountainous islands – will feel the impacts of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change identifies small island states such as Solomon Islands as particularly at risk from climate change impacts. 9 The economies and small communities in Solomon Islands are highly dependent on agriculture and fishing for their livelihoods, both of which are very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and there are associated increases in the occurrence of natural hazards. The contribution of the pacific to global emissions is tiny in comparison to the severity of the impacts starting to be felt. From Solomon Islands perspective George points out that “somewhere else in the world people have done things and keep doing things that have created the climate change problem. It wasn’t even my generation it was the older generations that did most of the damage”. George distinguishes climate change from other important issues facing young people such as HIV. With HIV he says that, “if you can raise the awareness of a young person to change their behaviour they will change their behaviour and they won’t get HIV”. But with climate change it doesn’t matter what is done here in Solomon Islands to reduce emissions as the impacts will still be felt. 8 Solomon Islands Red Cross 2008 Preparedness for Climate Change Background Document: Consequences of Climate Change for Humanitarian Work Through the Eyes of Solomon Islands Red Cross 9 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report Summary for Policymakers
  4. 4. THE CLIMATE CHANGE PROGRAM With climate change impacts already being felt in Solomon Islands 10 it is important for the SIRC to prepare for it. Engaging young people is important in responding to climate change as they have a long life ahead of them – to both feel the impacts but also to make a difference and, as George points out, they aren’t as stuck in their ways. Climate change is resulting in increased climate variability and for an already disaster prone country this is of great concern, in the short and long term. Disaster risk management is a key focus of the Solomon Islands Red Cross Strategic Plan 2005 – 2009 and focuses in two key areas: Disaster and emergency response and Community Based Disaster preparedness and risk reduction In the Federation 2020 Strategy one of the four core areas is the response to weather and climate related disasters. The SIRC embarked on the Climate Change Program in February 2007 in recognition of “the importance of the impacts of climate change on human life and wellbeing” according to Nancy Jolo Secretary General. The Climate Change Program in particular has been active in showing how the enthusiasm and energy of young people can be an asset to program delivery with the establishment of the Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction Team that work together to deliver some of the program activities. The group is made up of young people, reflecting both the use of climate change as an avenue to engage young people but also the commitment and interest young people are showing in the issue. This makes the team both a climate change team as well as a youth group which is great as a motivator for the young people and as George says: “When you are psyched up you can do more and when you get together with other people you can really psych each other up and achieve a lot” George also points out that because young people are involved in all sectors through their roles in work, families, sporting clubs, churches and at school, engaging them is a great way to expand the reach of the program to these organisations. It is also a good way to get input and feedback from these different sectors and organisations on climate change issues and Solomon Islands Red Cross programs. Some of the activities that Solomon Islands Red Cross have involved youth on in their Climate Change Program so far include: School awareness programs on climate change integrated with disaster risk reduction Engaged a group of young people to train them in concepts of climate change. They then became peer educators that went to schools and communities to run sessions with others. There is a new generation to train each year. Form Four - around sixteen or seventeen years olds – were targeted. SIRC are working with schools to make climate change awareness part of the assessment for school progress. Students at a climate change awareness session Poster competition with mentorship from artist’s association as part of World Environment Day 2007 10 Solomon Islands Red Cross 2008 Preparedness for Climate Change Background Document: Consequences of Climate Change for Humanitarian Work Through the Eyes of Solomon Islands Red Cross
  5. 5. Within Honiara city students were invited to submit entries in a poster competition after the climate change awareness sessions. The posters were representations of the impacts of climate change in the pacific. The winning entries are printed up as posters to distribute publicly to the wider community and to other schools. A panel of judges considered the accuracy of the images, originality, and creativity when they judged the posters. The young artists got the chance to work on their posters with the help of a representative from the Solomon Island’s Artists Association. Winning artists in the Poster Competition Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction village assessment An assessment was undertaken in the isolated and vulnerable Newland Artificial Island North Malaita using an approach based on the Red Cross Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment as well as other climate change awareness raising tools. In the consultations, SIRC created an avenue for youth to voice their concerns in the process as it was run by a youth. The main issue facing the community is access to water resources. At present they rely either on catching rain in the few water catchment tanks they have or paddle dug out canoes to the mainland – both of which are weather dependent activities. With changing rainfall and wind patterns they are becoming more vulnerable to water shortages. Installing more water storage attached to the buildings on the islands with permanent roofs such as the church was identified as the highest priority for the community. Radio programme with quizzes for youth on World Disaster Reduction Day SIRC worked with the National Disaster Management Office in designing and delivering a school student focussed radio quiz about how to reduce risks of disasters or impacts of disasters. It was done on the FM stations that are favoured by a young audience and it was done in the afternoon when students are back from school. Using radio meant that a further reach than inside Honiara could be made. SIRC plays an active role in advocacy and youth networks Since SIRC started the Climate Change Program many other agencies have become active. SIRC is a key stakeholder in consultations and in supporting other agencies. It is represented at the national level in the development of the National Adaptation Plan of Action and the Second National Communication stakeholder consultations as both a presenter and as a participant in key national policy development and as such is both a Red Cross advocate as well as a youth advocate. SIRC participates in other youth events and youth networks to share climate change information and the program activities of SIRC in climate change. As a young person heads up the SIRC climate change program there is a strong role to play in youth and climate change issues. SIRC is running awareness programs for the youth groups involved in the International Youth Day 2008 that has the theme of climate change to raises their awareness of the issues. Clean Up The World Day 2007 Solomon Islands Youth for Change and SIRC got together to coordinate the Clean Up The World Day campaign in 2007. They worked with a big group of young people to clean up around town picking up rubbish along main roads and clearing weeds. FUTURE WORK IN CLIMATE CHANGE On top of the disempowerment facing young people already in Solomon Islands, climate change is an issue that could be even more disempowering for a young person here. But, rather than giving up George says that engaging young people in climate change activities and raising awareness makes them feel they can do something and make a difference to their communities. The Climate Change Program has been able to make use of the energy and enthusiasm of young people and expand the program’s reach.
  6. 6. There are future focus areas for the work of the Climate Change Program at SIRC. More school awareness – every there is a new generation of students and continued awareness programs are needed to continue the education process Decentralise the program to all parts of the country – the whole of the Solomon Islands is vulnerable to climate impacts but there needs to be a focus on communities who are really on the ‘front line’ in particular because of their lack of capacity to adapt. Advocate for the involvement of youth in all sectors of climate chance policy and planning at the national level and empower youth to get involved in decision making themselves Make connections between youth at the community and those at the national level – Red Cross can act ‘a bridge’ between them to give local young people access to Young People working together to clean up decision making Honiara as part of Clean Up the World Day 2007 Work with schools to integrate climate change into education curriculum perhaps making it compulsory and part of the assessment, with links to other topics also covered at school Continue Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction Team activities to expand their empowerment and capacity building. As George says networks and connections are important for young people and through the team they can keep on “psyching each other up!” tingting lo climate change – tingting lo action – tingting lo youth! think climate change – think action – think youth!

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