Volunteering in Solomon Islands
Discover volunteering opportunities in Solomon Islands – a wondrous archipelago of nearly 1,000 tropical islands and atolls.
About Solomon Islands
Just three hours north-east of Brisbane, Solomon Islands is a fascinating country with more than 70 living languages and incredible marine and terrestrial biodiversity.
The third largest archipelago in the South Pacific, Solomon Islands comprises 992 islands. The capital, Honiara, is located on Guadalcanal, the largest island.
The people of Solomon Islands are warm and friendly, with many living a lifestyle almost unchanged for hundreds of years.
The remote and geographically-dispersed population creates development challenges, and most Solomon Islanders live rurally and make a living from subsistence farming and fishing.
Brief look at history
Solomon Islands gained independence from British rule in 1978. At independence, Solomon Islands joined the Commonwealth with Queen Elizabeth II as its Head of State, represented by a Governor-General.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s Solomon Islands was divided by ethnic tension and violence. In 2003 the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) was deployed to help the Solomon Islands Government restore law and order. The mission, called ‘Helpem Fren’, was successful in restoring security across the country and enabling people to go about their lives free from the fear of violence and intimidation.
In 2013, RAMSI's military component was withdrawn and development assistance activities transferred to the programs of other donors, mainly Australia. RAMSI concluded its mission in 2017.
World War II and its aftermath had a significant impact on the islands and people. Guadalcanal was invaded by the Japanese in July 1942. After many months of constant combat, the Japanese withdrew completely in early 1943.
Today, the islands are popular with scuba divers due to the numerous Second World War submarine, ship and aircraft wrecks.
Brief look at politics and society
Solomon Islands is one of the Pacific's poorest countries, with high costs of service delivery due to a small and geographically dispersed population.
Agriculture and raw materials (including logging) account for 90 per cent of exports, with tourism becoming an important sector of the small-but-growing economy.
The unicameral national Parliament comprises 50 members elected for a four-year term under a first-past-the-post voting system. The Prime Minister is elected by a simple majority of members of Parliament. In addition to the national Government, there are nine provincial assemblies, each led by a Premier.
National General Elections are held every four years. According to the census report in 2019, the population of Solomon Islands reached 669,823, predominantly Melanesian (about 95 per cent) along with small Polynesian, Micronesian, Chinese and European communities.
Volunteering opportunities in Solomon Islands support communities across a range of development priorities, including:
- Economic growth
- Law and justice
Life as a volunteer in Solomon Islands
The influence of Christianity has had a greater impact on society and people than other institutions. Ninety-five per cent of the population identify as Christian.
Missionaries managed to curb ancestor worship to some extent but non-Christian beliefs still persist and coexist with Christian concepts.
The churches play a very strong role in communal life, especially in rural areas. Virtually every village has a church building or leader and prayer or church services are held once or twice a day.
Culture and dress
Communal, familial and clan ties remain very strong in Solomon Islands. Most people consider themselves to be part of an immediate family and can trace back their ancestors at least 10 generations.
The Pijin word ‘wantok’, which derives from ‘one talk’, meaning people from the same language group, is used to indicate blood relatives in the extended family.
Work dress is simple and modest in Solomon Islands because of the tropical weather. For women, a skirt and blouse or a long dress are acceptable. For men, long trousers and long or short sleeved shirts are common dress. Suits are generally only required for the most formal of occasions.
Personal relationships with colleagues and clients are very important in terms of minimising the feeling of distance, making people feel comfortable, and feeling like the workplace is their home. Volunteers are encouraged to start their relationship with light topics of common interest before getting to the real work of their assignment. Giving of gifts is acceptable.
Public consumption of alcohol is a tricky issue as people tend to identify you as a drunk if you are seen to purchase it regularly, particularly outside of Honiara. Women in particular can be judged for alcohol consumption.
English is the official language, but Solomon Islands pijin is the lingua franca. There are more than 80 different local languages in Solomon Islands, plus dialects. Everyday conversations at work are in pijin, so it is important for volunteers to learn some pijin language.
The climate is tropical, though temperatures are rarely extreme due to cooling winds blowing off the surrounding seas. Day time temperatures normally range from 23 to 31 degrees. There are two seasons during the year: one the dry and cool (April to October), and the other the wet and warm season (November to April), which brings higher temperatures and rainfall. All islands receive a generous amount of rainfall averaging 3,000 to 3,500 mm yearly.
Honiara’s climate is warm and tropical, with a wetter season from November to April.
Two telecommunication providers provide mobile phone and internet services. Improvements to internet services are expected with the launch of a new submarine cable known as the Coral Sea Cable, linking Papua New Guinea to Solomon Islands, with a connecting cable to the Australian (Sydney) landing station.
Recent 4G LTE mobile network expansions and upgrades by the two major operators, Our Telekom and BeMobile, are improving mobile services, but the speed and quality of access is variable.
Many parts of the country still experience limited access due to network problems or coverage. Small businesses and organisations tend to connect to the internet via USB modem or mobile phone. There is broadband wireless available for a high cost and virtually no landline internet.
'Volunteering in Solomon Islands is the best thing I ever did'
How Nick's time volunteering impacted his career
Typical food eaten in the Solomons includes fish, chicken, pork, coconut, sweet potatoes and taro. The country’s main food market is the Central Market in Honiara. The local market is great for fresh fruits – some of the best you will ever taste – and vegetables. Supermarkets in Honiara also stock other limited goods; canned, frozen, etc. However goods are expensive and not available all the time.
Honiara has a wide range of Asian and western restaurants along with local ‘kai bars’. In other parts of the country, options will be largely traditional island dishes, featuring seafood and local vegetables. Fresh produce is always readily available. While there are no dedicated vegetarian or vegan restaurants, vegetarian options are generally readily available.
Honiara has a range of housing options, varying from very modern and well-equipped to more traditional. Prices in Honiara are high, and this is reflected in the allowances paid to volunteers. Outside Honiara, guest houses or locally owned houses are the best options.
Public transport is available in Honiara and Auki, running along the main road and into many residential areas. Outside of the major towns, boats and ferries are best to get around the islands. There are regular daily domestic flights between Honiara, Auki and Gizo.
Security, risks and challenges
Solomon Islands is prone to natural disasters such earthquakes, heavy rain, floods, tsunamis, droughts and cyclones.
Cyclone season is from November to April; during this period flooding, landslides and disruptions to services may occur. Note that tropical storms and cyclones may also occur in other months.
Crime poses the main risk to foreign visitors and expatriates, and is often linked with drunkenness and drug use. Incidents of pickpocketing, bag snatching, assault, and house and vehicle break-ins are relatively common in Guadalcanal and Malaita, particularly around markets and beaches. Crime tends to peak during holiday periods.
Occasionally, and at times of heightened security concern, volunteers may be asked to restrict movement or abide by curfews, or areas classed as ‘No-Go Zones’. These decisions are not taken lightly.
Before applying for a volunteering assignment in Solomon Islands, please do some further research on living in Solomon Islands and the organisation you are hoping to volunteer with. Successful applicants will have the opportunity to discuss expected living and working arrangements with their recruitment officer.
To make a banana cake in Solomon Islands, Australian volunteer Miriam created her friend Uma a new recipe using local ingredients. The result is Miriuma Banana Cake.
Download the recipe for Miriuma Banana Cake
'You experience the changes and challenges together'
Volunteering as a couple in Solomon Islands