Learning to tok stori and laf laf in Honiara

An internet cable about the diameter of a garden hose and packed with optical fibres will soon provide Solomon Islands with a new world of educational opportunities.

Distributing curriculum materials is normally a challenge in Solomon Islands, with its sparse population spread across hundreds of small islands. This new infrastructure will offer a revolutionary opportunity for teachers to access high quality education resources, and also save time and money.

To help develop digital curriculum resources and encourage a student-centred learning approach, the Solomon Islands Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development enlisted the support of an Australian volunteer, Jessica Wright.

Jessica arrived in April 2018, originally tasked with planning and contributing to a taskforce responsible for implementing the Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) in Education Master Plan.

But it wasn’t long before she realised she was going to have to learn to go with the flow, as new tasks were being thrown her way. One of these unexpected jobs was to  sort out copyright issues for a pre-primary years' curriculum due for imminent publication, which led to “an intense few weeks,” says Jessica with a smile.

It was a sign of things to come. Jessica’s role evolved and changed throughout her 12 month assignment, and the Ministry agreed to extend her stay to 18 months to give her the time to get everything done.

 

Something that I’ve learned here is to relax and see what opportunities come and then just go with it.

— Jessica Wright
Jessica Wright Honiara Aug 2019 4
Australian volunteer Jessica Wright and colleague John Riare at Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development, Honiara, Solomon Islands
Jessica Wright Honiara Aug 2019 7
Australian volunteer Jessica Wright and colleagues Rose Paia and Philip Samani at Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development, Honiara, Solomon Islands

It’s a far cry from working as a classroom teacher, which Jessica was doing in Port Macquarie before her assignment. Jessica has taken on tasks she wouldn’t have dreamed of in Australia: meeting the Australian Foreign Minister; building connections between the Ministry, government and donors; and managing a major launch event for the Master Plan for which she was given a lead role.

“It was the most stressful thing I’ve ever done in my life… It started pouring down rain at the exact time it started… But it ended up going really well and I think everyone enjoyed it and we’ve already seen some benefit from it in terms of donors and key stakeholders wanting to engage with what the Ministry is doing.”

Jessica has made a huge impression on her colleagues and is a treasured member of both the Information Services and Curriculum Development divisions.

 

Now I don’t see her as an Australian, I see her as a Solomon Islander.

— John Riare, one of Jessica’s Information Services colleagues.

The team have given her two nicknames. One is Solomon Gele or Solomon Girl, which Jessica considers a very big compliment. The other is “J da G” or “Jess the Genius.” Jessica refutes this second title, saying that she is not a genius, she just knows how to use Google really well.

With her return to Australia imminent, Jessica and her colleagues are working hard to ensure she is transferring as much knowledge and skills as she can before she leaves.

“Recently I asked her, can you put down on a piece of paper what you have been doing, a process, so that when you leave us, we have something there,” says Rose Paia, Manager of Curriculum Development Division.

Jessica gets emotional when talking about her impending return to Australia. It is the people she will miss the most; not just her colleagues, but the friends she has made in the wider Solomon Islander community.

Jessica attends the local church and is closely involved with the youth group, which has helped her have an even greater impact on her assignment.

 

 

View of Honiara
View of Honiara taken by Australian volunteer Jessica Wright
Honiara Art Gallery
Paintings at Honiara Art Gallery, Solomon Islands

I tok stori with them about all sorts of things. I think that’s really helped me over the year to get the context as to why this is important.

— Jessica Wright

‘Tok stori’ is a Solomon Islands expression for taking the time to talk with someone, whether it is a colleague in your team or your neighbour down the street, which then often leads into ‘laf laf.’

 “Sitting around and having a conversation is really important… That’s probably a mindset shift. In Australia we can be quite compartmentalised, it’s work time now and we’ve got to do this.

“It takes a while to realise that the most effective way here of getting things done, is actually sitting down and talking to someone and getting to know them and sharing ideas.”